Climate Change

'Africa should not be a dumping ground for cheap technologies'

Africa has only 1,152 weather stations; most of which are in dilapidated condition. Adequate infrastructure and quality data is needed to help provide seasonal forecasts 

By Maina Waruru
Published: Wednesday 30 May 2018

Joseph Mukabana, director in-charge, Office for Africa and Least Developed Countries, World Meteorological Organization, on why African governments should invest in robust weather forecasting technologies

Please explain the overall weather infrastructure status across Africa?


In Africa, almost 90 per cent of natural disasters are hydro-meteorological. Although Africa is endowed with a lot of natural resources, governments do not have financial resources, technologies and expertise to initiate adaptation measures against such disasters. For instance, prolonged drought will affect agricultural production and impact food security, causing malnutrition in children and triggering hunger and famine. But according to the World Weather Watch, Africa has only 1,152 weather stations; most of them are in dilapidated condition.

How dilapidated weather network affects forecast in the face of climate change?

A poor network coverage often portrays weather data inaccurately. This affects forecasts and important decisions like fixing the time of water release from a dam, early warning in case of malaria prevention and planning agricultural management for crops sensitive to temperatures cannot be taken properly. To set right the deteriorating weather observation network, there is a need for maintenance and installation of new, automatic stations. Also, there is a requirement to improve data management and archival systems. Adequate infrastructure and quality data would help provide seasonal forecasts using models that incorporate historical and near-real time observations.

Are there innovations underway to help improve weather forecasting in Africa?

There are indeed innovative efforts taking place. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) helps member countries improve their understan ding and assessment of climate change impa cts, vulnerability and adaptation. The goal is to make informed decisions on practical adaptation measures. During its 15th Congress held in June 2010 in Geneva, WMO agreed to establish the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) to enable climate adaptation and climate risk management through the incorporation of scientific climate information and prediction policy.

The GFCS established the National Framework of Climate Services that brings together all stakeholders to improve production, delivery, uptake and use of climate services by all weather and climate-sensitive sectors. This includes rural communities like small-holder farmers, fisherfolk, traders and pastoralists. 

WMO is also supporting the development of National Strategic Plans (NSPS) for national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHS) that take into account the global Sustainable Development Goals, linking them with the regional development agenda like the African Union’s Agenda 2063. It is envisaged that the governments will find these NSPS relevant, upscale the funding of annual budgets of NMHS and help strengthen meteorological infrastructure.

Are there instances of new technology being tried and replicated in Africa?

Yes. These include automatic weather stations on land and sea, airport weather observation systems, tidal gauges and buoys in seas and oceans to measure waves, swells, sea-level rise, sea surface temperature, salinity and wind to ensure the safety of ships, weather surveillance radars to monitor storms and high-impact events and satellite ground receiving systems to receive pictures at regular intervals. But the continent should not be a dumping ground for cheap technologies like plastic rain gauges that last only for a few months. Thus, governments are encouraged to invest in technologies tested and validated by WMO.

 (This article was first published in the 16-31 May issue of Down To Earth).

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