A successful four-year project in East Africa has demonstrated how improved weather, water and climate services save lives and livelihoods and support socio-economic development of vulnerable communities.
The High Impact Weather Lake System (HIGHWAY) project established a pilot regional Early Warning System to inform fisherfolk and other local stakeholders about high impact weather events on Lake Victoria. There is now growing momentum to scale up the investment as part of support for the implementation plan of the East African Community (EAC) Regional Early Warning System Vision 2025.
Initial studies concluded that more than 200 000 people have directly benefited, and 1.4 million indirectly, from the HIGHWAY project, which was funded by the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) through the Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) programme.
The project has also reduced annual weather-related deaths on the lake by 30% – thus saving more than 300 lives per year, according to the studies. Economic benefits of the project are estimated at US$ 44 million per year, a benefit to cost ratio of 16:1.
“The HIGHWAY project demonstrates that improved access to, and use of, co-designed early warnings has protected lives and livelihoods and improved the economic and social well-being of the communities living in the Lake Victoria Basin,” said WMO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas. “WMO hopes that this is a model that can be replicated in other parts of Africa and, indeed, the world.”
The Lake Victoria Basin supports approximately 25% of the surrounding population. It hosts Africa’s largest inland fishery, producing about one million tons of fish annually, employing over 200 000 fisherfolk and generating over US$ 500 million annually in exports. Over 30 million people live near the coastline, with 1 400 landing sites or beaches from which 50 000 boats operate.
On average, 3 000 to 5 000 deaths occurred on the lake each year due to navigation accidents caused by strong winds and waves. Prior to the HIGHWAY project, no regional, operational early warning systems existed to protect the health and safety of those dependent on the lake.
The need for early warnings were highlighted by heavy rainfall which caused Lake Victoria waters to rise to record levels. Ensuing floods displaced more than 200 000 people living in the Basin in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Loss of life was minimized by improved regional cooperation between the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. This resulted in a regionally harmonized set of marine forecasts covering the whole of Lake Victoria, issued twice daily in English and local languages.
“The WISER HIGHWAY project is a great example of how to increase resilience to climate change through the improvement of weather and climate services. HIGHWAY has worked with partners across East Africa and leaves a legacy of improved services along with a commitment to ongoing development. HIGHWAY demonstrates the difference partner funding can make to lives and livelihoods when implemented through a coordinated and collaborative approach. Fewer lives lost and less damage to property,” commented Julius Court, Deputy High Commissioner and Development Director, FCDO, Nairobi, Kenya.
Since its inception in 2017, the project has enhanced capacities of the participating NMHSs through strengthening institutional frameworks, improving access to data sources and strengthening integration between forecasters and beneficiaries.
Main achievements include:
• The development of forecasts, co-designed by NMHSs and fishing communities, to meet the needs of fisherfolk to ensure safety before going out on the lake;
• The dissemination of high impact weather warnings from NMHSs to fishing communities through radios, flags, notice boards and social messaging applications;
• The establishment of a regional WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS) centre to monitor meteorological data quality in East Africa, jointly run by the Kenya Meteorological Department and the Tanzania Meteorological Authority;
• The improvement of meteorological data through enhanced observations tools in the Lake Victoria Basin, notably through the revival of Upper Air Stations in the region; and
• The development and enhancement of meteorological tools (Met Office 4km Unified East Africa model; the RDT (Rapid Development Thunderstorm); Near-Cast product, and Convective Rain Rates (CRR) products) to improve the accuracy of severe weather forecasting in the region.
The project also worked through the EAC to develop a regional strategy for coordinating the issue of severe weather warnings throughout EAC’s six Member States – Regional Early Warning System Vision 2025 for East Africa. The Vision was approved in June 2019 by Ministers at the EAC 16th Meeting of the Sectoral Council on Transport, Communications and Meteorology.
On his part, EAC Deputy Secretary General in charge of Infrastructure and Planning, Engineer Steven Mlote, said that Regional EWS Vision 2025 for East Africa would enhance regional cooperation with pooled resources, harmonise practices, and facilitate knowledge exchange to deliver impact-based early warnings across East Africa in a consistent way.
“To that end, the Severe Weather Forecasting programme (SWFP) would underpin the operationalisation of the Vision 2025 in delivering the regional consensus forecasts and potentially aggregating at the regional level the warnings produced at the national level through a proposed East Africa Community multi-hazard Alert System (EACAS),” said Eng. Steven Mlote.
The way forward
HIGHWAY project partners are calling for greater investment by international development partners, to build upon the FCDO investment and support the implementation of the Regional Early Warning System Vision 2025.
The countries have committed to increasing regional cooperation for the delivery of more accurate, timely and reliable impact-based early warning services, notably by the availing of data through the WMO Information System (WIS) and application of EAC policy for sharing of meteorological data. They have also agreed to work within their respective governments to ensure sustained resourcing for such efforts.