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Drought, climate services and earth observation in South Asia

Published : Wednesday, 17 October, 2018 at 12:00 AM  Count : 659

Parvez Babul

Parvez Babul

Poor people's suffering due to hazards and disasters continues, never ends. Shockingly, poor women carry the double burden of sufferings due to many unacceptable reasons include being women, they are mistreated, avoided, and ignored. Though women are the key to food security, but unfortunately they are less entertained to represent them in decision-making process to survive. Say for example, natural and human-induced hazards -- drought, climate change, food insecurity, malnutrition among others increase the sufferings/ vulnerabilities many times more for the poor people of South and South East Asia, and Hindu Kush Himalayan regional countries as well.

In fact, drought (A prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall, leading to a shortage of water) is the least realized neglected natural hazard, and hydrological disaster. It has major impacts on the economy and human life. It causes severe and long-term impacts on several development sectors include water, agriculture, livestock, food energy, and health. Drought occurs in both high and low rainfall areas; its frequency is likely to increase in future. Which is why, for many life-saving causes, drought management, and climate services are very important. Monitoring and assessment of drought conditions at different scales and timely dissemination of information constitute the most vital part of drought management system.

Due to worst effects of climate change, weather conditions are uncertain, in terms of timing and intensity. As a result, the people who depend on agriculture, farmers, end users/ farming communities, and concerned institutions become unable to adapt to these sharp changes. It causes bottlenecks in crop productivity, plus threatens the livelihood of the poor people, greatly to the women.

Experts observed that precipitation is a primary indicator for drought monitoring and early warning systems. South Asia is characterized by considerable spatial and temporal variability in rainfall patterns. Drought advisories require a dense rain gauge observation network to capture precise precipitation information. Ground monitoring stations in South Asia are highly inadequate and distributed unevenly. It makes water resources assessment and drought prediction difficult, especially in mountainous regions such as the Hindu Kush Himalayan region with limited or no rain gauge network. Human-induced climate change added more hazardous components to drought. So, the poor people of this region are more vulnerable that they face the challenges and vulnerabilities than others.

The South Asia and South East Asia region have been experiencing frequent and prolonged droughts, which caused severe damage to agricultural and water resource sectors. And those badly affected food security and livelihoods of farming communities over the years. Regular monitoring and early warning on drought onset can reduce the negative impacts, provided that the findings are delivered to decision/policy makers in a timely manner and appropriate format.

Research shows that around 60 percent of the world's population lives in Asia. The livelihoods of the 50 percent of the region's rural population depend on rain-fed agriculture, livestock, and forestry. The fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2014 identifies heat-related mortality and malnutrition due to increased drought-related water and food shortages among the top five climate-related risks. The IPCC assessment report suggests that extreme climate events linked to precipitation and high temperatures will trigger slow-onset events. They have adverse impacts on lives and livelihoods, health, food and water security.

South and South East Asian countries are among those most prone to natural resource degradation due to intensive human activities and environmental changes. Moreover, producing additional food on limited land and providing economic access to food at the household level to ensure food security will likely continue to be major challenges. Therefore, all the local, national, and regional stakeholders must address the issues, work together timely before the disasters strike, and to survive before we die from starvation.   

Giving greater emphasize on those pressing issues, very recently, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a Nepal-based regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre, and Asian Disaster Prepared Center (ADPC) organized a regional knowledge Forum in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was on drought: earth observation, and climate services for food security and agricultural decision making in South and South East Asia.

The panellists of the Forum recommended that higher spatial and temporal resolution of satellite data is vital for improving national drought monitoring systems. Strong partnerships and collaboration with relevant stakeholders are very important, and urgently required. Different drought indices should be used to monitor drought and its cascading impacts (Meteorological, agricultural, and hydrological droughts). Climate stressors are leading to out-migration that makes women more vulnerable. There is a need for productive and sustainable farmlands, adequate management of natural resources and agricultural inputs that can reduce the gap between attainable existing productivity.

Speaking at the event of the drought Forum, Dr David Molden, director general of ICIMOD, elaborately said that drought preparedness measures, coupled with climate-resilient adaptation practices, could play a vital role in improving food security across the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. Drought monitoring and early warning systems, can underpin national and local level planning and agro-advisories to help local populations and governments prepare for drought and cope with its impacts on agriculture.  "A South to South dialogue is important. This regional knowledge Forum on drought provides cross-learning opportunities between people working with the science, and people working with communities in South and Southeast Asia", David Molden added.  

More importantly, regional research bodies can play crucial roles in brokering knowledge, expertise across country boundaries and building capacities across institutions. The knowledge Forum established an expert working group. It comprises of representatives from different institutions working on drought early warning systems and agriculture advisory services to foster regional cooperation on agriculture, drought monitoring, and management.

Regarding authenticity, Hans Guttman, executive director of Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), said, "We need to make drought forecasts reliable and trusted to enable actions, which save lives and livelihoods. We want to observe significant improvement in tools and services for the betterment of the livelihoods of people."  

The Forum reiterated the need for regional collaboration also in developing and sharing information on climate-induced hazards. Shahbaz Khan, director of the UNESCO Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific stressed the importance of coordination beyond the borders.  He said, "We require to extending beyond borders, not just physical borders but also disciplinary borders. Through considering the national and regional endeavours in climate risk management in Latin America and Africa, we significantly need cross-border cooperation between governments, scientists, and communities to realize early warning systems for droughts and floods."  

The discussants mentioned that realizing all the issues, to fight the hazards, protecting environment, to save the lives and livelihoods of around two billion people throughout South Asia, this is the right time to work together thinking beyond the borders. Regional cooperation mechanism and gender integration must be the integral parts to explore effectively. Our objectives must be to put an end to hazards and disasters. Those time-appropriate, required initiatives will help us reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) too.

The writer is a freelance contributor

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