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Space and Development…Increasing Access to Space in Africa

Archive for the ‘Global Security’ Category

GRACE abounds!

Posted by Simon Adebola on July 1, 2010

The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) are to continue their collaboration on the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission on till 2015. Full story here

Data from NASA's GRACE satellites helps gauge groundwater fluctuations in northwestern India and elsewhere. (National Geographic Society Website)

Image courtesy Trent Schindler and Matt Rodell, NASA

Results from this mission have proven invaluable in tracking the amount of underground water, ice, and global sea levels. This is of key essence in preparing for hazards related to water shortages, rising sea levels, and ocean currents. It is also important that scienctists and researchers on the African continent take advantage of such data to develop intelligent systems that would help guide the development of climate adaptation, disaster preparedness, and mitigation efforts. The role of international cooperation, capacity building, and financial support is very crucial here. Efforts should also be made to engage communities proactively, and empower them to cope with these foreseeable challenges.

More on GRACE here


Posted in Africa, Climate change, Disaster management, Drought, Earth observation, Global Security, India, NASA, Satellites, Science, Space science and technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Climate Change Effects in Nigeria

Posted by Simon Adebola on March 30, 2010

Heat, Dusty Weather Raise Health Concerns
By Tunde Akingbade

Last Monday, over 90 percent of all the flights at the nation’s airports were cancelled or delayed. There was a thick fog in the atmosphere. The visibility was poor. It was less than 500 metres and this posed danger for aircraft all over the region.

In a particular instance, a passenger aircraft that was to land in Nigeria’s airport ended up in Cotonou, Benin republic because of poor visibility, according to airport sources.

Haze in Nigeria (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

This reporter on his way to climate change engagements in Abuja was stuck at the airport.It was similar to an incident at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam on the way to India for a United Nations Climate Change conference sometime ago. Ironically, many climate change experts going for Climate conferences are being trapped the world over by erratic weather patterns. Incidences of meningitis have been on the increase in Nigeria for the past one-year as a result of excessive heat. This year has been unbearably hot in Nigeria and other countries in Sub Saharan Africa. In Nigeria the eleven frontline states in the north that have suffered from desert encroachment have been suffering from heat related ailments.

Early last year investigations revealed that over 200 people were killed by meningitis in Nigeria and Niger Republic in one week. There were outbreaks in 76 areas. There were 25,000 suspected cases and 1, 500 deaths in the first quarter of 2009. Although meningitis is a disease caused by an infection of the meanings, which is the thin lining that surrounds the brain and the spinal chord, experts have found a correlation between the weather and this disease. It is generally known that the disease attacks more people during the dry season because of dust, wind and cold nights. There were indications in the past one month that many people were treated for acute pneumonia in some hospitals as a result of the erratic and unpredictable weather which has also confused farmers about planting seasons raising fear about food production and security.

Apart from the reign of diseases as a result of harsh weather conditions in Northern Nigeria agriculture has been affected as a result of erratic weather patterns. The dryness has led to dry waterbeds and movement of people and their pasture to the southern regions thus causing tension and conflicts between the original inhabitants and the new comers. Experts at the United Nations and other global bodies have found over the years that the world’s climate has changed.

In one of his treatise on Climate Change in Nigeria and Niger, Professor Emmanuel Oladipo, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Consultant and Nigeria/Niger Project, Niamey, confirmed that Climate change is a serious threat to efforts at poverty eradication, and sustainable development in Nigeria and Niger because the countries have large rural population directly depending on climate sensitive economic and development sectors (agriculture and fisheries).

Even in the southern states, medical experts hinted last week that cases of Tuberculosis have been on the increase.

Dr. Nath Ayo Macualay Medical Director, Macaulay Medical centre, Mushin, Lagos told The Guardian that apart from heat rashes that had been noticed amongst the populace within the period of intense heat, there has been an upsurge in Tuberculosis (TB) in the past one month.

