Mobile Phone Towers to Monitor African Weather

Digital Content

A new partnership has been announced that will place weather monitoring stations on up to 5,000 mobile phone towers operated by Zain, and other mobile networks, across the African continent. The initiative is being backed by the Global Humanitarian Forum, Ericsson, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Africa has a network eight times below the WMO minimum recommended standard, and less than 200 weather stations that meet WMO observation requirements, compared to several thousand each in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia. The 5,000 weather stations will be installed at new and existing mobile network sites throughout the continent over coming years. Although Zain is the lead mobile network operator, achieving the 5,000 target would require additional operator commitment and external financing.

The launch was held at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, where former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan said: "The world's poorest are also the world's most vulnerable when it comes to the impact of climate change, and the least equipped to deal with its consequences. Today you find cell phone towers in almost every part of Africa. We have never been able to establish weather monitoring on that scale, until now. By bringing together the expertise and resources of different public and private actors, this project may help to save lives and improve the livelihoods of communities in Africa living on the frontlines of climate change."

Mobile networks provide the necessary connectivity, power and security to sustain the weather equipment. Through its Mobile Innovation Center in Africa, Ericsson will also develop mobile applications to help communicate weather information developed by national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHSs) via mobile phones. Mobile operators will maintain the automatic weather stations and assist in the transmission of the data to national met services.

The initial deployment, already begun in Zain networks, focuses on the area around Lake Victoria in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The first 19 stations installed will double the weather monitoring capacity of the Lake region.

Approximately 70 percent of Africans rely on farming for their livelihood, or close to 700 million people, and over 95 percent of Africa's agriculture depends on rainfall. Changing weather patterns due to climate change render obsolete traditional knowledge relating to agriculture otherwise reliable for centuries, creating a great need for meteorological information.

Also present at the Geneva launch was Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the WMO, the United Nations System's authoritative voice on Weather, Climate and Water, which is coordinating involvement of NMHSs participating in the initiative.

Jarraud said "For food production, almost every decision is linked to weather, climate and water parameters. We see the Weather Info for All initiative as a major pan-African effort to empower our 188 Members to provide enhanced weather information and services. Working through NMHSs, WMO will identify weather information needs, advise on technical requirements and help disseminate the information. This initiative may prove to be one of the most important for African meteorology in decades. The project will also therefore support the goals of the WMO-organized World Climate Conference-3, to be held from 31 August to 4 September 2009 in Geneva."

The initiative will have an impact far beyond agriculture and disaster preparation as it also includes assistance to national meteorological services in training and technical capacities. Better weather information will also make possible the development of services, such as microinsurance, which can be based on weather data indexes, such as rainfall. The initiative will also increase the volume of information useful for scientists, as well as for the water, transport and energy industries.

While the weather information gap is particularly acute in Africa, the initiative would be open to later expansion into other affected regions.

Cellular News