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Satellite Data Bolsters Food Security and Climate Resilience in South Asia

Earth observation data supported Cyclone Amphan damage and loss assessment / Illustration Credit: Sudip Maharjan/ICIMOD)

Satellites and digital technologies have improved how we understand and respond to impacts of climate change. Advances in Earth observation are instrumental in ensuring communities have the information they need to protect their lives and livelihoods. With drought and flooding more and more frequent due to climate change, Feed the Future is looking to space to support governments to take action before crisis strikes.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, through Feed the Future, is partnering with NASA and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development on an important mission. By using satellite information to track weather events critical to food and water security, the SERVIR-Hindu Kush Himalaya Activity is strengthening resilience for families in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.

Bringing Data Down to Earth

Water is one of the key elements that SERVIR tracks from space. Water availability impacts decision-making at the community level when growing, harvesting or even processing food. In the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, in particular, runoff and snowmelt feed 10 major river systems across South, Southeast and East Asia, so anticipating water needs is key.

“With the rise in erratic climatic conditions, dependency [on external food supplies] is increasing,” said Dr. Bashir Ahmed, director of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council. “In the past decade, we are witnessing frequent dry spells and severe droughts which are gradually depleting the cultivable land and farmers are unable to adapt with these severe climate risks.”

SERVIR also tracks data related to food security and land use, like forecasting drought and the mapping out of resources and crops to support farmers in areas with limited arable land. Through the Regional Drought Monitoring and Outlook System, SERVIR produces vital information and outlooks for the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, so that countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan are prepared for drought.

By mapping out the type, area, conditions and projected yields of major crops in these countries, SERVIR makes it easier for decision makers to improve how crops are grown. This is important because knowing how much yield a farm will have or when the next flood will hit allows farmers to take proactive steps to protect what they have and bounce back from what they lost. Local governments then know to build their policies with resilience in mind.

Nepal officials using satellite data in the field.

Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD) in Nepal using satellite data in the field / Photo Credit: Sravan Shrestha

Ravi Kiran Adhikari, agriculture extension officer of the Nawalparasi district in Nepal, said: “The training on using satellite remote sensing enabled us to perform our task of reporting on crop conditions more efficiently…this enables us to plan our activities and service provisioning for local farmers better.”

In Pakistan, government officials are now working in tandem with farmers on crop zoning to yield greater profits and maintain ecological balance for long-term sustainability. Nepal uses crop mapping for yield assessments to track food security and to support decisions on crop procurement, the import and export of food grain and farmer subsidies.

Climate Data in Action

Timing is everything when it comes to the impacts of climate change. By tracking the trends of day-to-day weather patterns over a long period of time, SERVIR collaborates with local decision makers so that they have the right information to adapt to and respond to the climate challenges that come their way.

For the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, that means saving the lives and livelihoods of many.

With SERVIR’s prediction tools to forecast flood water levels in flood-prone rivers, vulnerable communities now have greater lead time to prepare. In Bangladesh, this early warning service works with streamflow prediction across 21 specific locations on river systems, giving families the critical time they need to protect their properties and lives. SERVIR has partnered with the Bangladesh Meteorological Department in the development and transfer of new, life-saving forecasting tools.

Satellite data is instrumental in predicting extreme climate and weather, and it’s also key to helping countries assess impact after a severe weather event has occurred.

When Cyclone Amphan hit Bangladesh, SERVIR quickly assessed the impacts and damages to displaced farmers and their crops. Working with host country partners, SERVIR used this as a case study to showcase applications of satellite technology impact assessment and quick response to a disaster.

From space to village, SERVIR is ensuring the work to end hunger, poverty and malnutrition stands up to the test of climate change.

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