- Published on Monday, 16 April 2012 12:07
The introduction of a real time early warning system for pastoralists in the arid Turkana county has promised to halve the livestock mortality rate during droughts, offering hope to thousand of pastoralists who peg their economic survival on livestock.
Under the Waterhole Monitoring System project funded by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to a tune of $30,000, the University of Nairobi and Texas ANM University are using water levels as an indicator of impending drought, which will then inform intervention measures months before disaster strikes.
Data on the water levels of the pans and rivers and on body conditions of the animals will be collected on a weekly basis and posted in smartphones. The information will then be sent using GPRS and stored in a cloud server at the touch of a button.
Based on this information, anomalies will be identified by comparing current estimates with historical values in order to issue alerts and advisories. Results will be made available on the internet to allow for detection and communication of the anomalies to relief agencies and National Disaster Response coordinators.
It is hoped that this will assist in helping to plan migratory movement for the livestock based on the availability of water and pasture. The electronic alerts system is a departure from the past where slow and voluminous paperwork would take an average three months to interpret an imminent drought, which would then catch scientists and pastoralists flat footed.
“You picture a situation where we are collecting information manually, take it to our offices, try to piece it together and then use estimates, which at times were wrong, to explain to the pastoralists when we anticipated a dry spell.
What this new model does is that it assists us to track the progress of water levels and predict way before on when a dry spell or drought might strike, giving pastoralists enough time to plan their next move. What we have seen so far with the model is that it is very accurate,” said Dr. Job Onditi, who has been involved in the project.
Already, the pastoralists have been trained on measuring the water levels and filling the data on the forms, which will then be inputted into the smart phones by people in the area who have been trained to upload the measurements.
The project, which is being rolled out in the six districts of Turkana County, will also set up fully fledged water monitoring satellite stations, which will use satellite images to estimate water availability in a particular area by telling how much rainfall an area is likely to receive.
“You can imagine what this then means to the pastoralists. It means we are able to advise them beforehand on where and when to move for pasture, which not only reduces the number of drought related livestock diseases, but also contains conflicts between communities fighting for limited pasture,” sais Dr. Onditi. This year, about 300 pastoralists have died in fighting in North Eastern province over pasture.
The satellite stations have been successfully used by the International Livestock Research Institute in its ground breaking livestock insurance scheme, which draws on data from satellites to create an index on vegetation levels.
When vegetation levels drop because of drought or poor weather, farmers are paid. Already some 650 families in the drought areas have received pay outs following a recent drought in the North that killed 300,000 goats and sheep in the area out of a population of around two million in Turkana District, according to the 2009 National Housing and Population Census.
It is hoped the monitoring of the waterholes and rivers will also better management of the environment in terms of land degradation brought about by the excessive concentration of livestock during droughts.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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