Early warning systems, contingency planning and local action can strengthen West Africa's responses to increasingly frequent severe flooding, but more investment is needed in forecasting, panelists said in a recent webinar organized by the African Development Bank.
"We need to explore new and innovative approaches to better forecast and communicate floods and early warning information," said Anthony Nyong, the Bank's Director for Climate Change and Green Growth, in his opening remarks for the webinar Flood Forecasting and Early Warning in West Africa: Gaps, Innovation, and Lessons Learned.
In 2019 alone, extreme flooding caused the displacement of up to 5.1 million people in Africa, including 3.8 million from countries experiencing food insecurity. West Africa is a hotspot for extreme weather due to its long coastline, which is home to densely populated low-lying cities and economic hubs, from Lagos to Abidjan and Dakar.
This year, floods in eight West African countries affected over 750,000 people and claimed at least 100 lives. With rapid urbanization and increasing climate risks, the impact of floods in the region will likely accelerate over the next five decades.
The November 19 webinar, organized by the Bank's Clim-Dev Africa Special Fund, brought together experts from Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, and Senegal's national meteorological agencies to provide an update on flood forecasting and early warning systems (EWS) in West Africa.
A representative for the Niger Basin Authority discussed regional collaboration on flood forecasting among its nine members. The event included a panel discussion with leading experts from the Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent.
"We know that flood EWS is a crucial flood management tool, comprising key components of disaster risk knowledge, monitoring, and forecasting ― as well as communication and response. Yet, little is being done to invest in the infrastructure needed to develop and operationalize flood forecasts and early warning systemsClim-Dev Fund
Ousmane N'diaye, Director of Senegal's National Meteorological Agency, said that better preparedness through climate information and multi-disciplinary planning targeting vulnerable populations is crucial to saving lives and property. He emphasized the importance of early forecasting and the use of social media platforms to broadcast alerts and provide real-time weather information in local languages.
Michael Talhami of the Red Cross said acting early and anticipating risk would reduce human exposure to disaster. All too often, he said, local actors and humanitarian organizations have to work with weather and climate data that is dated, of poor quality, or non-existent. One example is the abandonment of hydrometeorological data collection in rural Mali, which has had detrimental consequences for emergency preparedness and response.
The Bank's Institutional Support to African Climate Centers Project (ISACIP) has invested over $35 million to improve climate information services throughout Africa since 2010. As a follow-up to ISACIP, the Bank, through the Clim-Dev Fund, is investing over $27 million in regional and country operations to modernize Africa's climate and weather infrastructure and provide high-quality and reliable data.