The meteorological services of seven African countries are hindered in their ability to provide effective climate services by four common obstacles — human capacity constraints and lack of observational data, high-speed Internet, and funding, as documented by the USAID Climate Services Learning Agenda.
“Climate services” is the provision of climate information to individuals and organizations whose decisions need to be “climate smart.” Within Africa these services are important to safeguard economic and social development across the continent in the coming years. In the case of many African countries, the first-line provider of climate information services (CIS) is the national meteorological and hydrological service (NMHS), which provides life-and livelihood-saving, weather and climate information to a wide range of actors, from national decision-makers to people in communities making a living and protecting their families. Therefore, it is important that national governments develop the climate information services (CIS) capacity within their respective NMHSs. Although typical NMHS operational activities include continuous weather observations and forecasting and developing extended (10-day) and seasonal (3-6 month) forecasts, increasingly NMHSs are asked to help provide national and regional climate information in support of advance planning in climate-sensitive sectors.
The NMHSs in many African countries lack human, technical, and infrastructural capacity to deal with the multi-dimensional nature of CIS. To better understand how to design and implement sustainable CIS models within African NMHSs, USAID funded the Assessing Sustainability and Effectiveness of Climate Information Services in Africa (Sustainable CIS) project. The Sustainable CIS project has assessed the current capacity of NMHSs in seven sub-Saharan countries to identify opportunities for enhancing their CIS capacity through partnership opportunities. Read more about the framework for the metrics of NMHS capacity here.
The results from the CIS capacity study document much of what we know and provide a baseline for current challenges. Some NMHSs have better CIS capacities than others: all NMHSs only have basic CIS capacity and some NMHSs partially fulfill criteria for full CIS. However, no NMHS evaluated offers full or advanced CIS.
Four common challenges to providing suitable CIS were identified across the surveyed NMHSs: i) human capacity, ii) observational infrastructure, iii) high speed Internet, and iv) finance. All these can be tied to the need for long-term development strategies.
Human capacity needs are important because NMHSs are traditionally more technically oriented with relatively little attention given to the social components of CIS. Training is usually centered around meteorology and weather forecasting and the development of associated products, rather than demonstrating how to sustain engagement with user communities to co-develop relevant and appropriate climate information.
Observational infrastructure, such as monitoring stations, computers, telecommunications, and data centers, is equally crucial to delivering CIS, as observational infrastructure is needed to collect underlying data and establish baselines against which climate variability and change can be measured.
Well-trained staff and good observational data will, however, be ineffective without access to good Internet services. Many of today’s CIS activities require good computational infrastructure and Internet connectivity to disseminate CIS products. One of the surveyed NMHSs did not have access to a 1 Mbps line and none of the NMHSs had access to 10 Mbps Internet speeds. To put this in context, the average Western household Internet bandwidth is higher than most African NMHSs.
Underpinning all these issues is a lack of access to a stable source of funding to ensure effective CIS. National and international funding models need to create opportunities for NMHSs to generate income and partner with the private sector and others within the climate and weather sector. Without this, very few African NMHSs are likely to move beyond the ability to provide essential CIS. To help address the gap, the Sustainable CIS project is currently developing a NMHS financial planning tool. A webinar discussing the draft tool is available in English and French, and the final tool will be available through Climatelinks.
Given the urgent need for suitable CIS to address climate variability and change, the low capacity for CIS provision by NMHSs is a reason for concern. National governments should be incentivized to develop CIS capacity within their respective NMHSs. This may be a role that the World Meteorological Organization and the Global Framework for Climate Services, a partnership of governments and organizations that produce and use climate information and services, could play.
Dr. Chris Lennard
Dr. Chris Lennard is a climate scientist at the Climate System Analysis Group whose interests include the development of regional climate information, regional climate modelling, renewable energy, extreme climate events and mountain biking. He is a lead author in the IPCC Special Report on Land and Climate and in the Africa chapter of the IPCC AR6. Dr Lennard serves on the Scientific Advisory Team of the Coordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX) and leads the CORDEX-Africa initiative.