Malawi, Tanzania to track climate change to reduce burden of diseases

Increasing temperatures and more intense rainfall, floods in recent years have increased incidence of malaria and other diseases

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Friday 20 June 2014

A malaria clinic in Tanzania

The African nation of Malawi has taken a new initiative to integrate weather and climate information into its national health planning. The move is aimed at surveillance and management of diseases like malaria, diarrheoa and malnutrition, which are all influenced by weather and climate. Until now, there was little formal contact between the meteorological and health communities in Malawi.

Its neighbour, Tanzania, started a similar programme early last month.

The move is part of the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) Adaptation Programme for Africa, funded by government of Norway and carried out by World Meteorological Organization. It seeks to provide user-driven weather and climate services for climate-sensitive sectors. It will track climate change and help Malawi device policies accordingly. Though the main focus in Malawi will be health, other sectors that will benefit from the services of the programme include agriculture and disaster risk reduction.
"Once we have a better linkage with the meteorological department, we will be able to use climate services for planning. We will be able to improve our level of preparation and response to diseases such as malaria, diarrheoa and malnutrition," said Humphreys Masuk of Malawi's ministry for health. "Previously we rarely used meteorological information, but now we will be able to choose products and so plan for different diseases associated with weather and climate," added the minister, who has since demitted office.

According to Dylo Pemba of the University of Malawi, malaria control is the utmost need of the country. Highland areas like Zomba, which only used to see sporadic outbreaks, now have year-round transmission. Increasing temperatures and more intense rainfall and floods are conducive to more malaria-bearing mosquitoes and faster transmission rates. He said a new concern is that dengue fever, which is also mosquito-borne, is expected to spread into Malawi over the border from Tanzania and Mozambique.

Extreme weather

Mean annual temperatures in Malawi increased by 0.9 °C between 1960 and 1996, with the increase in temperature being most rapid in the rainy summer (December to February), according to the Malawi Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (MDCCMS). There has been a substantial increase in the frequency of hot days and nights in all seasons. Intensity of droughts and floods has increased over the past 20 years.

GFCS will give daily and seasonal weather forecasts to farmers and disaster managers in nine target districts to help them cope with climate-related impacts on agricultural productivity like reduced soil moisture and heat-stress.

The programme, also known as Climate Services for Action, is funded by a grant of US$ 9,750,000 by Norway and is being rolled out in Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Tanzania started the programme early last month. There, the aim is also to provide accurate weather services to pastoralists, disaster managers and heath sector workers.

Tanzania is one of many African nations at risk from changing climate. The iconic Mount Kilimanjaro and the spiceland of Zanzibar are both vulnerable to climate change impacts such as shrinking ice caps and rising sea-levels. Densely populated areas regularly suffer from flooding and semi-arid regions are prone to drought. There are 10-12 million clinical malaria cases per year in Tanzania, caused by mosquitoes which thrive in wet, warm conditions, and which are also responsible for an increase in dengue fever.

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