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Image: NASA image release The Modern Era Retrospective-analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) is producing a comprehensive record of Earth’s weather and climate from 1979, the beginning of the operational Earth observing satellite era, up to the present. This visualization depicts specific atmospheric humidity on June 17, 1993, during the Great Flood that hit the Midwestern United States. Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (CC by 2.0).
By Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, Alan Miller, and Robert K. Rutaagi
Climate change, including extreme weather events compounded by ineffective risk management systems, threaten to derail efforts to build resilient nations in Africa.
Without improved weather and climate information and effective early warning systems, droughts will put livelihoods at risk, floods will wipe out infrastructure, lightning will take more lives. In Uganda for instance, many lives have been lost and properties destroyed by floods and landslides in Bududa in Eastern Uganda and Kasese in Western Uganda. Recently, one soldier was killed by lightning at The Statehouse in Entebbe, and 10 people were killed in Kabale District. These are but few examples of the many disasters caused by weather and climate phenomena for which the countries in Africa are ill-prepared.
The absence of accurate data will mean that high-priced investments in energy and economic development will be less effective, more risky, and more prone to failure. Opportunities for widening the service offering of public-sector-based Meteorological Services will be foregone, posing the real risk of rendering such fragile institutions to be regarded as even more redundant across a number of countries.
Decision makers, lacking the essential information, enabling policies, latest technology, funding and bandwidth required to anticipate, plan, respond and react to the effects of climate change, will be left standing in the mud.
Across much of sub-Saharan Africa, efforts in the past have failed to create sustainable public-sector-based climate and weather services. These investments have failed to promote lasting results, potential revenue streams have been left largely untapped, and hard-to-maintain-and-service technologies have been abandoned. Decision-makers have continued the all-too-familiar pattern of looking to the sky to inform their risk-management processes.
On a global level, a lack of climate information in Africa that specifically targets the needs of real-time decision-making – be it in agriculture, water management, urban planning, road and housing construction, defense and security facilities, plans for the tourism sector and the like – has created a continental-sized blind spot. World leaders, private-sector investors, climate negotiators, national decision makers and farmers simply do not know what short- and medium-term weather or long-term changes in climate are coming their way, and have too little information to accurately make decisions.
There is, however, a silver lining. While challenges remain, a number of African countries are attempting to learn from past mistakes and are proactively taking incremental steps to build more efficient and effective systems. The development and sustainability of these systems requires new ways of thinking. This starts with building and supporting the policies, laws, programmes, strategies, procedures, technologies, finance and capacities required to build a true value proposition for weather and climate services.
Policy. The value proposition starts with creating an enabling environment to support the sustainable adoption of alternative technologies and business models that can more effectively be used to generate and share accurate climate and weather information.
Finance. Entry barriers, including allowing for critical incubation periods necessary for the testing and up-take of new technologies, requires the provision of basic seed financing. International public finance has a key role to play to incentivize both public- and private-sector institutions to invest in improving climate information data generation and disseminations to end users. Counterpart funding by beneficiary governments is a fundamental sine qua non for success.
Partnerships. The challenge of finance is complex as business opportunities expand for private-sector alternatives that lay beyond the scope of traditional public-sector provision of climate information. It calls for the efficient and effective engagement of public and private weather service providers to collaborate on generating, calibrating, packaging and distributing information so that decisions with clear value propositions can be made. Revenue sharing agreements between the public and private sector need to be formulated, and need to be done within a fit-for-purpose context. Revenue sharing and market dynamics for weather and climate services will play a vital role. For many years, in Uganda, public-private partnerships were non-existent. The Department of Meteorology – later transformed and modernized to become the current Uganda National Meteorological Authority [UNMA] – provided meteorological services to the Civil Aviation Authority without payment. Very few private-sector companies paid for any consumed meteorological services. Effective in mid-2016, the public-private partnership concept and strategy is firmly taking root in Uganda, with technical and financial support from the United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility for a Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warnings Systems Project, as well as a recently approved project funded by the Green Climate Fund to support wetlands restoration and climate information in Uganda. Based on meteorological services commercialization studies done in Uganda and 10 other African countries, Memos of Understanding have been signed between UNMA, the public Civil Aviation Authority and the private enterprise Fit Uganda. The Civil Aviation Authority made its first payment to UNMA in August 2016. These payments will be repeated on a quarterly basis, according to the signed Memo of Understanding. Payment from Fit Uganda is in advanced stages, while more Memos of Understanding have been signed or are being negotiated. While some challenges persist, all these new positive steps indicate that engaging the public and private sector to finance climate change adaptation in Uganda has started in earnest and is expected to improve in the coming months.
Technology. New technologies are now available that make it easier to deploy cost-effective, accurate and easily maintained weather and climate monitoring systems. Learn more about advances in technologies.
Incremental Approaches. We are now entering the phase where we start to package products to reach end users, further engage with civil society, create effective cost-recovery mechanisms, and monitor, evaluate and re-adjust these approaches. Discover recent steps Uganda is taking toward the finish line.
The Last Mile. Weather information, climate data and early warning systems should remain largely a public good in Africa. After all, weather data saves lives and exclusivity of the raw data may not be possible. However, by looking at the gaps that have hindered the effectiveness of past efforts to modernize weather and climate services across the continent, there is an opportunity to un-tap revenue generating products, increase new revenue streams, deliver more actionable services by individuals, lower climate-related risks and prepare ourselves for an uncertain climate future. Discover new approaches to reaching the last mile with weather and climate services.
If done right, these services will not only inform risk-management practices – and empower nations that are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change to take proactive, rather than reactive approaches to climate change – but they will also help reach the “Last Mile.”
Crossing the Last Mile will provide farmers and vulnerable communities with the information they need to climate-proof their futures, make more money on their farms so that they can send their children to school, and break the cycle of resource-poverty, capacity-poverty and information-poverty that keeps much of Africa trapped and struggling to break through.
Dr. Pradeep Kurukulasuriya is Head of UNDP’s Climate Change Adaptation Portfolio.
Alan Miller is an independent consultant on climate change policy and an Acclimatise associate.
Dr. Robert K. Rutaagi is Chairperson, Board of the Uganda National Meteorological Authority; Senior Associate Consultant & Governance Advisor for Eastern, Central & Southern Africa [ECASA] Group of Consultants. According to some sources, Uganda has as much as 70 lightning strikes per kilometer per year. In fact, the upcountry residence of Dr. Rutaagi was recently struck by lightning twice, destroying the power meter box and a nearby electric pole.