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ICTs Help Africans Cope with Climate ChangePosted by: admin on Tue, 2010-12-14 17:44
Evidence is increasing that information and communication technologies can be applied to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change. The world’s most vulnerable populations are also feeling the greatest effects of global warming. Newton Sibanda reports on how ICTs may help mitigate the damage in Zambia and beyond.
By Newton Sibanda
CANCUN, Mexico -- While the climate change summit here wrapped up with an agreement on funding adaptation to climate change, a recent UN report argues that people on the ground can use technology now to help cope with the effects of climate change. For much of the world, this technology is used mainly to chat or play games, but it can be vitally important for the world’s most vulnerable populations, those hardest hit by the impacts of climate change.
In Africa, the effects of climate change are already being felt, primarily in the form of reduced rainfall and desertification. These effects could substantially alter farming, leading to food shortages. To mitigate such impacts of global warming, information and communication technologies (ICTs) may have an important role to play, according to a recent report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The report finds that ICTs could help vulnerable people cope with climate change, heralding “tools with the potential of transforming lives.”
Mobile Phones at Forefront
The UNCTAD is touting the transformational potential of mobile phones in the lives of people who are at the forefront of the unpredictable, yet often devastating effects of climate change. According to the UN, the penetration rate of mobile phones in the world’s least-developed countries has surged from 2 to 25 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.
The report, titled “The Information Economy Report 2010: ICT, Enterprises and Poverty Alleviation,” describes how, “for the first time, there are realistic opportunities for inhabitants of remote locations in low-income countries to get connected via ICTs.” The opportunities created by mobile technology include access to relevant information on markets and prices, and reduction in travel, which is often hazardous in rural areas, as well as time-intensive.
ICTs Aid in Monitoring and Transmitting Climate Change Information
An expert on development and climate change, Angelica Valeria Ospina of the University of Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics, reinforces the report’s findings. Writing last week for the website “Notes on ICTs, Climate Change and Development,” Ospina noted the innovative use of ICTs by people in developing nations: “While…global headlines highlight the struggle of the most vulnerable to withstand, recover and adapt to the changing climatic conditions and the impact of acute events, the importance of ‘innovation’ is increasingly emerging.”
She notes that it is important to adopt a “broader development perspective” to understand innovation within situations where people are “constrained by challenges related to food security, water supply, health, habitat and migrations, socio-political or livelihood vulnerabilities.” Ospina cites some examples from the field of the potential use of ICTs to deal with climate change.
“In terms of monitoring, for example, mobile phones can contribute to effectively communicate meaningful climate data, including alerts, to small farmers and vulnerable populations,” wrote Ospina. “While community radio stations are being used to share and disseminate climate change adaptation practices, giving local stakeholders the possibility to interact within a broader community, while helping to bridge the gap between new and traditional knowledge in this area.”
Zambia Plans to Send Climate Data Via ICTs
In Zambia, mobile phones are increasingly used by farmers to get market information, says Zambia Meteorological Department (ZMD) Chief Meteorologist Joseph Kanyanga, who is also a climate change expert. As AudienceScapes has previously reported, this market information saves farmers time and money as they learn where they can get the best price for their goods. Kanyanga notes that the use of ICTs for climate information in Zambia is still low but the potential exists for upscaling.
“Avenues are there to make climate information reach the vulnerable people and currently, efforts are underway to promote the use of ICTs in disseminating climate information,” said Dr. Kanyanga.
ZMD director Jacob Nkomoki says his department wants to take advantage of the potential of ICTs in order to start providing early warnings on adverse climate conditions by mobile phones.
“We will soon be liaising with service providers to give climate information by mobile phones,” said Nkomoki.
Currently, ZMD is providing meteorological information to local communities through a project called RANET-- short for radio and internet. RANET is a low-cost but modern technology used for bringing weather, climate, agriculture, early warning and related information to rural communities through digital radios and personal computers. The system links ZMD to community radio stations which broadcast the information in local languages.
Now that the global summit on climate change in Cancun has concluded, all eyes will focus on the next round of talks in South Africa in 2011. In the meantime, innovative uses of ICTs in Africa for dealing with the impacts of climate change will no doubt continue to multiply.
Newton Sibanda has been a journalist for 17 years. Currently, he is working for the Zambia Daily Mail as Weekend Mail Editor and environmental columnist. Sibanda's areas of interest include ICTs, the environment, energy, health, human rights, and water and sanitation. Sibanda also writes for IPS, Panos Features, Ooskanews and the NORAD development newspaper Bistandsakuelt.
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This article is a modified version of an earlier article published December 8, 2010, on the Climate Media Partnership website. Article reprinted with permission.