Developing user-centric climate services to enhance drought resilience in Africa
By Catherine Mungai
Climate services play a key role in supporting the resilience of communities but continue to be inaccessible to large numbers of climate-vulnerable people.
“A portfolio of user co-designed and co-developed online climate information 'Maprooms' will help decision makers better manage drought risk in three priority areas in East Africa: disaster risk reduction, agriculture and food security, and public health.” This was the key conclusion from the workshop ‘Existing and New Tools for Drought Monitoring and Forecasting in Eastern Africa’ hosted by the IGAD Climate Prediction & Applications Centre (ICPAC).
From 23 to 25 August, seventy participants from national meteorological services, international partners, as well as expert practitioners, policymakers, and researchers from agriculture, health, disaster risk reduction, water resource management, education and finance reviewed current tools and offered recommendations for new climate tools for drought risk management in Eastern Africa. The workshop, which took immediately after the Forty Seventh Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF47), was designed to address two main objectives: make decision-makers in target sectors more aware of the online climate information that is available or under development; and give these decision-makers a voice in the information that national meteorological services provide in the near future.
The climate change challenge – the perfect storm
"Drought is a slow creeping hazard; how can we predict then prepare for this? We acknowledge that tools and information are available; however, the challenge is awareness among users and also skills on how to use the tools," stated Dr. Ladislaus Chang’a of the Tanzania Meteorological Agency. This was also emphasized by Dr. Guleid Artan, the director of ICPAC, who pointed out that over 27 million people in the region have been affected by drought over the last 4 years.
Even though episodic droughts have always been present in East Africa, studies show they have become more frequent in recent decades. There is growing evidence suggesting that the impacts of current and recent droughts in East Africa are likely to have been aggravated by climate change. Poverty, chronic malnutrition, weak governance, conflict, drought and climate change have combined to create a perfect storm.
During the panel session on ‘policy and operational needs for drought-related disasters,’ panellists from agriculture, livestock, health and disaster risk management sectors agreed that pastoralists and smallholder farmers are most at risk. They lack the skills and resources to cope with the inherent risks of farming, live on harsher lands, and rarely have access to economic safety nets when crops fail and livestock die. More frequent droughts are making it harder for people to recover between shocks, making them more vulnerable. As such, there is an increasing need and demand for tailored climate information products and services for agriculture and food security, pastoral systems, health, water, and energy resources in Eastern Africa.
Tools for developing sector specific responses
To respond to the challenges caused by climate change, research institutions have partnered with regional and national meteorological service providers to create online “Maproom” tools that can be used to inform decision making across sectors. During the workshop, the following Maproom were shown:
- ICPAC drought risk analysis, monitoring and prediction Maprooms
- ENACTS Climate Data and Maprooms available from several National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS)
- WISER-SCIPEA Climate Data Portal at ICPAC, which provides NMHS access to seasonal forecast model output from several international forecasting centers
- Meteo-Rwanda Agriculture and Food Security Maprooms, under development through the CCAFS-led Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture project
This was followed by practical session where participants had the opportunity to use the different tools and give recommendations on improving their usefulness for sector-specific drought management needs.
Participants recognized that climate information tools need to be accompanied by climate-smart response strategies that are sector specific, but also enhance integration across sectors where possible. “One Health” — an approach which seeks to address challenges that threaten human and animal health, food security and poverty and the environments where diseases flourish — is one such integrative approach, presented by Madeleine Thomson, a senior research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI).
The future outlook
The workshop showcased a rapidly expanding suite of inline climate information tools. New Maproom tools for agricultural and food security decision-makers, some still prototypes or under development, are being rolled out at a national scale in Rwanda, and regionally through ICPAC. CCAFS and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) are working with ICPAC to increase its ability to assist the NMHS of member countries in East African to provide online Maprooms that better serve the needs of their farming populations and agricultural sectors. Workshop participants offered several additional recommendations for increasing the use of climate information for managing drought risk:
- Expand sector- specific Maprooms beyond agriculture and health, to include disaster, water, energy and tourism.
- Integrate sectorial and socio-economic data with climate databases, to better inform decision-making.
- Promote sustainability by involving users with national meteorological services in the co-development of tools.
- Enhance access through mobile phone applications, and offline access versions where Internet connectivity is unavailable.
- Encourage continued collaboration across sectors; and among research institutions, line ministries, private sector, and development and humanitarian organizations working directly with communities.