World Bank seeks $500 million for African weather services

By Maina Waruru NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The World Bank is working with other development finance institutions to raise some $500 million to modernize weather and flood forecasting services in Africa. Daniel Kull, a disaster risk specialist with the World Bank, said it was talking to lenders, including the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, about mobilizing the funds to improve prediction, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. More accurate and timely warnings of extreme weather would help protect lives and assets from disasters, experts say. “Hydro-meteorological services are badly strained in Africa, but we need to go beyond just providing equipment for forecasting and data processing - we also need to take care of training of personnel and maintenance of infrastructure,” Kull told a recent conference in Turkey. Overall, the developing world needs between $1.5 billion and $2 billion to modernize hydro-meteorological infrastructure, with a further $300 million to $400 million required each year to support operations, Kull noted. International aid for efforts to modernize critical observation systems in the developing world remains low and ineffective, with governments allocating little spending to the sector, he added. “Globally, investment in hydro-meteorological services could lead to a realization of up to $30 billion per year in increased economic productivity and cut losses from disasters by up to $2 billion,” Kull said. The World Bank supports African governments with technical expertise to strengthen cross-border flood forecasting, early warning systems and climate prediction initiatives. It also offers project management and advisory services to help African states make better use of forecasting services offered by global bodies such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and developed countries. Joseph Mukabana, Africa region head for the WMO, said hydro-meteorological equipment in most African countries was in poor condition and could not be relied on to capture accurate weather and climate data. Services were grossly under-funded and ranked bottom of many governments’ spending priorities, he added. Among the 33 least developed countries in sub-Saharan Africa, some were emerging from conflict “where most of the basic infrastructure, including hydro-meteorological, was destroyed”, Mukabana told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. EXPENSIVE TECHNOLOGY According to WMO figures, 90 percent of natural disasters in sub-Saharan Africa in the past decade were climate or weather-related. This highlights the need for more investment in services that can warn of floods and droughts and promote preventive action, reducing deaths and damage to property, said Mukabana. “Hydro-meteorological equipment is high-precision and very expensive, hence needs to be categorized as an investment,” he added. The required equipment includes automatic weather stations, airport weather observation systems, weather surveillance radars, wind profilers, pollution-measuring equipment and technology for rapid data exchange. High-performance computing platforms for numerical weather prediction and climate database management systems are also needed, Mukabana said. African nations do have staff qualified to manage hydro-meteorological services, but their numbers are low, with many nearing retirement, he added. In the past few weeks, southern African countries, particularly Mozambique and Malawi, have experienced some of their most severe floods on record, resulting in over 260 lives lost and major damage to property, crops and infrastructure. Some regional bodies have started looking at the problem of weather and climate-related disasters from a cross-border perspective, setting up joint platforms to address the challenge. One example is the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) for the Greater Horn of Africa. It serves 11 countries prone to drought and floods: Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. ICPAC produces seasonal forecasts, but some experts have criticized the way these are disseminated, saying they do not reach those who need them most, such as local farmers. The center is also implementing a flood forecasting project to capture data on water levels in major rivers and water bodies across the region. (Reporting by Maina Waruru; editing by Megan Rowling)