Climate change is causing major impacts in many African countries, disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable populations. One essential requirement for adapting effectively to a changing climate is access to reliable, credible weather and climate information on which to base decisions.
Unfortunately, as evidenced by the large number of “non-reporting” weather stations and the absence of effective forecasts and warnings of hazardous weather events in many Sub-Saharan countries, weather and climate information systems in this region are currently of poor quality. While there have been many efforts to improve observations and forecasting of weather and climate in this region, few have had much success or long-lasting impact.
Recognizing the need to improve critical environmental monitoring and forecasting systems, several Sub-Saharan countries sought assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF). In response in 2013, the GEF approved support for projects in 11 African least developed countries (LDCs). Similarly, and responding to requests and the lessons from past failures, the 11 partner countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, The Gambia, Uganda, and Zambia developed a new vision for weather and climate information services in collaboration with UNDP that resulted the Programme for Climate Information for Resilient Development in Africa (CIRDA).
This program included several unique features, these included:
- Utilizing an end-to-end systems engineering approach;
- Encouraging use of innovative, less expensive fully integrated monitoring and forecasting equipment;
- Basing communication systems for data collection and dissemination of information products on the cell network;
- Establishing long-term agreements for procurement of integrated packages of hardware, software, installation services, and training;
- Creating a multidisciplinary support team to work with and across countries, aid in procurement actions, and facilitate learning and information sharing;
- Fostering collaboration with private providers of weather equipment, services, and communication; and
- Supporting outreach to businesses in need of tailored weather and climate information services to help define needed system improvements and potentially to become sources of revenue for improving the sustainability of public weather services.
The implementation of CIRDA with its innovative features over a four-year period produced some notable successes and identified many challenges to improving weather and climate information services in LDCs. The lessons learned in the CIRDA Programme are now being reflected in the design of more recent projects and the consideration of new policies by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and other international organizations.
While the CIRDA Programme, officially concluded in December of 2019 the project developed various communications and information products to guide a new generation of climate information projects for adaptation. Resources include the report A New Vision for Weather and Climate Services in Africa, a continental-scale market assessment on the potential for climate information services in Africa, a communications toolkit for communicating early warning systems and most recently the project has produced a terminal evaluation report with the aim of generating best practices and lessons learned when looking to replicate a similar approach to vulnerable countries in enhancing their climate information services.
Among the conclusions of the evaluation report includes an acknowledgment of the success of the Programmer to deliver considerable results by the end of its implementation, including its capacity to enhance national efforts in monitoring and forecasting extreme weather and identifying effective communication channels through potential partnerships. The evaluation also recognized the Program's success in facilitating the efficient and effective use of hydro-meteorological information for generating early warning and long term development plans, as reflected in national score cards and in the commissioned market assessment. A key achievement identified through the project is the support provided by programme specialist to identify capacity gaps in national partners and mobilizing support to address these including in helping guide appropriate exit strategies to ensure long term sustainability.
The evaluation also recommended as a lessons learned from the project an improved focus on baseline analysis as well as risk monitoring to allow for an enhanced systematization of impact. The project, if replicated should consider an enhanced monitoring framework to allow for a better documentation of project results.