2.5 Building Climate Resilient Society in the Sahel: The Rainwatch-AfClix Experience

Wednesday, 13 January 2016: 5:00 PM
Room 343 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Aondover, A. Tarhule, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK; and R. J. Cornforth and M. I. LeLe

The Sahel-Soudano zone that spans North Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia has experienced pronounced climatic variability (and conflicts) for millennia. This home to 250 million people -- one quarter of Africa's population -- is a fragile transition zone in environmental and human terms. From south-to-north, rainfall decreases from around 30 inches per year on average to essentially nothing. Recent back-to-back contrasting rain years (deficits in 2011; floods in 2012) left over 18 million people in the West African Sahel threatened by food shortages between 2012 and 2013, highlighting yet again the strong dependence of livelihoods on rainfall in the region. Ironically (tragically, even), the stakeholders within the Sahel have less access to, and therefore use less, instrumental rainfall information for planning and management than almost anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, short-term weather and seasonal climate forecasting have limited skill for the region. Recognizing these constraints, Pete Lamb supported, financed, and promoted Rainwatch to demonstrate the value of near real-time rainfall monitoring and improved communication in this fragile region. It appealed greatly to Pete's vision of “helping Africa help itself” that Rainwatch, which automates and utilizes user-friendly interfaces to display, query, and visualize daily rainfall data was designed by an African graduate student and supervised by an African professor both at the University of Oklahoma. At core, Rainwatch affords a common platform that permits a regional visualization of seasonal rainfall dynamics. The platform provides all users a common format, common feel and common visuals, regardless of the country information they choose to interrogate.

Following several refinements and iterations, Rainwatch was coupled with a boundary organization, AfClix (Africa Climate Exchange, see http://www.afclix.org) and is now extending its reach across the African Sahel, through integrating the expertise and actions of relevant institutions, agencies, and stakeholders to broker ground-based dialogue and promote resilience in the face of recurring crisis.

Whilst many of the National Hydrological and Meteorological agencies are making impressive efforts to produce tailored climate forecasts for their stakeholders, most appear to be country specific. Working in partnership with the National Hydrological and Meteorological Services (NHMSs) from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ghana over the course of this year, RWX is supporting efforts by regional climate centers such as the African Center for Meteorological Applications for Development and the Agrometeorology, Hydrology and Meteorological center.

Indeed, Rainwatch-AfClix (RWX) is emerging as an important partnership for 1) bridging the gap between those who do the science and those who use the science to make decisions; 2) increasing timely access to value-added rainfall information to stakeholders and decision makers; 3) identifying how climate science can play a consistent and substantive role in reducing people's vulnerabilities to weather-related hazards in Africa; 4) following this through with action on the ground to promote resilience, and 5) building an integrated community of climate information users that cuts across national boundaries and fostering regional perspectives.

The RWX partnership has had to overcome several challenges, including the data policies of the participating countries. It also has raised important research questions about how to better integrate climate science-policy to develop locally relevant adaptive capacity and build resilient society. An important outcome is the co-production of understanding and the promotion of a more participatory decision-making process.

This paper discusses on-going efforts to build upon Pete's vision. It outlines new initiatives to the RWX partnership, including efforts to loosely couple real time rainfall monitoring to crop yield prediction using process-based crop yield modeling. Additional on-going development includes extending the seasonal rainfall monitoring from representative points to larger areas through merging with satellite-based measurements.

The experience of RWX suggests a keen desire on the part of African NHMSs for regional alliances and cooperation. The lessons learned further reinforce the necessity for climate information knowledge co-production and dissemination to assure content relevance and accuracy for intended purposes. For example, as has been found in other research, concepts like probability and percentiles while easily understandable to climate scientists proved immeasurably difficult to translate to stakeholders. Furthermore, to take maximum advantage of near real-time climate information, institutions must establish clear protocols and actions to be triggered once certain thresholds are met. Stakeholders also must establish practical innovations to anticipate impending crises and work collaboratively across the region to share information and strengthen supporting infrastructure. Within this framework, timely access to user-relevant climate information, access to relevant and reliable forecasts, and the ability of stakeholders to act on that information through effective strategic partnerships will prove the difference between coping proactively with emerging climate challenges and perpetuating the cycle of climate triggers and crisis. RWX is filling this very important niche.

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