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Satellite tech can save African governments billions

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African governments and private sector organisations could save billions of dollars by adequately leveraging satellite networks and next-gen satellite technology for more effective disaster management efforts.

This is one of the key findings of “The Role of Satellite Communications in Disaster Management” white paper, released by Access Partnership, a global public policy firm for the technology sector.

The white paper outlines the urgency with which governments and the private sector need to leverage satellite technology for more effective disaster management efforts in Africa and globally.

If governments increase investments in physical and social infrastructure through the acceleration of transformational technologies, such as the effective use of satellite networks and next-generation satellite technology, this has the power to provide crucial data prior to, or when a natural disaster strikes, it says.

Satellite networks can also significantly reduce costs during emergencies, particularly where cellular networks cannot reach.

According to the report, the annual number of natural disasters is set to increase by 37% (from 442 to 541 occurrences) by 2025 globally. The impact of natural disasters is expected to be concentrated among low- and middle-income countries, which are relatively less prepared to adapt.

It shows that natural disasters currently cost the agricultural sectors of these markets more than $108 billion in damaged crop and livestock production.

Should the level of financing in climate adaptability remain low in these markets, the United Nations Environment Programme estimates climate change adaptation and natural disaster damages could cost developing countries $280 billion to $500 billion per year by 2050.

Because satellites are positioned above the earth’s atmosphere, they are able to produce crucial data on vast geographical situations and enable adequate disaster planning measures, which can save lives and reduce costs.

“Putting in place satellite services and next-generation satellite-enabled connectivity can mean the difference between saving millions of lives, or losing them,” says Ivan Suarez, senior policy manager at Access Partnership.

“As shown by this study, we need a concerted effort to fix the underlying inefficiencies of our existing communication systems. The availability of communication networks is directly related to the ability to respond quickly to emergencies and this move can also reduce government expenditure during and post-disaster.”

Satellite provides connectivity and broadcast services over vast geographical areas. It also offers extreme high-availability, which is not impacted by on-the-ground conditions, such as load-shedding.

With new entrants like SpaceX’s Starlink satellite service setting its sights on the African continent, there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the satellite industry recently.

Ivan Suarez, senior policy manager at Access Partnership.
Ivan Suarez, senior policy manager at Access Partnership.

Dire predictions

According to the research, weather-related disasters − such as hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and severe storms − are likely to become more frequent and widespread in coming years, due to climate change.

This increased frequency of natural disasters, predominantly caused by climate change, is set to overwhelm the National Emergency Telecommunications Plans (guideline document by the International Telecommunication Union) and terrestrial service providers currently in place to minimise and mitigate the human and economic cost of adverse weather events.

Satellite data, combined with the use of data analytics and predictive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can be used to analyse past behaviour and provide a forecast on future weather patterns, it notes.

“In order to combat the user knowledge limitations faced by our present satellite solutions and their application in emergency response, a revolution is needed, and satellite-enabled technology is at the core of it.

“The landscape of each jurisdiction may define the best deployment alternatives for a given country. However, the need for complementary satellite-enabled connectivity is a must for even highly-connected telecommunications markets, which also have under-served areas.”

The report highlights that more agile regulatory and policy guidelines for the fast deployment of emergency communications technology are required in Africa.

“The role of policy and regulation is key to guarantee responses are both effective and timely. For this, defining the institutional roles that are applicable during disaster and emergency management is of paramount importance.

“Licensing and authorisation frameworks need to seriously consider the human and economic importance of enabling complementary satellite-enabled connectivity in future years,” it states.

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