africa drought weather climate change
A woman transports water in a jerrycan by rolling it along the ground. Most of the wells in the region have dried up or the water has become too salty for human consumption. Photo: Dieter Telemans/Climate Visulals.

COP26: Bad weather prediction in Africa is making climate disasters worse: report

Rainfalls in 2020 led to massive flooding and landslides that affected over 700,000 people in Rwanda, Kenya, Somalia, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti and Tanzania. 

In most of these countries, damages were bigger than they should’ve been, but weather prediction systems in Africa still lack proper conditions to forecast bad weather, a new report suggests.

The WMO (World Metereoligcal Organization) officially launched its ‘State of Climate in 2021′ report at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 (Conference of the Parties) in Glasgow.

According to the document, record atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and associated accumulated heat have propelled planet earth into uncharted territory. This has far-reaching repercussions for current and future generations.

With a burgeoning population and worsening climate, Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO said Africa needs urgent help to better minimise the impacts of climate change.

“Observing systems and early warning services in many African countries are not in very good shape. This is an obstacle for climate adaptation,” Taalas said.

In the report, the WMO acknowledged that the floods that hit parts of East Africa are linked to climate change. South Sudan has suffered particularly.

Nearly 500 people died. Kenya was hit the worst, with nearly half of all reported deaths.

And just a few days to COP26, four states in South Sudan were affected by floods. The UN Refugee Agency described it as “the worst flooding in decades”. More than 700,000 people have suffered impacts from this climate change-linked disaster.

Prevention is cheaper

Capacity-building is fundamental to achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol. Under Article 11 of the document, developed countries are required to enhance support to capacity-building in developing countries.

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris, France (COP 21), established the Paris Committee on capacity-building, a body in charge of addressing current and emerging capacity needs and gaps.

But six years later, WMO admitted that developing countries in Africa still lack the basic capabilities to predict bad weather. They are therefore largely unable to take proactive measures that could prevent, mitigate against or minimise the impacts of adverse weather conditions on people’s lives and economies.

In September 2020, the WMO and 20 partners launched a four-year 7 million euros initiative to deliver tailored climate services to increase resilience and adaptation in the Southern African Development Community in agriculture and food security, water, energy and infrastructure.

But when floods hit South Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, the government quickly forked out USD10 million for flood response efforts on its own.

Launching the report at COP26 also acknowledged the intersections of climate change with other issues including agriculture, healthcare, humanitarian services and disaster management.

Poor prognosis for Africa

The new report revealed that consecutive droughts have coincided with severe storms, cyclones and hurricanes have affected large parts of Africa. This has impacted livelihoods and the ability to recover from recurrent weather shocks significantly.

Taalas, the head of the WMO, announced plans by the organisation to mobilize funding for climate adaptation in Africa by mobilising resources for very basic surveillance systems in Africa. 

“We have assisted many countries in improving their early warning capabilities, but we neeed more resources for that purpose,” he said.

Taalas added that the non-availability of basic warning systems threatens the provision of good forecasting. This can have far-reaching impacts on the continent’s agriculture.

Read more: Climate change slowly erases one of Kenya’s most important lakes

The goal of the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) supports countries to generate and exchange basic observational data. 

“Applying internationally agreed metrics will provide technical and financial assistance in new ways. (…) The SOFF will strengthen climate adaptation and resilience across the globe, benefitting the most vulnerable in particular,” WMO stated in a statement.

An existential crisis for Africa

While Africa has contributed the least to the emissions connected to climate change, the Africa Union declared that the continent faces its greatest impacts

For example, large precipitation decreases in northern and southwestern South Africa. In addition, increases in extreme rainfall in the Ethiopian Highlands by the end of the 21st century.

Francois Engelbrecht is professor of climatology at the South Africa Global Change Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand’s. He noted that despite the continent’s limitations in meteorology, Africa needs to take climate change more seriously. According to him, the continent should take major mitigation actions.

“African countries should see this as an existential crisis. It’s about survival. It’s about risking losing Africa as we know it today if climate change mitigation fails,” Engelbrecht concluded.