Nelly Bassily | July 13, 2009
Fisherman Isa Mande speaks to in front of a video camera on the shores of Lake Victoria. Behind him, other fishers stand in knee-deep waters next to a small boat. Mr. Mande says the lake is unpredictable. Sometimes there are heavy winds; sometimes there is no wind.
Poor visibility and turbulent waters plague Lake Victoria fishers. Without accurate weather forecasts, many fishers risk their lives in extreme weather.
But, imagine if the fishers of Lake Victoria received SMS warnings on their mobile phones when waters were treacherous. That’s what the Global Humanitarian Forum’s Weather Info for All (WIFA) initiative hopes to accomplish.
In the first phase of the WIFA initiative, 19 automatic weather stations will be installed in Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. This will double the weather monitoring capacity in these countries.
FRW met with Moyenda Chaponda in Geneva, Switzerland. Mr. Chaponda is a project assistant with the Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF). GHF is a non-profit organization started by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Mr. Chaponda explains that the World Meteorological Organization, Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and telecommunication companies Zain and Ericsson are collaborating on WIFA. The long-term goal is to install 5,000 automatic weather stations at cell phone tower sites throughout Africa.
Automatic weather stations use sensors to measure things like atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, and precipitation. The raw data gathered by the weather stations is sent to a server for analysis. Using that data, national meteorological centers will send text messages to fishers and farmers, giving them accurate weather forecasts and warnings.
Currently, there are more than 700 weather stations reporting at varying capacities throughout Africa. Mr. Chaponda says that in most developing countries and in particular in Africa, there are very large gaps in weather monitoring networks. The objective of WIFA is to fill those gaps in Africa.
With 5,000 automatic weather stations, the WIFA initiative hopes local communities will receive the weather information they need to make farming decisions and heed warnings of extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Mr. Annan spoke at a press conference in Geneva this past June. He emphasized that Africa is hit hardest by the impacts of climate change.
In a promotional video for the WIFA initiative, farmer Paul Kamugisha speaks to a camera, just like fisher Isa Mande. Mr. Kamugisha says that farmers have been working in ignorance. They sow the seeds, but the rain doesn’t come and they end up losing their crops. Mr. Annan says WIFA will increase both the quantity and quality of weather information in Africa, enabling farmers to make informed decisions on the planning, seeding, and harvesting of crops.