West Africa: Climate Forecasts Boosted Floods Response

Photo: Argaw Ashine/Oxfam
Elders speak about changing climate patterns to a journalist.

Abidjan — Climate forecasting in an early-warning strategy led to fewer deaths and more efficient disaster management for floods that took place in West Africa in 2008, a study reports.

It was the first time seasonal climate data in an 'early warning, early action' (EWEA) system had been deployed for flood response in the region, enabling the Red Cross to improve its response compared with that over previous years. As a result, relief supplies reached people in days rather than weeks.

According to the study, published in Disasters last month (16 October), EWEA is defined as "routinely taking humanitarian action before a disaster or health emergency happens, making full use of scientific information on all timescales".

"Through EWEA, disaster managers utilise long- and medium-range forecasts to consider potential implications for their region and to develop a set of 'no-regrets' strategies that lay the groundwork for the implementation of increasing levels of preparedness according to a progression of forecasts on shorter timescales," the study says.

"All the sources - national, regional, international - [that used EWEA] estimated that the weather was likely to be more humid than before in most areas of West Africa," says Arame Tall, a co-author of the paper and a researcher in the CGIAR Consortium's Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security programme.

As a result, when the floods struck in July 2008, Youcef Ait-Chellouche, co-author of the study, and coordinator of disaster control at the office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Dakar, Senegal, and colleagues were ready to act promptly.

In the 2008 floods, 34 people were killed, compared with 322 in floods the year before; overall, 155,322 people were affected in 2008, compared with 816,198 in 2007. The cost of responding in 2007 was more than double that in 2008, at US$4.23 million and US$1.64 million respectively.

Kili Fiacre, general manager of the national office of civil protection of Côte d'Ivoire, says that EWEA is a good initiative as it helps efficient management of flooding.

But to take advantage of the system, he says, "one must keep on with the efforts of and the collaboration between the managers of the disasters, the providers of climatological services and the main donors of humanitarian help".

Tall adds that the EWEA system has contributed to progress in climate research and risk reduction for West Africa.

Link to abstract in Disasters

References

Disasters doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7717.2012.01297.x (2012)

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