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Digital tools help Africa mitigate climate disasters

Satellite imagery is helping African countries predict and mitigate extreme weather events and natural disasters such as floods, storms and famine, a conference has heard. Extreme weather events are increasing on the continent, with droughts proving the deadliest, followed by floods, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. From 2000-2019, 46,000 people were killed and 337 million were affected by 1143 disasters on the continent. In March 2019, Cyclone Idai made landfall near Beira city, Mozambique and its heavy rains and strong winds caused flash flooding, hundreds of deaths, and massive destruction of property and crops. Almost six weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth dealt a hard blow to northern Mozambique. The two storms’ flooding affected close to 2.2 million people in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

At the African Risk Capacity conference held in Nairobi last week (13 February), digital strategies for climate and disaster risk management were highlighted. ‘‘The digital tools … help African countries to know the real impact of calamities, thereby facilitating the [estimation of] affected compensation precisely,’’ says Mohamed Beavogui, director-general of the African Risk Capacity, an agency formed by the African Union to help African governments improve their disaster risk management. Beavogui adds that digital tools such as satellite imagery are used to analyse disasters for prompt action, especially from countries worst affected. Beauogui tells SciDev.Net that the African Risk Capacity has drought risk software that helps countries quantify their disaster risk and monitor the impacts of droughts. Mutembei Kainga, a senior meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department, explains that there are several tools for modelling extreme weather conditions. “These tools give a percentage of probability of occurrence,” says Kainga, adding that a value of 30 per cent means that a disaster is not likely, 60 per cent means it is likely and above 60 per cent means it is most likely. Mutembei says that that many professionals have developed mobile apps that predict weather and advise farmers about rain patterns, but there are still problems such as high illiteracy, poverty, and lack of technical know-how that negatively impact their use. The African Risk Capacity has established a capacity building programme for African countries that are at risk of extreme weather due to climate change, to help them access a comprehensive disaster risk management and financing system, such as insurance and funds that can help in responding rapidly to disasters, he explains. For example, the African Risk Capacity provided US$36.8 million to four African countries — Malawi, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal — that have seen at least 2.1 million people affected by drought, the conference heard. Drought is the single most important natural hazard in Kenya, according to the African Risk Capacity. Between 2008 and 2011, drought caused damages and losses of an estimated US$12.1 billion.

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