ICIMOD report highlights use of space data in monitoring drought and forest fires

According to a recent report published by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), space-based information can play a key role in the monitoring of agricultural droughts and forest fires. The "Building Mountain Resilience: Solutions from the Hindu Kush Himalaya" report examines the changing problems facing the Himalayan region of South Asia and highlights the potential for technologies, including space-based applications, to inform communities, practitioners, decision-makers and governments alike, and build more resilient mountain communities.

The "Building Mountain Resilience: Solutions from the Hindu Kush Himalaya" report can be read here.

Citizens living in mountainous areas are impacted greatly by rising temperatures, dwindling natural resources, and rapidly increasing outmigration. The report addresses these issues and focuses on affordable and replicable solutions that can create resilient mountainous communities.

The report presents a selection of resilience building solutions from various initiatives ICIMOD and its partner institutions have developed in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region of South Asia. These solutions are broken into three categories: sustaining natural resources, changing behaviours and practices, and improved governance and services. Space applications, the report suggests, can play a major role in monitoring agriculture and also tackling forest fires.  

Agriculture is important for the Himalayan region, with two-thirds of the total population of Nepal depending on agriculture for their livelihood. However agricultural systems of the region are susceptible to the effects of climate change, with extreme weather patterns threatening crop yields and therefore livelihoods of the region. For better agricultural monitoring, the report recommends the integration of satellite remote sensing into monitoring systems to allow crop analysts to track the development of crops. This helps farmers monitor the conditions of crops, particularly during the growing season, as well as also aiding decision makers in developing effective agricultural policies, including providing key information in times of drought or natural disasters in order to avoid food shortfalls. ICIMOD, through its SERVIR-Himalaya initiative, and in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP) and Nepal’s Ministry of Agricultural Development (MoAD) has established a comprehensive agriculture drought monitoring system. This system analyzes historical climate and crop conditions patterns captured through near real-time earth observation data and compare this with the current growing season to provide a timely assessment of crop growth conditions. The system has been successful in identifying areas of high drought and allocating food aid to those most in need.

Forest fires are also a problem for mountain regions. Timely information about forest fire outbreak is critical to the effective mobilization of response teams. The report details ICIMOD"s initiative of integrating space-based data into fire monitoring systems in the region. ICIMOD, under the SERVIR programme, developed a web application to map active forest fires and generate alerts to be delivered to registered users. The system uses an active fire database mapped by a satellite called Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), which is available twice a day. The system delivers, within 30 minutes of the satellite overpass, a forest fire alert to forest officials and volunteers of the district. More can be read about the system here.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)

ICIMOD is a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. Based in Kathmandu, Nepal, the centre  works to deliver impacts in five regional programmes across four thematic areas: water and air; ecosystem management; livelihoods; and geospatial solutions.

ICIMOD’s Geospatial Solutions Theme has hosted the UN-SPIDER Regional Support Office since 2013. The Geospatial Solutions Theme is a repository for geospatial databases relevant to a wide range of applications including disasters and served through the GeoNetwork. It promotes the use of space-based information and GIS for sustainable development to improve the lives and livelihoods of mountain women and men in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.

In 2017, UN-SPDIER carried out a Technical Advisory Mission (TAM) to Nepal on the request of Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) and with technical support of ICIMOD. The TAM evaluated the current and potential use of space-derived information in all aspects of disaster management and offered recommendations to strengthen the disaster risk management and emergency response in the country.