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

business July 01, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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.