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Breaking Asia’s Data Drought

With many parts of Asia gripped by the region's worst drought in decades, we must look to the skies for relief – but not in the way one might expect. While rainfall would obviously be welcome, there is a tool for coping with extreme weather over which we actually have some control: satellites.

MANILA – Many parts of Asia have been gripped by searing temperatures and the worst drought in decades. Millions of people face shortages of food or water, leading to the loss of lives, livelihoods, crops, and livestock. As water shortages depress productivity, reduce energy output at hydro plants, and cut food exports, economies are suffering.

To find relief, we must look to the skies – but not in the way one might expect. While rainfall would obviously be welcome, there is a tool for coping with extreme weather over which we actually have some control: satellites.

The extreme weather confronting Asia is not expected to abate anytime soon. The current drought can be blamed partly on an unusually strong El Niño that has been warming the Pacific Ocean since mid-2015. More and stronger El Niños are expected this century, reflecting the impact of climate change. This will aggravate Asia’s already serious water problem, which is becoming particularly serious in cities, owing to rapid urbanization. The region’s urban population is set to double, to 3.2 billion people, by 2050, by which time nearly three-quarters of its total population could face water stress.

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