Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Meteorological Early Warning System: Building Resilience to Climate-Induced Shocks

Technological innovation can be harnessed to build the resilience of farmers and fishers in Uganda so they can adapt to climate change. Mobile phone use is exploding in Uganda and across Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a rich source of innovation in service to the region’s socio-economic development.

In Uganda, anyone can enter the numbers 1-6-1 on their phone to access general information on a variety of themes through a choice menu. Since 2016, the Global Resilience Partnership-funded 1-6-1 platform includes weather information from a range of sources, from cost-effective Automatic Weather Station networks to information, alerts and tailored messages derived from big data analytics for vulnerable farmers and fishers, alerting them of heavy rains, storms and lightning via SMS alerts and an Interactive Voice Response system. As of July 2018, the platform had over 400,000 active users, while the project reached out to more than one million people using the 1-6-1 platform and other channels, such as mass and print media and email.

The 1-6-1 platform benefits from collaboration with Airtel Uganda, the second largest mobile phone operator in Uganda, which has more than 10 million subscribers. Airtel sent out almost two million promotional messages about the platform in 2017. The company’s keen interest in the weather component of the 1-6-1 platform has led it to devote extra resources to its promotion, and as a result, its subscriber base has increased. In response to the promotional messages, citizens are becoming more resilient to climate change. The service can easily be extended to the over 20 million mobile network subscribers in Uganda as of 2017.

Government engagement has been a focus throughout the project. For example, the project is developing business models with national agencies and different actors and sectors within Uganda, which is a new endeavor for most government agencies. A common challenge to the automation of early warning systems is that most meteorological agencies have low cloud computing capacity.

Government policies can have a huge impact on a project’s activity and policies that encourage the use of such technologies that can have a far-reaching and positive effect on the lives of Ugandans. The Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda, Department of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Management is now releasing a Monthly National Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning Bulletin, which helps provide information that enables citizens be more resilient to climate change. Information on crop health and yields, market prices and seasonal forecasts help farmers to plan their planting season to avoid losses and prepare better for severe weather hazards. Impacts of incidents like floods, drought and diseases (e.g., malaria incidents) are also reported in the bulletin.

There are early signs of the potential impact of the 1-6-1 platform. According to an October 2017 survey, farmers, fishers and other end users are willing to pay $1 per month for the service. However, the survey also showed gender-related differences in willingness to pay, with women showing less enthusiasm. These results will inform the design and pricing of such services so as not to exclude women, who are often more vulnerable, especially in remote areas.

Despite these challenges, the information has made an immense contribution to resilience-building in farming and fishing communities in Uganda. Lessons learned about the successes of information dissemination, government engagement and gender inclusion can be used to implement the same type of technology in similar settings.

The 1-6-1 platform is led by a consortium of the Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological ObservatoryHuman Network International (now known as Viamo), Climate Change Adaptation InnovationAfrican Centre for Lightning and ElectromagnetismEarth Networks and the Uganda National Meteorological Authority.

This post originally appeared on Climatelinks, and was written by Frank Annor, Dr. Nick Van de Giesen, Dr. John S. Selker and Patrick Kibaya.