Macaulay said that those who are at risk are those who were not immunized against TB. The Medical doctor said that when a tuberculosis patient spits on the ground, the TB virus can hang in the air for 42 days unlike other viruses such as gonorrhea that can die within one hour.

“If you breathe in the tuberculosis virus in the air through dust it very hazardous,” said Macaulay, adding that the “TB can be in the air because of a lot of dust”

Last Friday, the Federal government raised an alarm that tuberculosis is on the increase and that about one million Nigerians are afflicted by the disease.

Haze in Lagos (Photo: Femi Adebesin-Kuti)

Dr. Victor Fodeke, the Head/Designated National Authority (DNA) Special Climate Change Unit, Federal Ministry of Environment, Abuja told The Guardian in Abuja last week that the sudden change in weather at this time of the year is a very serious problem.

According to him, this is the beginning of the worst thing to expect adding that this is evidence that greenhouse gases have altered the weather patterns of the world and Nigeria in particular. Dr. Victor Nkom, climate change expert/consultant to the Federal Ministry of Environment warned in Abuja that the dusty and hazy weather would trigger certain ailments amongst the populace who were not ready for the unusual weather.

Nkom said the dust in the atmosphere would trigger droplet infection because the dust will become the medium of propagating the various viruses and bacteria that are airborne.

Fodeke regretted that policy makers all over the world have underestimated the problem of climate change. He noted that a document written by Professor Charles H. Greene, of Cornell University’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences entitled: “A Very Inconvenient Truth,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Oceanography this month concluded that the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 4th “assessment report underestimates the potential dangerous effects that man-made climate change will have on society.” Adding that “even if all man-made green house gas emission were stopped tomorrow and carbon-dioxide levels stabilized at today’s concentration, by the end of this century the global average temperature would increase by about 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 2.4 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, which is significantly above the level which scientists and policymakers agree is a threshold for dangerous climate change.” In the document, Professor Green and other co authors D. James Baker of the William J. Clinton Foundation and Daniel H. Miller of the Roda Group, Berkeley, California, USA are of the opinion that “reducing greenhouse gas emissions alone is unlikely to mitigate the risks of dangerous climate change” adding that society should significantly expand research into geo-engineering solutions that remove and sequester greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. He concluded by adding that geo-engineering solutions must be in addition to, not replace, dramatic emission reductions if society is to avoid the most dangerous impacts from climate change.”

Tunde Akingbade writes for the Guardian Newspapers in Nigeria. This report was culled from The Guardian (30-03-10)

Posted in Africa, Climate change, Drought, Earth observation, Epidemiology, Global Security, Health, Tuberculosis | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Space-based monitoring of Climate-sensitive diseases

Posted by Simon Adebola on December 17, 2009

There are certain infectious diseases that are said to be climate sensitive. These diseases are described thus because of the observed change in their epidemiology following the probable effects of anthropogenic global warming.

Source: National Science Foundation, USA.

Some of these diseases represent the common face of the human-vector interaction as mediated by man’s environment. They also represent a huge health and economic burden to affected populations. It is thus important, in instituting control measures to combat the spread of these diseases, that there be a functional understanding of the various environmental parameters that influence the biology of these vectors and the natural history of the diseases that they transmit. Other non vector-related occurences such as heat waves, with attendant adverse health effects, also need to be studied and predicted.

The role of space technologies is very important in monitoring and understanding the influence of environmental parameters on vector biology and disease transmission cycles. Typically, earth observation systems that routinely monitor the environment give very useful data that can be adapted for the study of vectors, their associated diseases and other climate sensitive diseases. These systems operate with sensors located in water bodies, on the earth’s surface, above the earth’s surface, in the atmosphere and in outer space. These all combine to give a continuous stream of data to inform the scientific study of the climate and how its patterns are influencing the spread of diseases. This studies involve the complex task of disease modeling to aid public health interventions in curbing the spread and effect of such diseases. Interventions include chemical, physical, biological and pharmacological measures such as vaccinations, the distribution of Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs), use of repellants, drainage of stagnant water, etc.

