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Region needs to become more "proactive" about climate change

[Swaziland] Former eastern lowveld cropland
now occupied by dust and an aloe plant.  [Date picture taken: 06/10/2006]
Once fertile land turned barren - climate change the culprit say experts (James Hall/IRIN)

African countries need to become more "proactive" in recording the effects of climate change, according to a United Nations' World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) expert.

To assess the impact of climate change, climatological data spanning over a period of at least 60 years is required. But often African and other developing countries have to shut down their weather stations either on account of lack of funds or the political situation, explained Dr Mannavar Sivakumar, chief of WMO's agricultural meteorology division.

"We often find gaps in the information; and not all of the data is computerised [making it difficult to analyse]".

He said it was "critical" for Africa, which forecasters predict will be the region worst affected by changing weather patterns, to get its act together. "Africa is projected to have a large area covered with arid or semi-arid regions; as the population increases, there will be an increase in demand [for food] while on the other hand there will be less precipitation on account of climate change [to support agriculture]: this will be a double killer".

Sivakumar said there was money available within the UN system to help least developed countries set up plans of action to adapt, from which they could source funds to improve weather data capturing. "But countries have to be more proactive in trying to seek the assistance".

Unfortunately most meteorological services in Africa are not even aware of the existence of the available support, said Mark Tadross, a climatologist with the University of Cape Town's Climate Systems Analysis Group. He pointed out that even academic institutions like his encountered problems in gathering data across the region."Computers and the personnel to maintain the equipment are of limited supply".

Action Plan

National budgets in Africa do not prioritise spending on climate services, noted 'Climate Information for Development Needs: An Action Plan for Africa' (ClimDev Africa), a programme aimed at improving weather data analysis. 

Recognising the need to bring Africa on board, the action plan was put together for the continent with the help of the Global Climate Observing System, which in turn is a combined initiative of several UN agencies and the International Council for Science (ICSU). The other sponsors of the Africa plan were the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union Commission.

The plan, with a budget of about US$200 million over 10 years has been made possible with a commitment from G8 countries in 2005 to help Africa adapt to climate change. ClimDev Africa will support efforts to establish or upgrade weather observing systems to fill data gaps, expand capacity for analysing and interpreting data, and strengthen existing African climate institutions.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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