Africa weather information network launched by UN, public-private partnership

18 June 2009 – About 5,000 new automatic weather stations are set to be deployed across Africa, under a climate change initiative announced today by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Global Humanitarian Forum, the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and mobile telecommunications companies Ericsson and Zain.

The innovative public-private partnership launched the “Weather Info for All” initiative to improve Africa’s weather monitoring network in the face of the growing impact of climate change.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region facing the most immediate risk of droughts and floods due to climate change, according to a recent Global Humanitarian Forum report. Agricultural yields in some areas are expected to fall by 50 per cent as early as 2020.

The 5,000 automatic weather stations will be installed at new and existing mobile network sites throughout Africa over the coming years, aiming to increase dissemination of weather information via mobile phones that can reach the continent’s most remote communities.

At the launch in Geneva, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President of the Global Humanitarian Forum, said “This is a great example for twenty-first century collaborative humanitarian and development work between public and private sectors.”

Through its Mobile Innovation Center in Africa, Ericsson will develop mobile applications to help communicate weather information developed by National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) via mobile phones.

“The massive growth of mobile subscribers in Africa is the perfect opportunity for the telecoms community to collaborate with national partners to strengthen weather networks and systems across the continent,” said Carl-Henric Svanberg, President and CEO of Ericsson.

The initial deployment, already begun in Zain networks, focuses on the area around Lake Victoria in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The first 19 automatic weather stations installed will double the weather monitoring capacity of the Lake region.

“Once the switch is turned on, a flow of extensive weather data will become available throughout Africa, with benefits extending from the national policy makers to the smallholder farmers,” said Jeffrey Sachs, head of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Approximately 70 per cent of Africans rely on farming for their livelihood. Meteorological information will become increasingly critical as changing weather patterns render obsolete traditional knowledge relating to agriculture that African farmers have relied on for centuries.

“For food production, almost every decision is linked to weather, climate and water parameters,” said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the WMO. “Working through NMHSs, WMO will identify weather information needs, advise on technical requirements and help disseminate the information. This initiative may prove to be one of the most important for African meteorology in decades.”


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