The advantages of space-based imagery for these studies include its reliable supply of data on a range of environmental parameters such as precipitation, temperature, Vegetation Indices, topography, etc. It makes these data available at varying temporal, spatial and spectral resolutions. Satellite data can be acquired at reasonable costs and much of what is freely available is being put to good scientific use already. To improve access to this, it is important that African countries invest in developing technical and scientific capacity to put them at the helm of disease studies affecting their environment and populations.

IRI/LDEO Data Library

EDEN: Emerging Diseases in a Changing European Environment

Posted in Africa, Climate change, Development, Earth observation, Epidemiology, Global Security, Health, Satellites, Science, Space science and technology | Leave a Comment »

A Quick Look at Satellite Oil Spill Monitoring

Posted by Simon Adebola on September 16, 2009

The dangers that petroleum oil spills pose to the environment and the health of marine life and humans has been well documented. This short post, a follow-up to the last one, shows how optical satellites can be used in monitoring the state of the environment and specifically, in this case, following an offshore oil spill. The images published by the NASA Earth Observatory showing the use of optical remote sensing satellites in the detection of oil spills in the Timor sea are a good example of how these earth observing satellites can be put to good use for this purpose. The images are available here and here. The use of radar remote sensing for the same purpose, as briefly mentioned in the last post, can be further seen in these images from RADARSAT and TERRASAR X

Oil Trading Nations (Source: Wikipedia)

Oil Trading Nations (Source: Wikipedia)

The number of African countries with investments in the petroleum sector is growing. Nigeria, Algeria, Libya and Angola are major oil producers while 18 African countries in all are in the oil producing league of nations. What does this imply? The responsible use and control of a nation’s resources lies in the hands of its government and people. Satellite monitoring of petroleum resources is thus an important part of the ‘toolbox’ for effective monitoring by countries that produce or even trade in oil. Most oil spills occur at the point of loading or off-loading of oil at ports and other transfer points (See the example of the Bonga deepwater oil spill below). This requires a system of laws and other regulatory mechanisms with sufficient power to monitor the uses and misuses of petroleum that could have a negative effect on the environment and human life. Technologies such as satellite imagery/remote sensing, geo-positioning equipments, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and other applications have a crucial role to play in supporting these aims.

Bonga deepwater oil spill December 2011
Image: Oil slick covers 356 square miles off the coast of Nigeria. (Envisat SAR/SkyTruth).
Article by Brandon Kim on the oil spill from the Bonga deepwater facility on December 20 2011 off the coast of Nigeria.

See also Oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico

Posted in Africa, Earth observation, Global Security, Health, Satellites, Science, Space science and technology, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Dust, Dry Days and Disease in Africa 3

Posted by Simon Adebola on August 14, 2009

Images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board the NASA Terra and Aqua satellites have been very useful in tracking the spread of dust on and away from the African continent. This has also helped in guiding researchers and scientists in observing the links between this spreading dust and various climatic and biological phenomena.
Saharan Dust Travels Over The Atlantic

The image above depicts the flow of dust off the west coast of Africa. The following description from the NASA Earth Observatory states that,

“The Sahara experiences extreme variations in land surface temperature—from freezing temperatures at night to more than 54.4°C (130°F) during the day. The extreme daytime heating in the Sahara Desert, especially during the summer, causes instability in the lowest level of the atmosphere. Dust-laden air rises and begins moving westward. As the air travels—a trip that often takes several days—it continues heating. When this Saharan Air Layer moves off the African coast and over the Atlantic Ocean, it is undercut by a cooler, wetter layer of air. Air normally cools with altitude, but the Saharan Air Layer passing over cooler air currents causes a temperature inversion, which suppresses mixing. As a result, Saharan dust often travels across the Atlantic, sometimes remaining visible throughout the trip.”

