Extreme droughts, floods and other climate challenges are leading to an increase in both the number and intensity of disasters all over the world and in Africa in particular.
Countries in the Sahel regions in Africa are worst affected, experts have revealed. Participants at a technical meeting in the 6th Africa Water Week in Dar es Salam agreed early warning systems adapted to the realities of different countries will help governments cope with the huge climate challenges plaguing Africa.
“African countries are barely able to cope with the massive climate challenges, but we think the institution of early warning systems adapted to the realities of each country is cardinal,” noted Mohamed Gilla of the Lake Chad Basin Commission at the meeting. He said combining local and expert knowledge in addressing the challenges will yield more fruitful results.
“While expert knowledge with innovations is a key driver, the use of local and indigenous knowledge cannot be left out,” Mohamed said.Convened by UNESCO and Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institution, the event focused on the theme “Early warning systems for water extremes and climate change information in Africa.”
Panelists highlighted ongoing tools and methodologies in addressing floods, droughts and other water related climate disasters in Africa and suggested ways of improving on them. One of the key elements in any early warning system it was agreed is communication of the right information and training.
“Getting the right information to the relevant target audience is capital. Also of no less importance is capacity building of both the indigenous population and the experts,” the panelists noted. Extreme climate affects agriculture dependent livelihoods, thus building and improving the capacities of farmers on early warning intricacies and techniques will help them better stand the challenges experts said.
Use of local knowledge and resource persons
The creation and training of a committee of local volunteers to assists regularly in activities to improve on existing warning systems such as measurement of water level of rivers, streams and sending on the data for analysis to existing weather forecasting centers was also highlighted. Networking with local resource persons and knowledge has yielded positive results in early warning methodologies in many countries in Africa, experts said.
“If there are any irregularities, these local vigilant committees inform the first-aiders in the villages, who warn people via local radio and phones if a disaster is imminent. In the event of flooding, they help to evacuate the villagers to higher ground,” said Obrigada Joana of Waternet Trust in a presentation at the meeting.
In many countries where such local organization exist like the case of Mozambique, these early local committees are an important step in adapting to climate change, she revealed.
Experts however agree the use of early warning technologies like weather forecast centers have their limitations given that climate science is not exact science with stated formula. Countries in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zones for example, witness intense thunderstorms around the equator where the trade winds from both hemispheres meet frequently. They thus experience heavy showers and thunderstorms which develop and dissipate very suddenly.
In the tropics, the weather systems are largely driven by prevailing winds whereby small changes in the wind speed and direction can result in significant changes in weather. The problem is compounded because winds near the equator are generally quite light and variable, and thus more difficult to predict, experts explained.
In Chad for example wrong signals of predicted heavy winds in 2010 caused state authorities to close down the use of the airport for over a week causing the state heavy loss as the winds never came.