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Locating Populations at Risk


Global challenges such as climate change and pandemics make vulnerable populations even more vulnerable. Poorer communities have fewer resources  to adapt to climate change or avoid contact with disease when a pandemic like COVID-19 strikes. We are now seeing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on food supply chains resulting in food price volatility and less availability of staples. Aside from the current pandemic, there is another major threat that has been rapidly creating vulnerable populations: climate change and increased weather variability. 

The extreme weather events are getting more severe. So we’re seeing more severe heat waves. We’re seeing more severe wildfires… So it’s absolutely clear that climate change is making these extreme weather events worse, and it brings a whole range of severe impacts to human health” (EcoWatch, 2020). Increased weather variability is disproportionately impacting poorer populations, especially women. Governments, businesses and development organizations do not have access to localized,  accurate weather information to make decisions well in advance of a food security crisis.  Knowing how many people are impacted by weather variability (erratic rainfall) and extreme events (drought, flooding, heat waves) is key to prioritizing and planning interventions to abate human suffering. aWhere’s 1.9 million weather station network can reveal weather patterns in both the forecast and current conditions to get ahead of a weather-related crisis. Below are two examples of how we can identify populations at risk of weather variability due to climate change within regions across sub-Saharan Africa.

West Africa: 40% of the population will experience drier than normal conditions

aWhere’s assessment of the forecast across West Africa (map below) showed drier than normal conditions for a key agricultural variable that divides precipitation (P, rainfall) by potential evapotranspiration (PET, evaporative demand on the environment). P/PET is a highly interpretive index for water available for healthy vegetation.  About 118 million people are currently in the growing season and also experiencing drier than normal conditions which will impact crop production. For a region that relies substantially on rainfed agriculture for food and employment, any variations in the expected weather conditions could impact the productivity of key staples and cash crops (e.g. cacao). Any changes to the food supply can also increase food insecurity and have negative impacts on health and nutrition. Farmers should be alerted of these changes to allow them to plan for augmentative irrigation where possible or shift cropping practices to reduce the risk of a crop failure. While the map below shows only the 2-week forecast, similar analyses for longer term weather trends can also be conducted to better understand the historical trends from the national to farm-level.

Eastern Africa: weather variability keeps farmers guessing on when to plant

Weather variability is a significant challenge to smallholder farmers in Africa as many rely on historical seasonal patterns to signal them when to plant. Climate change is altering the frequency, duration, and volume of rainfall. Farmers who depend on rainfed cropping systems are extremely vulnerable to any variability in weather – this is the case for over 95% of African farmers. Conducting quick environmental trend analyses with aWhere’s data can locate areas that are ecologically vulnerable and how many people are at risk of food insecurity due to drought. 

The map below shows the rainy season from October-December, often referred to as the “short-season rains”. Using the precipitation over potential evapotranspiration (P/PET) index and its variability (i.e. coefficient of variation) over time (2006-2019), aWhere identified where 161 million people live who are at risk of a crop production variability that can compromise food security. 

Farmers need in-time weather-based insights to make informed crop management decisions to increase productivity and reduce the risk of crop failures. Given the reduced movement of people and food due to the COVID-19 epidemic, this is posing severe challenges in the region for poorer communities already impacted by climate change. Monitoring food production systems is critical to food is Accessible, Affordable and Available to ensure nutritional security for society. We are now seeing the overlap of two global crises: COVID-19 and Climate Change. We must harness all our resources to plan our path forward as a global society. 

Food Security Tracker Updates

As part of the COVID, CLIMATE and FOOD series, we will provide an updated Global Food Security Tracker which shows the forecast of precipitation over potential evapotranspiration (P/PET). Southeast Asia, parts of South America, the Midwest of the United States, and much of West Africa will experience drier than normal conditions. aWhere has 1.9 million virtual weather stations that cover the world’s daily weather since 2006 and enables us to look at local trends as well as 15-day forecasts to generate insights on how best to respond to global challenges impacted by weather variability in a sustainable (socially, economically, environmentally) manner.

Our next blog will investigate the impacts of COVID-19 and climate change on food security.