Business Magazine

Could Community-Based Weather Forecasting Help Defuse Conflict?

Posted on the 23 July 2015 by Center For International Private Enterprise @CIPEglobal

Weather stations like this one in Australia provide information that is vital to agrarian economies. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

By Gracie Cook

While religious, sectarian, and geopolitical divisions in the world’s hotspots often make headlines, an even more basic driver of conflict is often overlooked: the weather.

In agrarian or water-scarce societies, changes in weather patterns lay the groundwork for resource conflicts between ethnic and religious groups, while severe weather events like drought can exacerbate existing social, economic, and political tensions, often boiling over into violence. While poor governance in conflict-afflicted societies too often turns bad weather into catastrophe, a greater role for the private sector in dealing with weather-related problems might just help prevent future outbreaks of violence.

The role of private enterprise in economic development is well-established. Yet many of the areas most in need of economic development are also areas that have experienced, are experiencing, or are susceptible to violent conflict due to the destruction of infrastructure, political capacity of the state, and inter-group tensions. With conflict typically comes a lack of appropriate and necessary governance, leaving citizens’ economic and physical security at even greater risk.

The private sector, a group which inherently tends to transcend political and social divisions, has the potential to lead programs to both promote economic development and to provide foundations on which local populations may work towards solutions for violent conflicts. Weather forecasting and climate information provision is just one of the ways that private-sector involvement can help mitigate or end conflict in economically precarious regions.

Severe weather phenomena are quickly becoming a major influence in global affairs, as both catalyzing forces of conflict and disaster as well as potential sources for peacemaking and development opportunities. Severe flooding, strong cyclones and hurricanes, and extreme drought are among the many sorts of weather events that climatologists see increasing in intensity and frequency in most areas of the world. These weather events influence political, economic, and security patterns of states; particularly volatile ones.

Weather may be building a reputation for itself as a destructive force, but its potential as a force for local economic rehabilitation and stabilization in the wake of natural disasters merits exploration. More importantly, perhaps, is weather’s potential to serve as a medium for conflict resolution. In many areas riven with conflict, governance by the state and local governments is limited or non-existent. In order to protect themselves and their livelihoods, local communities, with the help of private enterprise, must take their safety into their own hands when it comes to weather forecasting.

To illustrate how weather can play a role in international affairs, consider the case of Syria. The severe drought that hit the country between 2006 and 2011 exposed the inability of the regime to protect its citizens. Farmers and rural populations deserted their crops and homes to move into cities, straining water supplies and adding to the overall desperation of the situation. Those who remained in the countryside lacked access to the water needed to maintain their crops, and local economies, many of which were and still are centered in water-intensive cotton and wheat farming, plummeted. Without enough jobs, and an even worse situation when it came to allocation of resources needed for survival, discontent among the masses increased and eventually fed into the civil war still going on today.

Much of the population excluded from water allocation in the initial stages of the crisis, now either marginalized geographically or as a result of living under opposition control, is still excluded from resources — and not only water. Many are denied the basic right of access to information. Since the outbreak of the civil war, general access to up-to-date and accurate information has been highly restricted as a result of a lack of government allocation in opposition-controlled zones and the destruction of telecommunication infrastructure by weapons of war. Among the information not being disseminated to marginalized communities is weather forecasts — leaving people at much greater risk of having their progress in reconstruction destroyed, and their safety put at risk, by future natural disasters.

A solution to this issue lies in privately-led weather forecasting initiatives based on local participation. With the establishment of automatic weather stations using wireless sensor networks, supplemented with local knowledge and the training and involvement of local people and businesses to compile and analyze the collected data, local populations could, themselves, plug the information gap that their governments left vacant. With forecasts put together from the various sources of meteorological and environmental data, communities could better prepare for inbound severe weather and also practice agricultural techniques deemed to be most conducive to their environments. An initiative built upon this idea would promote collaboration, enhance community participation in the local economy, lead to more stable economic growth, lower unemployment, and contribute to the safety of those people surrounded by conflict and exposed to the natural elements because of it.

The key to such an approach to protection, economic development, and conflict resolution is the leadership of private enterprise and the involvement of local professionals and communities. Especially in states like Syria where power is divided among several groups, private businesses with no biases or affiliates are one of the most promising sources of leadership for such an endeavor. People of all regions, ethnicities and socioeconomic classes would have access to the resources and to opportunities presented.

Such a project also offers the potential for self-reliance, rather than dependence on international aid agencies that becomes the product of so many conventional development projects. By teaching locals to collect and provide information for themselves, their safety is in their own hands, and so is their success.  If the plan fails, these local businesses leading the ventures cannot blame anyone but themselves, and would have to figure out ways to rebuild afterwards, independently. Because of this, there would be a greater incentive among participants and communities to keep programs such as these alive and productive; this motivation will drive overall economic growth and inclusion in the long-run.

Eventually, programs like these could even help resolve conflicts. No ethnic, religious, or political group is exempt from the force of Mother Nature. With information vacuums affecting all areas of the country — whether those controlled by Syrian armed forces, the opposition, ISIS, or the Kurds — everyone could benefit from better disaster management and recovery systems provided by local forecasting initiatives. Not only would the people and economies within these areas of control be better protected and more prosperous, but social unrest would be reduced, making leadership less difficult for those in power. As people with idle hands choose to pick up instruments of forecasting rather than instruments of war, legitimate economies and structures will have the opportunity to form and prosper. Eventually, the desire – and necessity – to sustain these developments could lead to a decrease in violent, destructive conflict.

Though Syria has been the basis of this discussion, similar initiatives could be applied to conflict zones in all regions of the world. Just as programs addressing water scarcity have been adopted by grassroots and government organizations as a tool in working to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, weather projects could have the same potential. Both water and weather are essential components to life, unavoidably influential, and have the ability to cause harm to those exposed to too much or too little of it. Though weather does not necessarily directly cause conflict, it has the potential to catalyze it by straining governance structures and economic systems. Through the leadership of local, unbiased businesses, the developmental and peacebuilding properties of weather can be utilized in self-reliant projects contributing to overall safety and security of people and economies in areas of conflict.

Gracie Cook is an intern working with CIPE’s Conflict Taskforce.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog