Operationalizing an agricultural drought monitoring and early warning system in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region
Written by Faisal Mueen Qamer, Remote Sensing Specialist, Geospatial Solutions, ICIMOD; and Mir Matin, Science and Data Lead, SERVIR-HKH/Theme leader, Geospatial Solutions, ICIMOD.
The countries that share the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan – frequently experience agricultural, hydrological, meteorological, and socioeconomic droughts. The 2011 Afghanistan drought was the worst recorded in the country’s history, afflicting 14 out of 34 provinces and affecting 2.6 million people. Nepal’s worst recorded drought was in 1994, affecting 35 districts of the western hilly and Terai regions. During the winter 2008/2009 drought, Nepal received less than 50 percent of its average precipitation. Similarly, Bangladesh experiences low rainfall from November through May annually. Between 1949 and 1991, Bangladesh experienced 24 droughts.
The capacity in monitoring droughts and providing early warning information to ensure agriculture and food security is equally varied among countries in the HKH region. Most national meteorological and hydrological services lack adequate infrastructure and have little experience in generating seasonal precipitation forecasts to support farming practices and decision making. Meanwhile, weather conditions have become uncertain, both in terms of timing and intensity. Farmers and related institutions are unable to adapt to these sharp changes, causing bottlenecks in crop production and threatening the livelihood of farmers.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), under its SERVIR Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) and Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) Initiatives, is collaborating with technical organizations in the United States and meteorological and agricultural institutions in the HKH to establish a regional agricultural drought monitoring and early warning system. The system aims to improve the capacity of agro-met advisory professionals in using Earth observation and geospatial information technology (EO/GIT) to develop locally relevant agriculture advisories. The system incorporates climatic and land surface models and assimilates suitable Earth observation datasets to produce drought monitoring and warning information for the HKH with a special focus on Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
Data products emanating from the system mainly include baselines on crop type maps and farming practices calendars valid at the district level, and multiple indices for droughts and seasonal weather outlooks at the national and regional levels to facilitate short- to medium-term agri-advisories.
The system provides information on five indices – evapotranspiration, precipitation rate, standardized precipitation index (SPI), soil moisture, and temperature – at the regional, national, and district levels. Users can already explore historical time-series data on the five indices over 18 years aggregated in decadal, monthly, and quarterly sets. The system will soon roll out three- to six-month forecast abilities.
ICIMOD conducted a number of consultation workshops in the aforementioned countries with relevant government agencies to demonstrate a prototype of the system and receive feedback from users. The prototype of Nepal Drought Watch, part of the regional agricultural drought monitoring and early warning system, is available at the Government of Nepal’s Agriculture Management Information System (AMIS) portal. The prototype allows users to visualize and download drought indices aggregated at the district level.
ICIMOD is currently working on validation of the generated data products with partners and extending trainings on the development and use of data products in collaboration with national agencies, while improving and customizing information products for targeted users on the basis of the feedback received.
SERVIR connects space to village by helping developing countries use satellite data to address challenges in food security, water resources, weather and climate, land use, and natural disasters. A partnership of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and leading technical organizations, SERVIR develops innovative solutions to improve livelihoods and foster self-reliance in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. SERVIR-HKH is implemented by ICIMOD in its regional member countries in the HKH region, prioritizing activities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.