Disaster IT once more: the Weather Information for All Initiative

Peace & Security19 Jun 2009Thea Hilhorst

Kofi Annan, after his retirement as General Secretary formed the Global Humanitarian Platform

This morning, he launched one of the initiatives: Weather Information for All. It is not very different from the globalized grassroots IT innovations that I discussed yesterday, except on a vastly different scale. This is a global public-private partnership between the World Meteorology Organization, the Earth Institute of Jeffrey Sachs, the mobile phone company Ericsson and others. Building on the fact that 400 million Africans have mobile phones (which does not say anything of course on how many have their batteries charged), 5.000 weather monitoring devices will be built that emit information directly to farmers, fishermen and other weather-dependent people on the continent. See the press release.

Many in the room felt really uncomfortable during the launch. We were surrounded by the initiator’s logo’s, there were a number of high-tech video messages and commercials, and the presentations were unbearably vague. Nothing was said about the prospective users of the system, nothing about the costs incurred for them, nothing about the ways that vulnerable people can act on the information. Big business comes up with a new panacea and technology will once again save the world. Yet, I left the room in the end quite optimistic. The potential benefits of the system are huge, and I must say that I do appreciate the fact that vulnerable people are treated as clients to weather information services rather than beneficiaries that need to be taught what to do. Kofi Annan gets my tentative vote for his initiative!