Dust moves freely across the continent and blows off the coast driven by the various winds and thus goes to contribute to the soil profile of other parts of the world. It also settles in the ocean along its way adding nutrients and thus embellishing oceanic ecological patterns.

But what effect does this have on human health and livelihood? In looking at that we would like to consider the amount of the earth’s surface that is potentially exposed to airborne dust. Airborne dust has been described, by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States, as the primary source of allergic stress worldwide. Deserts (in this case referring to non-polar arid zones) are major sources of dust particles.

Global Distribution of Non-Polar Arid Land (Source: Meig, 1953 in Edwards, K. 2001)

Global Distribution of Non-Polar Arid Land (Source: Meig, 1953 in Edwards, K. 2001)

D. W. Griffin has worked on using satellites to monitor the global spread of dust and linking this with its effects on ecology and human health. His work (in this paper with C. A. Kellogg) identified these effects on life forms, both human and in the oceans, and on various continents. The identified effects include coral bleaching, algal blooms and allergenic effects on humans, including aggravating asthma. This may not be solely due to desert dust but the increased concentration of these dust particles, some as fine as 2.5 microns, in combination with other industrial and environmental pollutants may play a role in immunogenic responses that cause ill health. The human respiratory mucosa usually traps dust particles and tries to clear the respiratory passageways of these irritants. However, these very fine particles may exacerbate that response. This is of more serious concern in individuals with compromised respiratory and immunologic responses.

A lot of the research in this area has focused on the Trans-Atlantic effects of dust spread. This has had effects in the USA and the Carribeans. Griffin reported studies stating a 17 fold increase in paediatric asthma between 1976 and 1999. Other studies identified a relationship between dust events and hospital asthma visits. This however was not solely due to dust of African origin, which was said to have contributed (~50%) alongside other sources of dust activity. Also, the link between dust events and the epidemic prone disease, meninigitis, is already being investigated.

In strengthening the capacity to detect which dust events and sources are responsible for some disease events in Africa, the use of satellite technologies play a very important role. This occupies a relevant area of research alongside other initiatives to boost the monitoring and reporting capacity for Air Quality Indices. There are various aspects of using available resources for strengthening our awareness of the effects of inspired air on human health. The training of scientists and continued collaboration with the environmental sector, meteorologists, climatologists, public health researchers, and healthcare policy makers is a definite step towards developing a functional warning system with strong interventional capability. Academic research institutions can mobilize resources to develop training programmes in support of this crucial area of need. Ultimately such efforts may not go far without governmental support. The role of environmental and healthcare organizations in developing awareness and response capacity and acting to engage political leadership is also of importance. Hand in hand, individuals and associations can work to bring about a safer and securer environment to live and work in.

You can follow the progression of the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) on this site with frequently uploaded satellite images.

Posted in Africa, Earth observation, Epidemiology, Global Security, Health, Healthcare, NASA, Satellites, Science, Space, Space science and technology, Technology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Famine and Food Security Forecasting

Posted by Simon Adebola on June 10, 2009

” A stitch in time saves nine ”

That wise saying is the reason why early warning systems are being developed and deployed. The reasons for this and its relevance to African (and indeed worldwide) food security are explained in this article here. As John Haynes, the program manager for NASA’s Applied Sciences Public Health Program notes, “Enhancing public health decision-making through remote sensing, as in the FEWS NET project, is particularly relevant due to the threat of global climate change…Climate change may exacerbate food insecurity in the 21st Century from more frequent episodes of drought or flooding, depending on the region.”

The FEWS NET Project (Famine Early Warning System Network) of which he talks about is a collaboration between NASA and its partners: the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They provide early warning information on various issues affecting food security and famines. The website is worth visiting to learn a lot more about the issues concerned.

