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Demand Drives New SMS Weather Alerts for Malawi

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Demand Drives New SMS Weather Alerts for Malawi

Demand Drives New SMS Weather Alerts for Malawi

Repost: Written by me, originally published by Human Network International (HNI)

HNI’s 3‑2‑1 Service in Malawi has been delivering free on-demand weather forecasts to mobile phones for five months. Malawians have told us that they want more: An alert service that will contact them before the weather gets serious.

Now that’s going to happen.

Flooding in Malawi
Weather alerts via the 3‑2‑1 Service will include notices of potential flooding.
Flooding in Malawi by George Ntonya/UNDP (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Weather is one of five topics available for free to Airtel Malawi subscribers on HNI’s 3‑2‑1 Service. The forecasts are available by SMS, USSD, or by audio messages recorded by native-Chichewa-speaking voice talent.

Malawi 5 Months Weather Requests
1.3 million Weather Request to the 3‑2‑1 Service in less than five months.

The data talks. More than 200,000 people have accessed the forecast about 1.3 million times since October.

At the conclusion of these weather forecast messages, we also asked these Malawians if they would like the Service to also offer emergency weather alerts. And nearly 165,000 Malawians said, yes, thank you, they would.

And with that clear demonstration of demand for the alerts, Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs notified our office in Malawi that they want to move forward with a collaboration.

Malawi Disaster Management Affairs Letter

Beginning immediately, HNI will be sending out SMS weather alerts that have been vetted by three government bodies: Malawi’s Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs, and the pertinent regional water board.

If the analysis suggests a significant weather event, HNI will send out the alerts to anyone who has subscribed to the alerts.

This in itself extends the reach of the government’s existing weather alert system, which currently depends on sending the alerts to a national network of village-based key people who go from village to village passing along weather alerts — verbally — and only if the people are at home.

“This will deliver weather warnings directly to everyday Malawians,” said Amy Smith, HNI’s Program Manager in Malawi. “If you are in that last house in that village, the chances that will you will hear that guy coming around on his bike — the guy who has the responsibility of notifying all of these other villages — your chances are pretty small.”

Moving forward, HNI and the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services will seek new partners to expand the accuracy and specificity of the service — the ability to send alerts only to the specific subscribers living in areas that will be affected.

Another possibility would be to expand the service so that subscribers to any carrier could subscribe to the service, not just subscribers of Airtel Malawi. A similar arrangement is being implemented by HNI in Mozambique.

For now, the thousands of Malawians who have asked for national alerts will begin to receive them the next time the forecast looks ominous.

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