Earth Observation

During my PhD at Vienna University of Technology I built drought and food insecurity monitoring system named SATIDA (Satellite Technologies for Improved Drought Risk Assessment) that uses data from earth observation and data collected via mobile devices (by people who are actually affected). All activities were carried out in collaboration with Doctors without Borders in the Central African Republic. Afterwards, funded my post-doc position at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University until January 2019. My research group, the “Financial Instruments Sector Team, whose acronym won the internal creativity contest, was and luckily still is lead by Dan Osgood. Together with FIST I developed agricultural weather index insurance projects in collaboration with smallholder farmers and different international partners (UN WFP, World Bank, US AID, etc.) in Latin America, (East, South and West) Africa and Asia. The indices are mostly based on satellite-derived info during, or even better, early in the season, eradicating the need for post season loss assessment. This way, weather index insurance is more affordable than conventional insurance, pays out much faster and, if combined wisely with complementary strategies, strengthens overall disaster resilience. While most global activities relate to disaster risk management frameworks (e. g. the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction) are still very reactive and focusing on emergency response, weather index insurance has the potential to transform the way we perceive and manage disaster risk in collaboration with affected populations. There is scientific proof that we can actually make a difference by protecting the investments of small-scale farmers during extreme drought years. With “proof” I mean data- and research-based assessments over many years and large areas. Please check out the publications section if you want to learn more. Virtually all papers are accessible free of charge. I’m happy to send you the ones that aren’t if you’re interested.

Right now, I’m a visiting scientist at Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) and a disaster risk financing specialist at the World Bank. My work at DRFIP has a strong focus on earth observation int he context of climate impact mitigation, financial instruments and food security. At its core is the Next Generation Drought Index project that is carried out in collaboration with UN WFP, the START Network, the Global Index Insurance Facility and African Risk Capacity. My academic work at HHI concentrates more on the interaction of extreme climate, migration and social conflict. While there are many studies linking extreme weather or climate events to social conflict – a causal relationship that is hard to express in hard numbers – I’m convinced that there is a huge in potential in turning the story around. If we understand the impact of social conflict on the coping capacities of vulnerable communities it will be possible to identify hot spots for potentially very severe impacts of climate anomalies. Colombia is a very good example. Political conflict led to internal displacement (the numbers are comparable to Syria!), causing drastic changes in livelihoods, increased levels of cocaine production and illegal deforestation. Particularly the latter elevated the risk of land slides after heavy rainfall. In 2017, more than 300 people died through such an event in Colombia’s South (Mocoa).