Estimated food security conditions, 2nd Quarter 2009 (April-June)  Source: USAID FEWS NET

Estimated food security conditions, 2nd Quarter 2009 (April-June) Source: USAID FEWS NET

The situation in many African countries calls for urgent interventions in matters pertaining to food security but the response need not be hurried with early warning systems such as these in place. Most agricultural practices in the continent are limited to subsistence farming. The changes in land use patterns can be monitored as shown here of the Gishwati Forest in Rwanda. Monitoring land use, agricultural patterns, crop yield, rainfall and other food related factors would help to position governments and policy makers in a better position to make informed choices and evidence-based decisions on matters related to agricultural planning and food security.

Space technologies are crucial in sustaining these decision support systems and there are some collaborations, such as GEOSS, that are already working on this. The coming together of governments, academia, policy makers and concerned parties as part of a global think tank would guarantee the success of such measures as these in preventing the deaths and suffering of millions that suffer annualy from the hardships imposed by droughts, famines and food shortages.

Posted in Africa, Climate change, Development, Earth observation, Global Security, Healthcare, NASA, Satellites, Space, Space science and technology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Concerted Response to M/XDR TB

Posted by Simon Adebola on April 9, 2009

In a recent ministerial conference held in China, convened by the World Health Organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and hosted by the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China, top level representatives from countries with the highest burden of Multiple and Extensive Drug Resistant Tuberculosis gathered to discuss and evolve a strategic plan to combat this threat to global health security.

A definition of those terms are on the WHO website with a brief excerpt here
Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is defined as resistance to the two most powerful first-line anti-TB drugs (isoniazid and rifampicin). Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) is defined as MDR-TB plus resistance to the most powerful second-line anti-TB drugs (any fluoroquinolone and any of the three injectable drugs: amikacin, capreomycin and kanamycin). MDR-TB and XDR-TB together are defined as M/XDR-TB…A high burden country is defined as one where there 4000 or more new cases of drug-resistant TB per year, or where 10% of new TB cases are drug resistant. WHO,2009

Of the 27 Countries with a high burden of the disease, 4 (DR Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa) are in Africa. South Africa together with China, India and the Russian Federation account for 60% of the cases of MDR TB worldwide. The presence of this disease on African soil indicates that a united response by African countries is needed urgently. TB as is known spreads in areas with overcrowding, poor ventilation and other signs of a low socioeconomic status. The occurence of HIV/AIDS and TB co-infection is also a major reason why the disease has grown in the affected countries. Another major factor in its developing resistance to drugs is the poor healthcare systems and their inability to support effective treatment programmes. All these are factors that are faced by most African countries and a decisive repsonse is needed to forestall a crises.

A call for action was released by the STOP TB Partners who met recently in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. The Director General of the WHO, Dr Margaret Chan, also gave a moving speech. Another call was made by the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr Bill Gates,
“Every country should feel the urgency, whether it is suffering from TB or not. Every country is capable of innovation, whether it is has a high-tech economy or not. And every country can adapt its systems to use the best innovations of others.”

This call to use innovative technologies is to be taken seriously as part of our revived commitment to enhance our healthcare delivery systems in order to fortify them for an effective response to TB and other infectious diseases. This includes but is not limited to the strengthening of electronic medical records for managing care and treatment data; the use of mobile technologies in healthcare (mHealth) for treatment monitoring; the use of geoinformation technologies as healthcare decision support tools and in planning treatment and public enlightenment campaigns; and even exploring multi/hyperspectral detectors in providing rapid and sensitive screening of potential carriers of the disease. This is of course to be founded on sound public health and healthcare management practice and also backed up by clinical care and scientific research into better cures, vaccines and evidence-based treatment practice.

There is room for positive global collaboration on this and African countries have a definite role to play. An enduring role that must be played till the scourge is wiped out.

Posted in Africa, Global Security, Healthcare, Technology, Tuberculosis | Leave a Comment »