By Kate Ferguson, DFID WISER Programme Manger at Met Office
For the last four years, the Met Office has been helping create a positive change to millions of lives in East Africa through a weather and climate programme called WISER. The aim of this Department for International Development (DFID) funded programme is to make a lasting change in the ability to access and use weather and climate information services all the way from decision makers to households across East Africa. This is being achieved by working in partnership with a range of highly specialised organisations, each delivering innovative projects either nationally or regionally.
Some of the projects are beginning to close as they have achieved the ambitious targets they set themselves, others will continue for another 12 months or so as they stretch to deliver more. Key to all projects is legacy, leaving behind stronger services, enhanced knowledge and greater user appetite for information, so that when projects do close, the positive change continues.
For me, it’s such a great time to join the Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) team within the Met Office as I’m able to reflect on the incredible successes of the past while also take the lessons of success and continuing to support the ongoing work that will contribute to 24 million people being better able to respond to weather and climate changes in East Africa. 24 million people! That’s almost the whole population of Australia. Imagine making a positive change to that many lives; it’s incredible!
The importance of the user
One of the most inspiring things I’ve learnt, as I get to grips with managing such a large and complex programme, has been how constant and key the voice of the people has been in driving forward the change and informing the projects. While the Met Office, East African National Hydrological and Meteorological Services (NHMSs) and other organisations work together to improve the technology, build the capacity to analysis and interpret the data, and deliver new weather and climate services, the key group in mind is the end users – the recipients of the weather and climate information. A great example is the Rwanda national project, led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), where weather and climate information is being shared directly with 100,000 farmers. In partnership with Meteo Rwanda, a climate hotline also enables farmers to call in for weather and climate information, which is updated every six hours. When the rainy season is due to start, the hotline can receive more than 500,000 calls a month. When farmers have access to clear, understandable and up to date information, they are better placed to make decisions about their livelihoods; helping them plan more effectively to avoid losses and increase yields.
Meeting the needs of individuals and communities
Simple actions are also making a huge difference, such as the approach of the DARAJA project, led by Resurgence, in the informal settlements in Nairobi. They organised a waterways clean up, removing plastic and other rubbish to unclog the flow of water, so when there were heavy rains two days later, those waterways didn’t flood and those living nearby weren’t affected. Watch this video to find out more.
Across Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, BBC Media Action are also working to keep messages appropriate for the recipients of weather and climate information, as part of the Weather Wise project. They are training local journalists on effective communication of climate and weather information, working with radio stations to produce practical and accessible weather messages. This is helping pastoralists in Kenya to make decisions about where to migrate livestock to keep them safe, fishermen in Uganda to know when it’s safe to go out on the water, and farmers to know when to sow their crops to avoid weather-related losses.
Saving lives and livelihoods
Underpinning all of this great work with communities is the foundation of change – working with the national governments and the NHMSs. They are the crucial link in the chain to gather, analyse, interpret and share the weather and climate information services in Africa. The HIGHWAY project across Lake Victoria, led by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), is breaking ground. This project is bringing together the NMHSs from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, along with other international bodies, to improve weather forecasting across Lake Victoria and communicate early warning messages to those people dependant on the lake for their livelihoods, such as fishermen. By using audience-appropriate channels of radio and text messages, this regional project is improving boating safety, reducing loss of life and vulnerability to weather shocks across four countries. Take a look at this video of the HIGHWAY project.
The change the WISER programme will achieve in East Africa is phenomenal, and it’s down to the commitment and creativity of each organisation and each person involved in driving forward such innovative and impactful work. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this and I can’t wait to see what can be achieved as we continue to take it forward.