Climate information and early warnings to save lives and build livelihoods in Uganda

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By Andrea Egan, Gregory Benchwick and Pascal Okello

With the goal of improving the lives and livelihoods of its citizens, the government of Uganda is embarking on an ambitious mission to modernize its weather, water and climate monitoring systems. These updated systems will save lives, build better livelihoods for smallholder farmers, and foster climate-smart decisions which will propel the nation’s economy forward. 

Currently, 80% of Uganda’s population is dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and as the climate changes and weather patterns become harder to predict, the livelihoods of many Ugandan farmers are being put at risk.

Into each life some rain must fall

"During the rainy season, we know what we are going to plant and what method we are going to use. But last season the rain was too much, water was turning the garden and destroyed everything,” said Haruna Masaba, a farmer from Nakhabago Village in the eastern part of Uganda. 

With the installation of new weather monitoring systems in the area – and an innovative public-private partnership to share relevant weather alerts over cell phones - Mr. Masaba has new access to valuable information that can help him and his village adapt to changes in the climate. With these new services, Mr. Masaba will get up-to-the-minute weather information and improved crop forecasts that will help him and other villagers like him know when to plant, when to harvest and when to take their crops to market.

Collecting data, saving lives

With financing from the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund, and support from the UNDP and the Ministry of Water and Environment, the Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems (SCIEWS) project in Uganda is building local capacity, fostering new partnerships and aquiring new technologies that will result in “one of the most complete weather monitoring systems in East Africa,” according to Pascal Onegiu Okello, Project Manager for SCIEWS Uganda. 

“With improved weather monitoring and reporting, we can help smallholder farmers to plant at the right time so that they are assured of their harvests. It also means improved access to risk-mitigation tools like weather index-based insurance. More importantly, these integrated weather services are about saving lives,” said Okello. 

Installing critical technologies throughout the country, and integrating improved climate information into decision-making processes, the project is working to increase the capacity of the national early warning network to forewarn and rapidly respond to extreme climate events.

Automatic weather stations

To achieve this objective, the project, working with the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) has installed 20 synoptic automatic weather stations. In total 11 automatic weather stations have been installed and 40 hydrological stations are being rehabilitated and/or constructed - including 16 new automatic water level stations. 

In addition, through project interventions, the technical capacity of the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) and the Directorate of Water Resources Management (DWRM) to monitor and forecast extreme weather, hydrology and climate change is being enhanced through training and capacity building programmes in partnership with the equipment suppliers, accredited regional training agencies, and the UNDP Programme on Climate Information for Resilient Development in Africa. This will ensure long-term sustainability and maintenance of the hydro-meteorological monitoring system, and provide Uganda’s citizens with more reliable weather and climatic information.

Cell phones, radios, and cloud-based services

UNMA has also recognised the commercial need for customized meteorological services – realizing that it is important not only to collect the data, but also to ensure that it is communicated effectively. Partnering with existing commercial information companies and telecommunciations providers, the Government of Uganda is building more effective methods to provide real-time meteorological information and early warnings to its citizens. 

In partnership with UNMA and UNDP, a free 1-6-1 service on the Airtel Network will be launched shortly. Working to empower millions of Ugandans to access public service information, including weather conditions in their regions, users can dial “161” from any mobile device anytime, anywhere, free of charge, and hear trusted information in six national languages. 

This wide set of new technologies and new partnerships combines to create a complete weather monitoring and reporting system that travels the last mile to vulnerable communities. 

“Now, when we are able to hear the news on the radio of the weather we can make a plan. If we know it is going to rain, we can dig a trench so that the water can pass through without destroying our plants,” said Mr. Masaba. 

Additionally, the increased number of total lightning detection stations will provide coverage for the Central, Eastern and Northern region of the country, and reduce the number of lightning fatalities in the country, which has been noted to have more lightning fatalities per year than anywhere else in the world. The Total Solutions Automatic Weather Stations (TSAWS) will also integrate lightning data from neighboring networks in Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania, making for improved regional cooperation.

Data informing policies and improving lives

Climate change requires new policies and new ways of doing business. Decision makers can greatly benefit from improved climate information. The project is building systems to share improved forecasts and other climate information products that the Government of Uganda can use in economic development and risk-reduction efforts. 

By building the capacity for weather, climate and hydrological monitoring, early warning systems, and making available information for responding to extreme weather, long-term planning and adaptation to climate change will be integrated in Uganda’s development objectives. 

For more information on the Uganda SCIEWS project, visit the project profile here. For more information on UNDP-supported Climate Information and Early Warning Systems projects in Africa, visit here.



Climate information & early warnings to save lives and build livelihoods in Uganda English

Document links last validated on: 16 July 2021

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