Africa needs to invest in weather forecasting technologies

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Sifelani Tsiko recently in Zanzibar

 

Africa needs to invest more in the installation of automated weather stations and radars across the entire continent to help improve the continent’s seasonal and longer-term climatic predictions, a top Indian environmental expert has said.

Centre for Science and Environment director-general Sunita Narain told African journalists who attended a two-day media briefing on climate change in Ungunja, the main island of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago in the Indian Ocean off Tanzania, that with adequate funding weather forecasting could be scaled.

“Climate change is real, it’s happening now and not in the future. It’s causing untold hardships among the poor who are not responsible for the stock of emission in the atmosphere,” she said.

“We need data to say what is extreme, we need data to say what is small. Qualification of small requires data. You are beginning to see drought in a period of floods. This is a new normal and we need to invest more in weather forecasting technologies that can help us to predict these extreme weather events.”

CSE (India) and the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA – Kenya) organised the media briefing on "Climate Change in Africa – Impacts, Challenges and Opportunities”.

This briefing brought together some key climate change experts from Africa and CSE to discuss with journalists how African nations are being impacted by climate change and how they are coping with it.

Narain said African countries need to scale up their weather forecasting systems to help improve the provision of high quality and reliable climate information services.

“Mapping of climate change risk is ideal. It’s important in the understanding of climate change issues,” she said.

“We should be worried about climate change. We need to be afraid of it. Africa is facing the same dangerous trend India is facing. Because of the increasing cost of disasters, countries are losing that development dividend because of climate change risks.

“Our countries cannot afford such disasters any more. Every disaster pushes development back. It cripples people and makes them poorer.”

She expressed concern that poor countries were now spending more on disaster relief than they should on development because of the increasing frequency of climate change related disasters.

“Most developing countries are spending more on disaster relief than what they need to spend on development,” said Narain.

“They are spending more, providing basic services to people hard hit by disasters. The costs are big and there is a big open question: who will meet them? Climate change vulnerability is leading to greater food insecurity in our countries.”

Africa climate scientists complain that investing in meteorological equipment was not a priority for many countries in the region.

They say rich industrialised nations are taking climate science seriously and are pouring billions of dollars to upgrade their climate science technologies.

“We are not doing much to invest in our systems. The whole region is not doing enough and we need to change our mindset when it comes to climate science.  We remain very vulnerable as a region and we need to take climate science more seriously,” said a Zimbabwean climate change scientist.

In 2016, SADC Climate Services Centre representative, Bradwell Garanganga, told delegates at a Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) that was held in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, that the region needed to improve its human skills and climate technologies to provide accurate weather forecast and reduce the vulnerability of local communities to natural disasters.

To address some of the constraints, Garanganga said NMHS and climate service centres in the region needed to actively participate in regional and international programmes.

Only South Africa has adequate equipment to forecast accurate weather conditions while most other SADC countries are operating using archaic equipment.

Africa and most other developing countries are among the hardest hit regions, in terms of the impact of climate change.

Extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, tropical cyclones and other weather phenomena have devastated the livelihoods of many people in these countries.

It has caused severe social and economic disruption including loss of life, destruction of property, infrastructure, crops and livestock, and increased poverty.

The 2015-2016 El Nino-induced drought left up to 16 million people in need of food assistance across the SADC region.

Zimbabwe was one of the worst affected countries by the driest year in decades facing Southern Africa - including Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa.

The UN's World Food Programme estimated that about 16 million people in Southern Africa faced hunger due to poor harvests in 2015, caused by El Nino weather conditions.

In this period, SADC appealed for US$2,8 billion in aid for seven drought stricken countries in Southern Africa.

Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique were among the hardest hit, but South Africa and Botswana too, felt the impact.

“Humankind cannot have weather and climate of their choice,” said Garanganga, adding, “When we have advance knowledge of the season ahead and plan with that knowledge, the communities can take mitigatory measures to minimise the negative impact of extremes in climate variation.”

Some of the major barriers facing the Africa and most of its regions when it comes to advancing climate information services is a digital divide related to lack of adequate ICT infrastructure, poor funding and investment in this critical sector.

Climate experts say IT infrastructure is critical for generating robust climate information, efficient communication platforms which are essential for dissemination and knowledge of how to package up the information for users.

Climate experts say the delivery of climate information and services depends heavily on e-infrastructure consisting of High Performance Computing, data, data analytic tools, observing networks and networks of institutions.

“This infrastructure is now extremely cost - effective and much more widely available, these systems are low - hanging fruit ready for Africa to take advantage of,” notes one expert.

The Meteorological Services Department in Zimbabwe estimates that it needs up to US$20 million to install automated weather stations and radars across the country’s 59 districts to help improve weather forecasting.

It says, about US$12 million is required for radars to help cover areas where there are no rain gauges or other weather instruments.

The country is still unable to know how much rainfall is received in some parts of the country due to lack of weather stations.

An automated weather station cost between US$30 000 and US$45 000. And to install 150 units, Zimbabwe will need between US$4,5 million and US$6,8 million.

The SADC Climate Services Centre needs US$2 million a year to strengthen its capacity to produce robust climate information and service that can enhance the region’s response to climate change-related problems.

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