Monday, March 23, 2015

Innovative Public Private Partnerships for Modernizing Weather and Climate: Bringing the Pieces Together

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Alan Miller, our guest blogger, is an internationally recognized authority on climate finance and policy with over 30 years experience. Before his recent retirement, he served as Principle Climate Change Sepecialist for the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector lending arm of the World Bank Group.

What do met officials from 11 African countries have in common with representatives of mobile phone companies, a major African airline, a bank in Zambia, and an association of insurance companies? At the very least, a shared interest in reliable, timely weather and climate information- but perhaps also the development of creative partnerships that benefit all parties. Building on this sense of shared interest and possible win-win opportunities, the CIRDA Programme organized from 3-5 Mach, in Kampala, Uganda, the workshop, Building a Sustainable Climate Change Adapatation and Economic Development Plan: Creating Value Added Weather and Climate Services through Innovative Public Private Partnerships.

The lengthy workshop title reflected the ambitious aims of the workshop which brought together representatives of new weather observation technologies, business leaders, and innovative institutional arrangements to explore new visions for modern weather and emergency warning services in the 11 CIRDA partner countries, all which are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Participants were told that like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, all the necessary ingredients were available- but that it was up to them to fit the pieces together in a way that makes sense for each of their countries. These pieces include:
  • A new generation of automated weather stations (AWS) with steadily improving performance and declining costs that is proving to be practical and adaptable to the diverse conditions of developing nations (This topic was explored at length during the previous CIRDA workshop in Dar es Salaam last October);
  • The rapid expansion in Africa of cell phone networks and the associated infrastructure of towers that support it, holding great promise as a partner for met agencies as both a source of security and power for AWSs as well as a platform to communicate weather information and emergency warning to the general public and specific users;
  • Many economically important businesses such as aviation, agriculture, and insurance have unmet needs for timely and reliable weather and climate information. These businesses could be paying customers for services from modernized met agencies, helping to support the economic sustainability of weather and climate services;
  • Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have proved to be an effective delivery system for various social services in Africa. While PPPs for weather, climate and early warning systems (EWS) services exist globally, creating effective PPP models in African LDCs will require supportive legal frameworks and good faith effort by parties without a tradition of collaboration.
Over the course of three days, more than 20 experts from diverse backgrounds presented examples of how these developments are being exploited with impressive results around the world:

Mobile phone companies:
  • Vodafone described the remarkable growth of cellular phone service in Africa (this year  the number of contracts will exceed the population) and gave several illustrations of innovative examples of its current use in Africa to provide social services, such as facilitating low cost banking and money transfers for migrant workers. 
  • A Burkina Faso mobile phone company, Telecel Faso, described its pilot program measuring localized rainfall through the use of microwave technology. 
Innovative partnerships with NGOs:
  • In the Philippines, a consortium including local governments, foundations, NGOs and private sector is installing a network of 1,000 AWS stations across island provinces devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda. The program has deployed 700 stations to date and has trained 800 personnel as well as created multiple communication avenues for regular weather information and emergency warnings.
  • A Uganda NGO, HealthNet, is using mobile phones to help farmers respond to droughts thus reducing crop damage and losses.
  • The NGO Human Network International described how mobile phone companies in a growing number of African countries are making health and farming public interest information freely available to their users- a model they hope soon to extend to weather and climate information. 

Airline companies:
  • South African Airways explained the high costs of lightning and other weather disruptions for airline operations, thus the value that met services could provide through modern weather observation and communication systems.
  • A West African aviation organization, ASECNA, has managed to achieve near perfect reliability in its network of weather stations supporting regional airline operations.
Banking and insurance.
  • Stanbic, a bank in Zambia, described its efforts to provide small farmers with insurance products to protect against extreme weather events, a program dependent on the availability of reliable and timely weather data.
  • An insurance industry initiative in response to climate change, ClimateWise, described products it has developed that can help protect subsistence farmers from the impact of extreme event- if the necessary localized weather data is available. 
Innovative public sector models:
  • The South African Weather Service has had a business partnership approach for several years and now obtains more than a third of its budget from revenue generating services.
  • A representative from the IFC described PPPs they have facilitated for other social services in Africa and spoke about their applicability to weather and climate services.
  • A Dutch provider of weather services described how the Netherland has been able to grow its weather information industry by allowing a significant role for private weather companies while also increasing the availability of free weather information for the public.
The presentations made clear that there is no shortage of exciting opportunities for combining modernized weather and climate services with business applications, often with a possibility of some revenue generation. However, making it happen- fitting the pieces together in ways that meet the diverse needs and capacity of the CIRDA countries- will require dedication and commitment at the country level, with supporting expertise and resources.

The workshop was a promising start; some necessary concrete steps were announced and actions plans were prepared by the country participants. One key source of background information will be the development of market studies to identify business needs and willingness to pay at the country and sector (airlines, banking, mining, tourism, etc.) level. At least one country announced that such a study had already been commissioned, and the CIRDA Programme will commission a regional study to be developed this year. The country teams were also given time to discuss and agree on next steps and most highlighted a desire to explore establishing PPPs and an interest in partnering with telecoms. Several countries- including our host Uganda- expressed a strong interest in adopting the free information services presented by HNI. Other planned to integrate innovative elements and PPPs to their annual plans as a result of this event.

In view of the importance of high-level political support, another highlight of the workshop were the enthusiastic statements of support from senior Uganda officials including- H.E. Hilary Onek, Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, and H.E. Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister for Water and Environment, and a range of ministries including the Prime Minister's Office, Finance, Agriculture, Water as well as the Uganda Communications Commission. The positive spirit of the event was perhaps most effectively captured by Robert Rutaagi, Chairman of the Uganda Met Authority, who told the following story in an effort to illustrate the sense of opportunity in his country:
A shoe company sent two salesmen to a new and unknown territory. The first salesmen sent back a messages: returning home, local people don't wear shoes, no market. The second salesmen sent back a different message: send more salesmen, great potential- no one has shoes. 
Here in Uganda, Mr. Rutaagi said, we are the second salesman.

The next workshop will address one of the key issues raised repeatedly by participants in Kampala, the challenge of communicating "the last mile" to provide business, farmers, and the public with the information each requires. This topic is particularly challenging in that it combines both technical issues (reaching vulnerable communities) with cultural and social issues (how to frame information in the most accessible way). Zambia agreed to host the meeting, tentatively scheduled for November.

For more information on the workshop including presentations, country action plans and press release click here.

CIRDA is the Multi Country Programme to Strengthen Climate Information for Resilient Development and Adaptation to Climate Change in Africa. Funded by the GEF and implemented by UNDP, CIRDA is working with 11 countries in Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia) to support national climate services in their efforts to collect, analyse and disseminate climate information as a key tool in long term planning and adaptation. For more information, see: www.

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