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Using climate as a poverty reduction and development resource in Africa

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Molly E. Hellmuth
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Climate variation and extreme climate events can cause major problems for poor, vulnerable people. For example, changes in rainfall can limit agricultural activity, trigger disease epidemics and affect roads and water supplies. Improvements in climate science mean that climate information and products are becoming more useful, but they are rarely used in development planning and decision-making.In 2007, climate change was on the agenda of the African
Union (AU) Heads of State Summit for the first time. This resulted in the
adoption of a Decision and Declaration on Climate Change and Development in
Africa, and the endorsement of the Climate Information for Development - Africa (ClimDev) Stakeholders
Report and Implementation Strategy.
The International
Research Institute for Climate and Society, with partners the AU, the United
Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank and the
Global Climate Observing System, looked at good practice of using
climate information across Africa.
Seasonal forecasts are useful, for example helping farmers decide when and which
crops to plant. However, they become
less certain the further in advance they are made. Decision-makers must always balance
being better prepared in advance of severe weather with uncertainty over
whether preparations will be necessary.
There is also a lack of communication and
understanding on both sides; planners and decision makers do not demand climate
information, and scientists and practitioners do not always produce useful information.
This means that the benefits of using this information often fail to materialise.
Climate Risk Management (CRM) aims to reduce climate
related risks using ‘no regrets’ strategies - actions that have benefits
whether predicted threats materialise or not. In Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Malawi and across southern Africa, there are examples of CRM
being used to prepare for floods, food insecurity, malaria, drought, and to
improve agricultural practices.
These examples show:
Effective communication and
coordination between different groups and different administration levels is
vital. Cross border coordination is especially important for disaster
prevention and management.
Communication through local
institutions is also important, such as farmers’ groups and extension workers.
The media and information
communications technologies (such as mobile phones) play an essential role.
Climate information must be as reliable
as possible for decision makers to listen. This requires good data from
meteorological stations, more of which are needed.
New sources of data, such as
satellite data and drought insurance records, show promise, but require long
term investment to be used successfully.
Experience shows that when
climate information is successfully used in decision-making, either nationally
or locally, it can substantially reduce risk. The partners conclude:
Evidence about
the economic value of climate information is lacking, meaning there are not
enough incentives to prioritise this in planning and budgeting.
Climate change must
be presented as a development issue, which means identifying its economic
implications and demonstrating the role of climate information in sustainable
Investment is
needed in intermediary institutions; these can translate science into practical
guidance for those dealing with risks, and help scientists to understand the
information needs of decision makers.
institutions should share knowledge and information to increase the uptake of new