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Early warnings protect lives on Africa’s Lake Victoria

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A fisherman on Lake Victoria. A unique project has shown how early warnings can protect lives on the lake. Image credit: Flickr.

31 March 2021 – 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.

A unique project has shown how early warnings can protect lives on Africa’s Lake Victoria. The High Impact Weather Lake System (HIGHWAY) project (https://bit.ly/2P76Mrx) 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 USD44-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,” says 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 role of Lake Victoria  

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 more than USD500-million annually in exports. Over 30 million people live near the coastline, with 1400 landing sites or beaches from which 50 000 boats operate.

On average, 3000 to 5000 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 minimised by improved regional cooperation between the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. This resulted in a regionally harmonised 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,” says 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.

The main achievements.

The main achievements of the project 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, says 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),” says 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.

For more information on the HIGHWAY project:
Project Video – https://bit.ly/3ssY5WK
Project Webpage – https://bit.ly/3wbggT1

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Meteorological Organisation.

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