Monday, November 23, 2015

Applying Lessons from Early Warning Systems in the Philippines to Africa – Part II

Representatives from UNDP-supported Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Projects in Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia recently toured meteorological facilities in the Philippines on a cross-continental mission to explore 'New Opportunities for the Deployment of Modern Climate and Weather Information Systems.' In this blog, Pascal Onegiu Okello looks at how takeaways from the South-South learning mission can be applied in Africa.

By Pascal Onegiu Okello

How do we take the lessons learned from the Philippines and apply them to the unique context of Africa? While the methods, technologies and applications being used in the Philippines offer a wonderful glimpse at how we can create a substantial grid of low-cost, easy-to-maintain Automatic Weather Stations, these lessons need to be adapted and molded to fit the specific social, political and economic challenges of Africa today.  

In my home country Uganda for instance, there are a number of challenges relating to sustainable deployment, maintenance and operation of hydro-meteorological monitoring stations. Not only are we vulnerable to changes in climate – the economic impact of climate hazards on the agricultural sector alone is estimated to be in excess of $46.9 million – but we also have low coverage of electrical grid power and high energy costs, infrastructure deficiencies, and numerous border areas that require increased regional cooperation and data sharing. While these challenges present real obstacles in the efforts to deploy weather and climate monitoring systems – and reach end users with actionable early warning information that can save lives, improve productivity and foster greater resilience – firm steps are being taken to move forward and address these needs. The example from the Philippines gives us some good footing to commence this work towards innovation and improving the situation.

Like the Philippines, the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) is looking to pilot and scale up outreach initiatives that will provide weather updates to citizens in collaboration with Mobile Telecommunications Companies, and there is a pilot programme in place to share weather alerts via SMS message. While this new pilot takes an important step in bringing information to end-users, we also need to have the hardware in place to ensure quality data, ongoing power, security and communications for remote Automatic Weather Stations.

Through the Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Project, Uganda is in the process of acquiring the equipment to beef up our weather monitoring and forecasting systems. Some of these systems will be installed as early as December of this year starting with the Automatic Message Switching System (AMSS), to ensure data is processed quickly and effectively. A more substantial integrated system will allow for better data, enable us to build trust and provide effective weather alerts, like flood warnings, and support increased political trust within the nation. Building the capacity to share these warnings and package information to meet user needs will be a challenge as we move from procurement and installation of new equipment to a second stage that looks at applying data in the field. 

Regional Cooperation
Sharing data across regions is a unique challenge facing many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. While the Philippines needed to adapt its weather and climate monitoring system to island life, Africa needs to adapt its practices to share data across borders. A new pilot project was launched in 2014 to try to tackle the unique challenges of creating a smart weather network for the region. The “Pilot Project on Severe Weather Now-casting Based on Total Lightning Detection in Lake Victoria Region” brought together a diverse group of actors from both the public and private sector, with the East African Community (EAC) playing a vital role in initiating the project, building political will across the four countries, and finally, ensuring that the project design included both technical and knowledge transfer. The main actors include technicians and trainers from the private weather company Earth Networks; community outreach and technical experts from a regional non-profit, the African Centers for Lightning and Electromagnetics (ACLE); and public-sector leaders from the four NMHS. More information on this project and other initiatives will be shared in an upcoming UNDP publication on “Building Resilience to Climate Change through Public Private Partnerships and Advanced Weather Systems.”

Other Takeaways
Other actionable takeaways from the Philippines experience include the following.
·      The credibility and demand for meteorological services – both in the public and private sectors – is dependent upon the accuracy of weather data.
·      In order to increase the density of local weather monitoring networks, the NMHS should consider cost-effective alternatives like AWS, provided there is a sufficient support system and capacity to maintain and monitor their functionality.
·      It is possible to improve resource mobilization through corporate social responsibility. There is a market for high-quality data across a variety of sectors.
·      To avoid the risk of data loss, NMHS should consider integrating cloud-based technology into their ongoing digitization efforts.
·      A pragmatic approach to product marketing is critical for sustaining the image of weather service providers.
·      We should look to local talent to develop cost-effective data loggers. In Uganda for example, such an initiative between UNMA and a local University is being piloted through a Meteorological Information Technology Project (WIMEA).
·      Increased fidelity of data can help ensure investment in the weather and climate sub-sector. This can be achieved through inclusion in the budget at the national and sub-national levels, as well as in district development plans.
·      The issue of vandalism of weather equipment in the field can be mitigated through public private partnerships. Options here include hosting AWSs on telecommunications towers or outsourcing the maintenance function.
·      Young people embrace change. By increasing awareness of weather and climate issues through school education programmes, we hope to build trust, educate rural people of the importance of early warnings systems, and bridge the gap to bring the data created by new local monitoring systems to end-users.

Pascal Onegiu Okello is the Project Manager of the UNDP-GEF project on Strenghtening Climate Information and Early Warning (SCIEWS) in Uganda. He previously worked with Disaster Risk Reduction portfolio in the UNISDR-Uganda, Livelihood recovery project and UN peace keeping operations in East Timor, as well as various projects in the NGO and the Public Sector.

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