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Calls to Commit to Improving Hydromet Services in Africa to Support Climate Action

Future Climate for Africa’s (FCFA) Nkulumo Zinyengere recently attended the first Africa Hydromet Forum at the Africa Union Commission headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In this blog Nkulumo draws together the key messages and recommendations from the Forum.

“Africa’s development must integrate hydromet (weather, water and climate) information in its plans. Hydromet information needs to be readily available to advance social development in Africa”, said Fatima Denton, the coordinator for the African Climate Policy Centre of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

The Forum was attended by over 500 stakeholders in weather, water and climate services, ranging from researchers, development partners, policy makers, and NGOs. The event consisted of over 40 sessions held over three and half days, with discussions on how to improve hydromet services for development, focusing on coordination of climate services, lessons and experiences from on-going projects, public and private partnerships, early warning systems for early action and investment needs among others.

Eighty percent of disasters in the world are caused by severe hyrdomet events. The economic cost of such disasters is estimated at USD 10 billion annually in Africa (acknowledged as a very modest estimation). As such, hydromet disasters can reverse the economic gains of a “rising Africa” if not decisively addressed. There is a need to collect information systematically to better inform hydromet services to mitigate and address extreme hydromet events. Yet, according to the World Bank, (co-organisers of the Forum), only 10 of the 54 African countries provide sufficient and effective hydromet services to their population. Africa has the least developed observation network in the world, at only 1/8 of the required density.

The extensive discussions at the Forum sought to address various issues with a diverse set of recommendations for action on African hydromet services, which include:

Expansion of observation network: Efforts are required to increase Africa’s hydromet observations. The current network’s density is poor, with less than 300 of the continent’s stations meeting the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) observation standards. This process requires a coordinated effort to deploy more observation stations to ensure that national and regional weather and climate monitoring and forecasting systems are effectively supplied by reliable scale-relevant data and information. Improvements in the network will have to come with upgrading and modernisation, to build on the on-going World Bank hydromet observation infrastructure modernisation program.

Innovation and modernisation of hydromet services: Lack of capacity, obsolete and outdated equipment and practices bedevil African hydromet services, thereby limiting their effectiveness. Modernisation will need to be substantial, and transformative. Africa would have to break from piecemeal attempts at modernising hydromet services, as has been the hallmark of past efforts. This process would need to be demand driven and country led in order to succeed, underpinned by a holistic approach supported by the correct policy frameworks, improved regional integration and partnerships.

Partnerships and collaboration: Partnerships are needed to improve services derived from hydromet data and information, and the technological upgrades so needed in Africa. Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) can unlock Africa’s potential for improved hydromet services. Nigeria is a shining example of improved hydromet services borne from PPPs. The country has radically increased its observation network, upgraded technology, and in recent times extended hydromet support to neighbouring states. However, while praising the potential of PPPs, Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Services Department head, Dr. Amos Makarau cautioned that clear rules of engagement, ethics, and respect are prerequisite for mutually beneficial partnerships between National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and the private sector. South-South and South-North partnerships will form a key pillar to achieving improved services; given the complex nature of hydromet services and extensive resourcing required to improve them.

Improved provision of targeted services: Only through tailored services can hydromet information advance meaningful social economic development in Africa. In order to provide tailored services, there is a need to bridge hydromet science and user community needs at regional, national, and subnational levels. This was emphasised during a side event session on “Leapfrogging towards solution-focused climate information for the global sustainable development priorities” where the FCFA’s Nkulumo Zinyengere participated as a panelist. Achieving these priorities requires a new way of doing research with a multi-disciplinary approach that uses the principles of co-production and is user-demanded or oriented, an approach that the FCFA programme is championing. This will need to be underlain by capacity development efforts across the hydromet information chain, aimed at producers, intermediaries, and users.

Inclusion: Including marginalised demographics will be key to ensuring effectiveness of efforts to reduce the impact of hydromet events and support necessary development actions in Africa. For instance, women are the first to feel the effects of disasters when they occur, yet in comparison to men they have historically been disadvantaged through poor access to decision-making. This was illustrated by a development worker from West Africa who told of a story of a woman who refused to be evacuated during an NGO evacuation effort owing to an impending hydromet hazard, until her husband had given the go-ahead. Her husband worked in a mine nearby and was unreachable at the time. He was also out of harms way. It was highlighted that women, and youth will need to be consciously included for better hydromet services, by providing them with opportunities to participate.

Sustainability: To achieve sustainability, country leadership and not just ownership is important. The development community drives a great deal of the effort on hydromet services on the African continent. It is necessary that development efforts seek to enhance country systems, as these systems will remain after the project or programme. As such, national governments will need to show commitment through dependable and progressive leadership, providing access to financial resources, investing in human capital, creating an enabling environment for private sector participation, and improving sectoral coordination, all which are likely to draw support from development partners. Uganda presented a good example where political leadership has started to bear fruits with increased commitment towards environmental issues as shown by a presidential initiative to protect the environment. This has been beneficial for efforts aimed at improving hydromet services in the country.

In light of the importance of political leadership on hydromet services on the continent, the Africa HydroMet Forum closed with a communiqué, which summarised the discussions from the Forum along with action points going forward. The Africa Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture H.E. Josefa L. Sacko along with AMCOMET were tasked with bringing the communiqué to the AU heads of states for endorsement. It is important to maintain the momentum that the inaugural Hydromet Forum has put in motion in order to achieve key milestones to improve African hydromet services to protect communities from disasters, and to contribute to Africa’s development goals as enshrined in the 2030 and 2063 agenda.