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UN initiative strengthens drought monitoring

UN initiative strengthens drought monitoring and early warning in Asia-Pacific

1 July 2014

Although drought is a “silent killer” in Asia and the Pacific, access to scientific information and knowledge remain a challenge for many countries in the region, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said today at a milestone forum on drought monitoring and early warning.

“Over the past three decades, it is estimated that droughts in the region have affected more than 1.3 billion people and caused damages of over $53 billion,” Shamika Sirimanne, Director of ESCAP’s Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division, said today in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The meeting, organized by ESCAP and the Sri Lanka Ministry of Technology and Research, drew senior Government representatives, regional experts and UN agencies to exchange good practices and discuss strategies to reduce the impacts of agricultural drought and help save lives.

Ms. Sirimanne emphasized that efforts to reduce the impacts of drought require timely access to satellite-derived data. “Signs of drought can be observed from space long before they are visible to the human eye. Advances in space technology allow us to monitor the condition of crops, or the availability of water, from satellite images, and sharing this information through regional cooperation will save lives and protect livelihoods.”

However, despite significant progress in monitoring agricultural drought, access to satellite-derived data and knowledge for improving early warning remains a challenge for many countries in Asia and the Pacific.

In 2013, ESCAP launched the Regional Drought Mechanism – a platform providing timely and free satellite-based data; products; and training to regional drought-prone countries – to enhance the capacity of Governments for agricultural monitoring and early warning. When combined with information collected on the ground, the data leads to more effective detection of potential drought conditions.

“For example, satellite images can detect the onset of drought in specific areas or provinces, allowing time for local authorities to take immediate action, such as informing farmers to switch to more drought-resistant crops or implementing water management strategies,” Ms. Sirimanne elaborated.

The Sri Lankan Minister of Technology and Research, Patali Champika Ranawaka warned, “This year may witness the beginning of another El Niño period affecting Sri Lanka – possibly with serious implications for agriculture, one of the most important sectors for the country.”

“We have great hope that ESCAP’s Regional Drought Mechanism will help Sri Lanka address this issue by expanding our options for monitoring and responding to agricultural drought, in the meantime effectively harnessing the potential of space technology applications towards this end,” he added
Currently, the Mechanism is being piloted in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Its initial work in Mongolia and Sri Lanka – supported by two regional service nodes – demonstrates clearly the efficiency and effectiveness of the initiative.

Supported by China and India, the regional service nodes were established under the Regional Drought Mechanism to provide the pilot countries with satellite imagery, services, expert training and capacity development.

Though several of the pilot countries already experience severe drought conditions due to regular climate oscillations, including El Niño and La Niña, climate change projections indicate that drought is likely to become more frequent and severe in the future.

Given these challenges, forum participants recognized the importance of coordination and cooperation across the relevant ministries and initiatives in the region and looked at practical ways to improve early warning through enhanced integration with climate change trends, and new scientific modelling techniques.

Recommendations from the forum will provide guidance for strengthening the effectiveness of the Regional Cooperative Mechanism and will feed into the national disaster management plans of the pilot countries.
Participating countries benefit from: enhanced access to space-based data; capacity building in preparedness and response; strengthened institutional coordination and policies at the country level; and Regional and South-South cooperation and support networks.


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