FEATURE: Impact Based Forecasting is set to save lives and livelihoods in East Africa
George Achia reports on an initiative to alert fisherfolk and other users of Lake Victoria to sudden severe weather – so that they can avoid harm to health and livelihood.
Thousands of fishermen lose their lives each year due to the inadequacy of weather alerts and warnings around Lake Victoria, the largest inland fishing area in the world. The Lake yields million tonnes of fish per year, with local turnover of approximately $600 million.
Accurate early warnings and alerts about the lake’s changing conditions would help the fishermen and other lake users who put their lives at risk every day. A new approach to weather forecasting called the Impact Based Forecasting has been developed to address this need.
Impact Based Forecasting promises to deliver improved, accurate early warning systems to prevent deaths and damages caused by severe strong winds, large waves, heavy rains and thunderstorm in Lake Victoria and the East Africa region. Called the HIGHWAY project, it is part of the Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa programme (WISER) funded by the UK Department for International Development.
Twice a day, fishermen and other marine users of Lake Victoria in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda will receive updated weather forecasts to help plan their activities. It will help them make decisions such as whether to go on a fishing expedition or postpone until the weather and lake conditions have improved.
Already, Ugandan and Kenyan stakeholders have been trained on how to produce Impact Based Forecasts. In July, messaging was developed to effectively convey the weather information to end users.
The meteorologists in the three East African countries will now use this advanced method of weather forecasting to tell the public about the potential impacts of forthcoming weather.
How Impact Based Forecasting works
According to experts, Impact Based Forecasting will make weather forecasts more relevant to ordinary citizens. The new approach will help determine what the weather will do, rather than just describing the weather, so that citizens can take actions that will help to save lives in severe weather conditions.
“Impact Based Forecasting is different from the method of forecast that the meteorologists in the region have been using. For example, before, a weather forecast would say: 50mm of rainfall will fall on Thursday in Western parts of Kenya. Now the forecast will say: 50mm of rainfall falling in Western Kenya on Thursday will lead to some flooding of homes in Kisumu, and will disrupt transport and agriculture. Vulnerable people close to river valleys may want to consider moving to higher ground temporarily,” explains Dr. Chris Tubb, an International Meteorologist at the UK Met Office.
This new approach will help save lives, improve decision-making and lead to better planning among end users as these Impact Based Forecast warnings will be issued up to five days ahead of time.
This means that stakeholders such as disaster managers, health care providers and emergency rescue teams in weather-sensitive sectors will receive the forecasts and warnings with a corresponding impact(s) through the most accessible medium for them – allowing for proper planning.
New inter-agency cooperation is needed
Putting together an Impact Based Forecasting service calls for meteorological agencies to foster partnerships with stakeholders, which demands more work and skill sets. The benefits of such partnerships are that when a meteorological department provides a more effective service, it gains better recognition. Then, the agency stands a better chance of receiving support from governments and donors, which in turn, benefits the programmes of the meteorological agency.
This will require national meteorological agencies to work together with stakeholders to popularise the Impact Based Forecasting approach, in order to gain the momentum needed.
According to Dr.Ayub Shaka, an assistant director at Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), this new approach is unlike previously, when forecasters would just give a forecast to other sectors and leave it to them to figure out what the likely outcome would be.
Dr. Shaka believes the new method will increase uptake of climate information by decision-makers.
But at the same time, he is worried about the approach.
“The challenge is in getting sectoral data to develop thresholds for impacts in the sectors. For example, if KMD forecasts 50mm of rainfall, the impact that rain will have on roads sector will depend on the records they (road sector) have on road damages every time we have rainfall of different amounts. Then we can say 50mm expected and roads of this type are likely to be damaged or will survive the storm.
In the water resource management sector, the same amount of rain will depend on the records of how dams fill whenever we get different rainfall amounts”.
Meteorologists in the region need to have data on different sectors to be able to assess the impact of a forecast – and so must work closely in collaboration with other sector players. It won’t be easy.
Monica Mutoni , Tanzania’s Meteorological Agency’s communications officer, says this new approach will go a long way in improving weather forecasts in the region as it is based on users’ needs, which are obtained through engagement and a co-designed services approach.
She notes that meteorologists and their partners will need “access to Impact Based Forecast-enabling technologies and innovation to package and disseminate [forecasts] to different users with extremely diverse needs.”
To help Impact Based Forecasting reach its full potential, Monica calls for institutions across the region to have an emergency preparedness plan for weather and climate hazards that are common in the East Africa region.
Image: Lake Victoria Fisherman, courtesy Linda de Volder.