As the climate summit in Africa commences, inadequate weather prediction hinders the continent's readiness for potential challenges.

As the climate summit in Africa commences, inadequate weather prediction hinders the continent’s readiness for potential challenges.

In Nairobi, Kenya, many people rely on daily weather forecasts without thinking twice. However, in Africa where there are 1.3 billion people living, most do not have access to advance notice of upcoming weather conditions. This can have devastating consequences and result in costly damages, reaching billions of dollars.

The inaugural Africa Climate Summit will commence on Monday in Kenya, shedding light on the continent that will bear the brunt of climate change despite being the smallest contributor to it. A key priority will be to make significant investments in Africa’s ability to adapt to climate change, such as improving forecasting methods. The lack of data collection, which affects decisions as critical as planting and evacuating, is a central issue in every agenda item, from energy to agriculture.

The size of the African continent is greater than the combined size of China, India, and the United States. However, Africa only has 37 radar facilities for monitoring weather, which is a crucial resource along with satellite information and surface observations, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s database.

There are 345 radar facilities in Europe and 291 in North America.

“The entire continent is facing a lack of awareness regarding climate risks,” stated Asaf Tzachor, who conducts research at the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Study of Existential Risk. In a recent commentary published in the journal Nature, Tzachor and his team cautioned that Africa will incur over $50 billion in annual costs due to climate change by 2050. This is especially concerning as Africa’s population is projected to double by that time.

According to their statement, the prevalent inability to monitor and predict the weather impacts important decisions related to development. They argue that it is futile to invest in small-scale farming, for instance, if the land is at risk of being destroyed by floods.

Kenya is hosting the climate summit and is among the few African countries with a well-established weather service, along with South Africa and Morocco. The national treasury has set aside approximately $12 million for Kenya’s meteorological service this year. In comparison, the U.S. National Weather Service has requested a budget of $1.3 billion for the fiscal year 2023.

The expansive 54-nation African continent is largely underserved and unmonitored.

In 2019, the WMO stated that Africa has the smallest land-based observation network out of all continents, covering only one-fifth of the world’s total land area. Furthermore, this network is in a declining condition.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported last year that a decrease in funding has led to a 50% decrease in the number of observations made by atmospheric devices typically used with weather balloons in Africa from 2015 to 2020. This is a significant issue.

The report stated that less than 20% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa offer dependable weather services. Due to the diverse terrain and altitude, the data from weather stations, which are widely dispersed, cannot be used for local extrapolation.

Thirteen African countries with limited data, such as Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Congo, are receiving funding from the United Nations’ Systematic Observations Financing Facility to enhance their weather data collection and distribution. A previous funding initiative, Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems, which involves similar partners, has also aided in modernizing meteorological systems in six countries in West and Central Africa.

Furthermore, it is not limited to just predicting. With the rise in occurrences of extreme weather events like Somalia’s severe drought, there is a crucial need for improved collection of weather information to inform decision-making processes.

According to Nick van de Giesen, a professor at Delft University of Technology, accurate weather forecasts are extremely important for people in the Western world as they can help make daily tasks easier. However, in Africa where many people rely on rain-fed agriculture, the need for precise weather predictions is even more crucial. Due to a changing climate, traditional methods of determining the start of the rainy season are becoming less accurate, causing farmers to sow their seeds after a few rains. This can be risky as there is a chance that the rains may fail and the seeds will not germinate.

This can have a devastating impact on the ongoing global food security crisis.

Van de Giesen is the co-director of the Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory, a project that has helped to set up about 650 low-cost local weather monitoring stations in collaboration with schools and other entities across 20 African countries. Not all of those surface monitoring stations are operational because of issues including threats by extremist groups that limit access for maintenance in areas such as Lake Chad.

Van de Giesen clarified that TAHMO cannot serve as a substitute for proficient and successful national weather services. He noted that numerous African governments still lack the necessary resources and funding.

In countries like Somalia and Mozambique, with some of the continent’s longest and most vulnerable coastlines, the lack of effective weather monitoring and early warning systems have contributed to thousands of deaths in disasters such as tropical storms and flooding.

Following the destruction caused by Cyclone Idai in central Mozambique in 2019, individuals informed The Associated Press that they were not adequately warned by the authorities. The disaster resulted in over 1,000 fatalities, with some being carried away by floodwaters while their loved ones desperately held onto trees.

According to a report by the WMO, Cyclone Idai was the most expensive natural disaster in Africa between the years 1970 and 2019, with a total cost of $1.9 billion. The report focused on extreme weather events and their impact on both the economy and individuals.

The scarcity of weather information in many parts of Africa makes it challenging to establish a connection between specific natural disasters and climate change.

In a recent report, a group of climate experts called World Weather Attribution stated that due to insufficient data, it is not possible to accurately determine the impact of climate change on the flooding that occurred in May in Congo and Rwanda near Lake Kivu, resulting in numerous fatalities.

The report emphasized the critical need for reliable climate data and research in this extremely at-risk area.

In a study of unpredictable rainfall and food insecurity in the Sahel region of West Africa, researchers from last year also shared their frustration with “significant uncertainties” in the data.

They emphasized the importance of investing in basic systems, such as a network of rain gauges, stating that even minor changes in rainfall patterns can have a significant impact on millions of individuals.