While a deal sets up new climate talks, scientists help Africans adapt now
Delegates in Durban, South Africa struck a deal to seek a new climate change treaty. Meanwhile, less-contentious projects like a famine early warning system help now.
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While a worst-case scenario may have been avoided, international disagreement diminished the potential of the warning system. A regional conflict made it often difficult for aid workers to intervene successfully.Skip to next paragraph
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FEWS-NET was created initially by the United States after the 1984-85 famine in Ethiopia using satellite technology to help predict famines and to see how their effects might be minimized. FEWS-NET is sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and other major US agencies such as NASA, the USGS, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA) are key players.
FEWS-NET has evolved into a network that integrates information from a variety of sources, including remote satellite imaging and data gathered from local monitoring of conditions on the ground.
"We include, for example, information on market prices and other data, like rainfall figures," says Mr. Rowland. This use of multiple sources creates a more comprehensive picture of what is happening and how to alleviate problems.
FEWS-NET is also discovering plenty of evidence for ongoing, serious climate variability. "We’re finding out that in East Africa there will be more drought," Rowland says. "There is a connection between El Niño and La Niña, which is warming the Indian Ocean and changing rainfall patterns. More rain is now falling on the Indian Ocean and less on East Africa."
FEWS-NET was begun long before climate change was a global issue, but it has taken on new importance with rising temperatures and increasingly unpredictable weather cycles.
Emma Archer, a climate studies scientist at South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), cautions that humans must choose to use the information wisely, unlike in Somalia recently where instability and slow donor reaction reduced the effectiveness of the aid effort.
"The best science and technology in the world can predict an appropriate response, but you need the political will to act," says Ms. Archer.
Still, the ultimate goal for FEWS-NET scientists is to create a base of long-term, consistent research. As Rowland says: "We are trying to see where will be the vulnerable areas 20, 30 years from now, based on present climate data."