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ICT-led information exchange can help adaptation to climate change

27 December 2011

Ben Akoh

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By enabling information exchange at many levels ICTs are strengthening the adaptation efforts of communities in Africa, says Ben Akoh, project manager at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

There are two ways we can address climate change. One is through mitigation efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease the great amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The other approach, adaptation, recognises the fact that the climate will continue to change. Adaptation means adjusting to existing or expected impacts.

Both actions are equally important and challenging. They require a significant amount of attention, direct response, policies, plans and implementation strategies, across all levels of society.

Adaptation and mitigation actions are possible at the local level too. For instance, using renewable energy sources or planting trees to expand forests is a mitigation action, while an adaptation action may involve sharing information so that local communities can better respond and adjust to climate change. That information, however, needs to be relevant and up to date if communities are to make effective changes. 

The Global Connectivity team at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) researches the use of ICTs in the production of greener economies, environments, and societies.

The team is currently participating in the eTransform Africa project and analysing how ICTs are used to support adaptation action at the community level. The project has brought together a consortium of researchers to explore how a variety of sectors, including agriculture, health, education and others, can use ICTs to address the major economic, environmental and social challenges facing the African continent.

IISD is also gathering case studies showing how ICTs help communities adapt to the effects of climate change. It has observed that people already use a number of platforms to share information, either online or through other means.

AfricaAdapt, for example, is a continental initiative for sharing adaptation information between researchers, policy makers, civil society organisations and communities.

Other mechanisms for sharing information and exchanging ideas between residents in a community already exist at the local level, and include informal town hall-style gatherings and using SMS.

Community radio is another effective method of disseminating information, since it overcomes illiteracy problems and the information can be translated into local languages.

Radio talk shows, in particular, are very successful in allowing farmers to talk about their problems and find solutions that suit their local environment. Some groups have even developed ways to use radio to get feedback from the communities, to find out how they were adapting to climate change and to assess how targeted messages were being received and used.

Lessons for farmers

A project in South Africa, for example, uses sensors in the Crocodile River that transmit temperature and water quality data via the cell phone network to a remote location. There, they are analysed so action can be taken that affect the dam downstream.

New, more efficient and intelligent sensor networks are being tested around Lake Malawi that generate better quality data and perform initial on-the-spot analyses before transmitting the information, resulting in a reduction of the time needed to make decisions.

In Uganda, community knowledge workers (CKWs) from the Grameen Foundation use applications installed on smartphones that receive regularly updated information. Users can pass this information on to farmers and also upload data from the field.

For example, they receive regular weather updates from the country’s meteorological department which they can share with the farmers. The CKW can interpret the information to suit the local environment and send data back to the relevant content providers to help them develop their services.

Local communities are continuously exploring new and innovative ways of adapting to climate change, and more needs to be done to make it easier for them to share their experiences with others.

Communities also require additional support and partnerships with the private sector, provincial or national government and other agencies to deploy new technologies and enhance existing ones used for adaptation. Further research may be required in this area, and strategies that link research outcomes to policies should be explored.

Farmers are very aware of climate change and the effects it can have on their livelihoods. They see that productivity has changed in recent years and know that a number of factors have caused this change, including increased rainfall and unpredictable weather patterns in their region.

Many ACP farmers have already had to adapt to their environment. They currently work in extreme conditions, and have developed ways to grow crops in very dry or very wet land. And researchers are now also realising how this indigenous knowledge can help to enhance scientific knowledge. They are looking at ways in which these farmers can share their methods with others around the world, with people who are now facing similar situations.

Technology will be very useful for gathering and disseminating this information quickly, and to a wider audience. Such initiatives can help the global community understand the helpful adaptations that ACP farmers have already made, and can provide the means of sharing information that will help all producers deal with future challenges. 

Ben Akoh is a project manager at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Source : ICT Update

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