By George Achia

Thousands of fishermen lose their lives each year due to inadequacy of weather alerts and warnings around Lake Victoria, the largest inlet fishing area in the world. The Lake yields million tonnes of fish per year, with local turnover of approximately $600 million.

Accurate early warnings, alerts and changing of the Lake would be most useful to the fishermen and other lake users who put their lives at risk every day. A new approach to weather forecast called Impact Based Forecast (IBF) has been developed to address this need.

IBF would deliver improved, accurate early warning systems to prevent deaths and damages caused by severe strong winds, large waves, heavy rains and thunderstorm in Lake Victoria and within East Africa region.

Twice a day, fishermen and other marine users of Lake Victoria in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda will receive updated weather forecasts to help plan their activities and decision making on either to go on fishing expedition or postpone until the weather and lake conditions have improved.

Already, trainings of users of IBF in Uganda and Kenya have been conducted and messaging has been done in July on how to effectively convey the weather information to end users.

The meteorologists in the three East African countries will now use this advanced method of weather forecasting that allows them to tell the public what impact the forecasts and warnings will have on the public on a daily basis.

According to experts, IBF will make weather forecasts more relevant to ordinary citizens. The new approach will help determine what the weather will do, rather than just describing the weather so that citizens can take actions that will help to save lives in severe weather conditions.

“IBF is different from the method of forecast that the meteorologists in the region have been using. For example, before, a weather forecast would say; 50mm of rainfall will fall on Thursday in Western parts of Kenya. Now the forecast will say: 50mm of rainfall falling in Western Kenya on Thursday will lead to some flooding of homes in Kisumu, and will disrupt transport and agriculture. Vulnerable people close to river valleys may want to consider moving to higher ground temporarily,” explains Dr. Chris Tubb, an International Meteorologist at the UK Met Office.

This new approach will help save lives, improve decision making and better planning among end users as these IBF warnings will be issued up to five days ahead of time. In addition, it makes forecasting and the warning systems more relevant to the public by explaining what impacts are there from the forecast issued, and what they mean to the users/public for effective decision making to save lives.

This means that stakeholders such as disaster managers, health care providers, emergency rescue team in weather sensitive sectors, will receive the forecasts and warnings with a corresponding impact(s) through the most accessible medium for them for proper planning and decision making purposes.

This is the comparative advantage of Impact-based Forecast and Warning Services as it enables decision-making more easy and effective since it provides information on what the hazardous weather might do, as opposed to just saying what the hazard is.

This implies that putting together an IBF service necessitates the need to foster partnerships with stakeholders, which demands more work and skills sets of the NMHSs. The benefits of such partnerships are that when a meteorological department provides a more effective service of saving lives and improving the living standards of the citizens, it gains better recognition and stands a better chance of receiving support from governments and donors, which in turn, benefits the programmes of the NMHSs.

This will require NMHSs to work together with stakeholders to popularize the IBF approach for it to gain momentum needed.

According to Dr.Ayub Shaka, an assistant director at Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), IBF is different from what the meteorologists have been using before in the sense that it gives more information unlike previously when forecasters would just gave forecast and left for other sectors to figure out what will the forecast outcome mean in a sector.

Through this, Dr. Shaka believes the new method will increase uptake of climate information for decision makers.

But at the same time, he is worried about this approach.

“The challenge is in getting sectoral data to develop thresholds for impacts in the sectors. For example, if KMD forecasts 50mm of rainfall, the impact that rain will have on roads sector will depend on the records they (road sector) have on road damages every time we have rainfall of different amounts. Then we can say 50mm expected and roads of this type are likely to be damaged or will survive the storm. In water resource management sector, the same amount of rain will depend on the records of how dams, fill whenever we get different rainfall amounts,” he point out.

In view of the above expected challenge in using the IBF, regional meteorologists working in collaboration with other sector players, need to have data on different sectors to be able to assess the impact of a forecast.

Tanzania’s Meteorological Agency’s communications officer, Monica Mutoni feels IBF will close the gap  between the normal forecast of hazards before taking considerations of the factors of the environment and socio-economic to anticipate impacts.

She notes that this new approach will go along the way in improving weather forecast in the region as it is based on users’ needs that are obtained through engagement and co-design services approach.

To be effective, Monica calls for institutions across the region to have an emergency preparedness plan for hazards common in the region.

“Access to IBF enabling technologies and innovation which are important in packaging and disseminating IBF to different users with extremely diverse needs is another challenge in deploying this new system,” she says.

This new approach of weather forecast is set to improve weather forecasting services within the Greater Horn of Africa by making weather information more relevant to the end users while at the same time ensuring that it is sustainable  through a co-production  process where sectoral experts work with climate scientists to develop these impacts together.