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Climate change

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

Asia Pacific policy makers gather in Colombo today, to exchange good practices and discuss strategies for reducing the impacts of agricultural drought in the region.

Organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Sri Lanka Ministry of Technology and Research, the forum is a milestone event in the region 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 US$53

billion," said Shamika Sirimanne, Director of ESCAP's Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division.

She emphasised that efforts to reduce the impacts of drought will 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."

Effective early warning systems for drought are expected to help save lives and livelihoods, access to scientific information and knowledge remains a

challenge for many countries in the region.

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. The Regional Drought Mechanism, launched by ESCAP in 2013, is a key platform that provides timely and free satellite-based data, products and training to drought-prone countries in the region for effective agricultural drought monitoring and early warning. These data, when combined with information collected on the ground, 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.

"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," warned Patali Champika Ranawaka, Minister of Technology and Research, Sri Lanka. "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."

Currently, the Regional Drought Mechanism has six pilot countries: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The

initial work in Mongolia and Sri Lanka, which is being supported by two regional service nodes, demonstrates the efficiency and effectiveness of

Regional Drought Mechanism.

The regional service nodes were established under the Regional Drought Mechanism with the support of China and India 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.

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