FOR the first time, more than 30 ministers in charge of meteorology in Africa met last week under the umbrella of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in partnership with the African Union.
The meeting was not only important, but also timely because while the continent is most vulnerable to climate change, Africa is least equipped to deal with its consequences.
The first conference of ministers responsible for meteorology in Africa, hosted by the government of Kenya in Nairobi from April 12 to 16, was aimed at recognising and strengthening the role of the national meteorological and hydrological services in Africa.
The meeting was timely because Africa is already affected by climate change and needs accurate meteorological information for better planning and decision-making.
Weak infrastructure for meteorological services in Africa makes it difficult for the authorities to plan and forecast, in the face of climate change when it’s absolutely critical to provide more accurate information for mitigation and adaptation.
Climate change is affecting several economic sectors in Africa where more people live in vulnerable places, are indiscriminately exploiting resources and the cost of disasters is high.
For that reason, accurate weather information for decision-making and adequate preparedness against natural disasters is more important now than ever before.
This makes the case for meteorological services in Africa because development efforts will be derailed if climate change is not addressed.
Climate change could affect poverty reduction strategies and sustainable development.
The current state of numerous national meteorological services in Africa is wanting. There are no modern facilities in national meteorological services which are necessary for data analysis and information presentation.
In fact, meteorological services in many African countries exist in name only. Their importance is not fully understood and appreciated. And yet the importance of meteorological services is cross-cutting – in agriculture, transport, health and many other sectors.
If adequate investment is made in meteorological services, countries will get accurate information for planning and decision-making.
Changes in temperatures and weather patterns aggravate poverty across Africa which makes up 67 percent of the least developed countries.
The number and magnitude of natural hazards, including droughts and floods, are already increasing.
All sectors of economic activity are affected, from agriculture to food security, transport, public health, water resources management, energy and tourism.
Sadly, Africa has a meteorological network eight times below the WMO minimum recommended standard and less than 200 automatic weather stations which meet WMO observation requirements, compared to several thousands each in Europe, North America and parts of Asia.
Emphasising the timeliness of the WMO high-level African meeting, permanent observer of the AU Khadija Rachida Masri said meteorological capacities in African countries were in dire need of up scaling for more efficient action.
“The AU felt the need for Africa to have ministerial conferences on very specific fields such as meteorology,” she said. “Therefore, our goal with WMO is to reinforce meteorological capacities in African countries to prevent the negative impact of climate change.”
“Now more than ever, African national meteorological services should be seen as major actors of development,” WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud said.
“I am confident that African ministers responsible for meteorology will explore the best possible ways to strengthen weather, climate and water information for decision-making to boost the chances of attaining the UN Millennium Development goals by 2015.”
To address the challenges, critical information must be generated and provided to decision-makers and users at all levels.
The main purpose of the conference was to recognise and contribute to strengthening the role and contribution of the national meteorological and hydrological services to government policies and initiatives for mitigating and adapting to the negative impact of weather and climate.
As Zambia meteorological department chief meteorologist Joseph Kanyanga said, the major issue for Zambia is the current government position on meteorological services in the country and whether they are at a level where they can respond to natural calamities like floods.
“If you want meteorological services to help you, there are certain basics like equipment and human resource that are needed. The aim of this meeting is to improve the recognition of meteorological services at decision-making level,” Dr Kanyanga said.
The conference preparator segment of experts brought together a broad range of decision-makers, users and providers, drawing on their experiences to improve weather, water and climate information and services.
The experiences include flood risk management in Mozambique, agrometeorology in Mali and drought insurance in Malawi.
The ministerial conference was expected to endorse high level support to the expert-based conference statement from government representatives and to adopt a conference declaration for the development of weather, water and climate services in Africa.
In a declaration last Friday, the ministers committed themselves to strengthening and sustaining national meteorological services by providing all the necessary resources and adequate institutional frameworks to help the units fully perform their roles as a fundamental component of national development.
National meteorological services can contribute to poverty reduction efforts and climate change adaptation.
The ministers also resolved to establish the African Ministerial Conference on Meteorology (AMCOMET) as a high-level mechanism for the development of meteorology.
They also agreed to take measures soon to develop an African strategy to enhance co-operation among African countries to strengthen the capabilities of national meteorological services and existing regional and sub-regional centres. The idea is to effectively meet Government and community needs for weather and climate information.
This was an important meeting, not because it was the first of its kind, but largely because it was aimed at ensuring that due attention is given to national meteorological services.
Hopefully, WMO member governments will invest more in equipment and human resource to enhance the role of their national meteorological services.
In the face of climate change, reading the weather has become more important than ever before. This role now goes beyond basic and other meteorological functions. It is a matter of life and death.
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