Wednesday, November 18, 2015

South-South Knowledge Sharing Mission Ignites New Opportunities for the Deployment of Modern Climate and Weather Information Systems

The Weather Philippines Foundation and MeteoGroup Share Lessons on the Deployment of Automatic Weather Stations with Representatives from Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia

Finding solutions to Africa’s persistent weather and climate information challenges is a tough job. It will require new technology, new approaches and new ways of thinking. Shifting the way we think is never easy. But solutions are out there. One just has to look for them.

In the Philippines, for instance, a new network of nearly 1,000 Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) – installed and maintained through innovative public-private partnerships – is looking to provide the 100 million people of this island nation with free, accurate and localized weather information that can be used to save lives, build resilience and improve livelihoods.

In order to learn from the experience of the Philippines and apply lessons learned to the unique political, cultural, economic and social context of sub-Saharan Africa, 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 see first-hand how such an extensive weather and climate observing network can be deployed.

How Does It Work?
The 7,100-plus islands of the Philippines lie in the Pacific Typhoon Belt, meaning plenty of bad weather comes this way. And a decade or more of strained budgets and severe storms has left the Philippines without many of the modern weather observing or localized weather forecasting systems one might find in other developing countries.
AWS deployed.

To partially meet the need for better weather observations and localized forecasting across the archipelago, AboitizPower – a major energy supplier in the Philippines – in partnership with UnionBank, established the non-profit Weather Philippines Foundation (WPF) in 2012. The WPF in turn engaged with MeteoGroup Philippines to build a robust, low-cost system of Automatic Weather Stations. The cost is about $2500 per site, and to date, about 1,000 units have been deployed across the nation. The resulting data streams, together with numerical model output and satellite imagery, drive a local forecast system.

The WPF has also developed a strong public outreach program to assist the population of the Philippines in becoming “weather-wiser,” that is, knowing what weather information will be made available from the WPF, understanding how such information can be used in a variety of situations, and then applying that information properly, especially in times of severe weather. There’s an app, a webpage, dedicated TV channel, and of course Facebook and Twitter pages. The real star are the localized, and quite accurate, five-day forecasts and automated current weather feeds that update every ten minutes from the system of AWS monitoring stations.

Working under a Weather As A Service Model (WAAS to use yet another acronym), this partnership effectively uses new technology, localized maintenance to ensure power and security, and cell communication to bring weather information to end users. Through effective outreach, it has encouraged use of weather and climate information in decision making at the lowest levels in communities. In short, it’s a localized observing and forecasting system that meets local needs.
Storm tracks provided through the cloud.

Lessons Learned from the Mission
·      The Philippines technological offering is sufficient to provide highly localized weather observations, forecasts of future weather, and early warnings of severe weather. This information allows individuals to make better, more informed decisions during life-threatening weather events.
·      Successful installation of a national system like the one in the Philippines requires careful end-to-end planning and tightly monitored execution. Key steps include sensor selection, establishing links with telecommunications providers, effective delivery systems to share actionable alerts with end users, and smart information sharing partnerships that allow joint ownership of the data created through the network.
·      It is possible to install an extensive local observing network using high-quality equipment at a relatively modest cost. There’s a real opportunity to benefit from economies of scale. Local fabrication of components, in-house assembly of the stations from components, and the use of labor from the receiving communities (with some training) to install and maintain them further reduces cost – at the same time building local ownership and pride in the new station.
·      Establishing strong partnerships with communities, public-sector agencies at all levels, private-sector players and umbrella organizations to facilitate the operation and maintenance of the stations is key. These partnerships are useful to create advocacy support, reduce installation and maintenance costs, increase access, and benefit from the strengths of various partners.
·      Effective outreach to the diverse user communities is essential for political and financial support and to reach those most affected by high-impact weather.

You can learn more about the WPF approach in the upcoming UNDP publication, “A New Vision: Building resiliency to climate change through public-private partnerships and advanced weather systems in Africa,” scheduled for release in early 2016. Stay tuned for more details on applying lessons learned to the unique context of Africa.

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