Is the big data revolution leaving those most vulnerable to climate change behind?

by Natalie Elwell, Elizabeth Moses

A few years ago, the World Meteorological Organization held a conference on women and climate information services.  A significant number of the event’s discussions centered around the promise of smart phone applications to put weather, climate and agricultural data into the hands of rural farmers, equipping hard-to-reach communities with the information they need to make more informed decisions about their crops and lifting them out of poverty. In theory, such strategies sound plausible. Access to mobile phones continues to expand rapidly (link is external) across sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world. Cell phones can disseminate information across multiple formats, such as texts, voice calls, videos, pictures, or numbers.  They can connect urban centers and rural villages, providing new avenues for communities to share financial resources, healthcare, educational information, agricultural extension services, and government assistance.

But in reality, few rural farmers have cell phones, let alone smart phones. Even fewer women have access to this new technology. According to a 2015 report by GSMA (link is external), more than 1.7 billion women in low- and middle-income countries do not own mobile phones. Globally, women are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men—a gap that translates into 200 million fewer women owning mobiles than men. This gap widens in South Asia, where women are 38% less likely to own a phone than men. Even in more urban areas—those targeted by applications for early warning systems that could help mitigate the devastating impacts of natural disasters—data remains largely inaccessible to poor women. 

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