Risk management: weather services and insurance to counter natural disasters in Africa

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In Africa, where many countries are exposed to risks of climate-change induced natural disaster, it is imperative to create integrated joint risk management strategies. This is because the economies of many African countries depend upon climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, infrastructure, forestry, and fisheries.

On Wednesday 5 December 2018, the African Development Bank held a session on the sidelines of the 24th world climate summit, COP24, in collaboration with the African Centre of Meteorology Applications for Development (ACMAD) and the African Risk Capacity (ARC), on the management of natural disaster risks in Africa, the role of meteorological and climate services to defend against such risks, and insurance to meet the costs of extreme weather events such as storms, droughts and floods.

Hydrometeorology: anticipating, alerting and guarding

To manage the risk of natural disasters, meteorology and climate information services are essential. But there are few of these in Africa, and those that exist often perform poorly due to a lack of staff and experts, faulty equipment and funding problems. Nearly a decade ago, the African Development Bank issued a warning about the insufficient number of weather stations in Africa, pointing out that the continent had the lowest density of such stations in the world, at one per 25,460 km2 – or one eighth of the standard recommended by the World Meteorological Organization. More recently, in 2016, the World Bank stated that only 10 of the 54 African countries provided adequate weather-forecasting services.

At the same time, food security is increasingly under threat from climate change, warned Tania Osejo of the World Food Programme (WFP). "The challenges are enormous and that is why we need an integrated approach to fit the needs of communities to the meteorology instruments and services."

Osejo calls for scientific and meteorological information to be adapted to suit the particular experiences of communities and for "smart" investments to promote food security to be launched.

"There certainly are programmes and institutions that provide meteorology services, but these services lack coordination and are therefore not very effective," added World Meteorological Organization director Filipe Lucio, citing the Global Climate Risk Index drawn up by the NGO Germanwatch, of which the 2018 edition was unveiled at COP24.

Hydromet Africa: Improving hydrometeorology services in Africa

Weather forecasting services and early warning systems are vital to the protection plans needed to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters. More investment is needed, and studies have shown that the return on investment is likely to be very profitable. For every dollar spent on hydrometeorological services, the yield in terms of economic development would be at least five times higher. 

The collection of weather and climate data and their analysis and dissemination are a value chain. "The links of this chain come from different institutions, and are mostly uncoordinated," said Filipe Lucio. "We cannot progress by providing support for just one link at a time. We need to support the entire chain, in a coherent and integrated way."

Reliable weather and climate information enables policy makers to review and amend their national adaptation plans, permits communities to conserve and strengthen their means of production, and encourages local economies to grow, among many other benefits.

Insurance and mutual funds, financial cover against natural disasters

Weather and climate services are also essential for providing disaster risk transfer solutions, according to Assia Sidebe, the African Risk Capacity (ARC) regional coordinator. Ms Sidebe spoke about the purpose of the ARC, launched in 2012 by 20 African countries under the aegis of the African Union. The countries also benefit from African Development Bank support to provide them with shared financial cover against the risks of drought, flood and cyclones in Africa to remove their individual responsibilities for climate disaster management and to reduce their dependence on international donations. To perform risk assessments and facilitate claim payments, the ARC uses global satellite and human development index data. Over the period 2014-2015, the ARC disbursed nearly $43 billion in claims payments, more than half in Senegal and Kenya. The ARC's goal, to be achieved by 2020, is for 150 million people in 30 African countries to be covered against climate risk.

The African Development Bank has recently launched the Africa Disaster Risks Financing Programme (ADRIFI), the very first climate risk management programme in Africa.

"The goal is to strengthen the resilience of the 54 African countries and help them deal with disaster risks in Africa," explained programme coordinator Cecil Nartey, "and to invite the African countries to join up, to ensure that it becomes yet another Bank-promoted success, improving the quality of life for all Africans.” 

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