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Africa Hosts Climate Summit Amidst Weather Forecasting Deficits, Leaving the Continent Vulnerable

by Ryan Lee
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Africa Climate Summit and Weather Forecasting Deficits

While weather forecasts are a routine aspect of daily life in many parts of the world, the majority of Africa’s population of 1.3 billion faces significant deficits in this critical information. This lack of data can lead to catastrophic outcomes, both in terms of human life and economic loss amounting to billions of dollars.

The inaugural Africa Climate Summit is set to commence on Monday in Kenya, focusing on the continent which is expected to be the hardest hit by climate change despite its minimal contribution to the crisis. One of the urgent objectives of the summit is to improve Africa’s climate change adaptation mechanisms, particularly in the area of weather forecasting. A common thread running through diverse topics on the summit’s agenda, such as energy and agriculture, is the deficiency in essential data gathering required for key decision-making processes.

Spanning a geographical area larger than China, India, and the United States combined, Africa is woefully underequipped with only 37 radar facilities for monitoring weather patterns, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s database. In contrast, Europe boasts 345 radar facilities, while North America has 291.

Asaf Tzachor, a researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Study of Existential Risk, has termed the continent as existing within a “climate risk blind spot.” Tzachor and his colleagues have cautioned that, by 2050, climate change could cost Africa upwards of $50 billion annually, by which time the continent’s population is projected to double. The inadequacy of weather tracking and forecasting systems directly impacts vital development plans. Investment in small agricultural enterprises, for example, becomes futile if these are simply going to be destroyed by unforeseen floods.

Kenya, the summit’s host nation, is among the few African countries with a relatively advanced meteorological service, alongside South Africa and Morocco. The Kenyan government has allocated approximately $12 million this year for weather services, a paltry sum when compared to the U.S. National Weather Service’s budget request of $1.3 billion for the fiscal year 2023.

The 54-nation African continent remains largely under-served in terms of reliable weather forecasting systems. The World Meteorological Organization stated in 2019 that Africa has the most underdeveloped land-based observation network among all continents, and it is further deteriorating. Between 2015 and 2020, due to insufficient funding, the frequency of atmospheric observations using weather balloons dropped by as much as 50% over the continent. Less than 20% of sub-Saharan African nations provide dependable weather services.

However, there is some hope. A United Nations-backed trust fund, the Systematic Observations Financing Facility, is providing financial support to 13 data-deficient African countries like Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Congo to enhance weather data collection and dissemination. Moreover, a focus on better data recording has become imperative as climate-induced crises, such as severe droughts, become more frequent.

Professor Nick van de Giesen of Delft University of Technology emphasized that while weather forecasts in Western countries serve mostly as a convenience, the situation in Africa is far more critical. With the changing climate, traditional methods to determine the onset of the rainy season are increasingly unreliable, leading to failed crops and exacerbating the ongoing global food security crisis.

In coastal countries like Somalia and Mozambique, which have some of the longest and most susceptible coastlines in Africa, the absence of effective weather monitoring has contributed to large-scale human tragedy, like the deaths resulting from tropical storms and floods. Cyclone Idai, which struck Mozambique in 2019, was the costliest disaster in Africa between 1970 and 2019, with damages estimated at $1.9 billion.

In summary, the deficiency of weather data not only impedes the association of certain natural disasters with climate change but also complicates developmental planning and decision-making processes. Investment in basic infrastructure such as rain gauges could yield significant benefits, as even slight variations in rainfall patterns can impact millions of lives.

The urgency for robust climate data and research for this vulnerable region has never been more acute, a message that is expected to resonate strongly at the upcoming Africa Climate Summit.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Africa Climate Summit and Weather Forecasting Deficits

What is the primary focus of the upcoming Africa Climate Summit?

The primary focus of the upcoming Africa Climate Summit is to address the continent’s vulnerability to climate change, with a specific emphasis on improving adaptation mechanisms like weather forecasting.

Why is weather forecasting considered an urgent issue in Africa?

Weather forecasting is considered an urgent issue in Africa due to its direct impact on vital aspects of life and economic activities. The lack of advanced forecasting systems can lead to catastrophic outcomes in terms of human life and economic loss, which can amount to billions of dollars.

How does Africa compare to other continents in terms of weather monitoring infrastructure?

Africa lags significantly behind other continents in weather monitoring infrastructure. The continent, larger than China, India, and the United States combined, has only 37 radar facilities for weather tracking, according to the World Meteorological Organization. In contrast, Europe has 345 radar facilities and North America has 291.

What are the economic implications of poor weather forecasting in Africa?

Poor weather forecasting has severe economic implications for Africa, potentially costing the continent upwards of $50 billion annually by 2050. The lack of reliable data can negatively impact developmental plans, such as agricultural investment, that are crucial for the continent’s economic growth.

Are there any initiatives to improve weather data collection in Africa?

Yes, there are some initiatives aimed at improving weather data collection in Africa. For instance, a United Nations-backed trust fund, the Systematic Observations Financing Facility, is providing financial support to 13 data-deficient African countries like Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Congo to enhance weather data collection and dissemination.

How do the budget allocations for meteorological services in Africa compare to those in developed countries?

Budget allocations for meteorological services in Africa are significantly lower compared to developed countries. For example, Kenya has allocated approximately $12 million for its meteorological service this year, whereas the U.S. National Weather Service has a budget request of $1.3 billion for the fiscal year 2023.

What is the role of local projects like the Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO) in weather monitoring?

Local projects like TAHMO have set up about 650 low-cost local weather monitoring stations across 20 African countries. While these efforts are valuable, they are not a replacement for efficient and effective national weather services, which many African governments lack due to resource and funding constraints.

How does poor weather data impact the linkage between natural disasters and climate change?

The deficiency in weather data complicates the task of attributing specific natural disasters to climate change. Limited data make it challenging to “confidently evaluate” the role of climate change in events like floods or droughts.

Why is the need for robust climate data more acute in Africa?

The need for robust climate data is more acute in Africa due to the continent’s vulnerability to climate-induced crises like severe droughts, floods, and storms. These events have a direct impact on human life, economic activities, and developmental plans. Therefore, better data recording is critically needed for informed decision-making.

More about Africa Climate Summit and Weather Forecasting Deficits

  • World Meteorological Organization Database
  • Systematic Observations Financing Facility
  • U.S. National Weather Service Budget for Fiscal Year 2023
  • Report on Africa’s Climate Vulnerability
  • Study on Economic Implications of Climate Change in Africa
  • Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO)
  • World Weather Attribution Studies
  • WMO Report on Weather Extremes and Economic Toll
  • Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems Initiative

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