Europe has 345 radar installations. North America, 291.
“The continent as a whole is in a blind spot when it comes to climate risk,” said Asaf Tzachor, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Study of Existential Risks. In August, he and his colleagues warned in a commentary in the journal Nature that climate change would cost Africa more than $50 billion every year by 2050. By then, Africa’s population is expected to double.
The widespread inability to track and forecast the weather affects key development choices, in their comment: “There is no point in investing in small farms, for example, if the floods are just going to wash them away. »
Kenya, host of the climate summit, is one of the few countries in Africa considered to have a relatively well-developed meteorological service, along with South Africa and Morocco. Kenya has allocated about $12 million this year to its meteorological service, according to the National Treasury. In contrast, the US National Weather Service’s budget request for fiscal year 2023 was $1.3 billion.
The vast expanse of the African continent, made up of 54 nations, is relatively underserved and uninformed.
“Despite covering one-fifth of the planet’s total land area, Africa has the least developed earth observation network of any continent, and it is in a state of deterioration,” said declared the WMO in 2019.
And due to a lack of funding, the number of observations made by atmospheric devices usually used with weather balloons declined by up to 50% over Africa between 2015 and 2020, a “particularly serious problem”. said the WMO in a report last year.
Less than 20% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa provide reliable weather services, the report says. “Weather stations are so far apart that their data cannot be extrapolated locally due to differences in terrain and elevation.”
Today, 13 of Africa’s most data-poor countries, including Ethiopia, Madagascar and Congo, are receiving money to improve weather data collection and sharing through a trust fund set up by the United Nations, the Systematic Observations Funding Mechanism. An older funding mechanism bringing together many of the same partners, Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems, has supported the modernization of weather systems in half a dozen countries in West and Central Africa.
And it’s not just about predictions. As climatic shocks such as Somalia’s worst drought in decades become more frequent, better recording of weather data is a critical need for decision-making.
“For many people in the West, accurate weather forecasts often make life easier: ‘Should I bring an umbrella?’ In Africa, where many people depend on rain-fed agriculture, this is all a little more concerning,” said Nick van de Giesen, professor of water resources management at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. “With climate change, traditional methods of determining, for example, the start of the rainy season are becoming less reliable. Farmers therefore sow regularly after a few rains, after which the rains may fail and the seeds will not germinate. »
This can be devastating in the context of the current global food security crisis.
Van de Giesen is co-director of the Trans-African Hydrometeorological Observatory, a project that has helped set up around 650 low-cost local weather monitoring stations in collaboration with schools and other entities in 20 African countries. All of these surface monitoring stations are not operational due to issues such as threats from extremist groups that limit access for maintenance in areas such as Lake Chad.
“To be clear, TAHMO can never replace effective and efficient national meteorological services,” van de Giesen said, adding that many African governments still lack the necessary resources or funding.
In countries like Somalia and Mozambique, with some of the longest and most vulnerable coastlines on the continent, the lack of effective weather monitoring and early warning systems has contributed to thousands of deaths in disasters such as the tropical storms and floods.
After Cyclone Idai hit central Mozambique in 2019, residents told The Associated Press they received little to no warning from authorities. More than 1,000 people were killed, some washed away by floodwaters as their loved ones clung to trees.
Cyclone Idai was Africa’s costliest disaster, costing $1.9 billion, between 1970 and 2019, according to a WMO report on extreme weather events and their economic and personal consequences.
The lack of meteorological data in much of Africa also complicates efforts to link certain natural disasters to climate change.
Earlier this year, a group of climate researchers known as World Weather Attribution said in a report that limited data made it impossible to “assess with confidence” the role of climate change in the floods that killed people. hundreds of people in Congo and Rwanda around Lake Kivu in May. .
“We urgently need robust climate data and research in this highly vulnerable region,” their report said.
Last year, researchers expressed similar frustration in a study of erratic rainfall and hunger in West Africa’s Sahel region, citing “great uncertainties” in the data.
They advocated investments as simple as a network of rain gauges, saying even small changes in rainfall can affect millions of people.