By Magdalena Mis
LONDON, Nov 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new mobile phone app designed to help aid workers predict where hunger may strike and provide help in good time was launched by Austrian scientists on Thursday.
The app, which is free to use, combines and analyses satellite data and information collected through crowdsourcing using mobile phones, and creates a map highlighting areas at risk of food shortages and malnutrition.
Useful information includes how often people in an area eat or whether there is civil unrest that might prevent people from farming.
"Today, smartphones are available even in developing countries, and so we decided to develop an app, which we called SATIDA COLLECT, to help us collect the necessary data", Mathias Karner, app developer at the Austrian International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), said in a statement.
Obtaining information about vulnerable regions is essential for aid agencies to plan early intervention that could minimise the impact of a crisis, but other risk factors, such as civil unrest, are not always easy to foresee.
For years scientists used satellites to calculate whether areas were at risk of drought by scanning the Earth's surface with microwave beams to measure the soil's water content.
"This method works well and it provides us with very important information, but information about soil moisture deficits is not enough to estimate the danger of malnutrition," IIASA researcher Linda See said in a statement.
"We also need information about other factors that can affect the local food supply."
The app, which was developed by the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) and IIASA in cooperation with medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), has already been tested in Central African Republic.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)