South Africa: Minister Barbara Creecy - World Meteorological Day 2021

press release

SAWS Board chairperson Ms. Nana Magomola,

Mr Mnikeli Ndabambi, SAWS Acting CEO and your Executives

Mr Ishaam Abader incoming CEO of the SAWS

Dr. Jonas Mphepya, Executive: Weather and Climate ServicesMr. Tshepo Ngobeni, Executive: Infrastructure and Information Systems

Dr. Mmphaka Tau, Head: National Disaster Management Centre

SAWS staff

Members of the media, ladies and gentlemen;

Thank you for the opportunity to address you on World Meteorological Day 2021, celebrated worldwide to commemorate the coming into force of the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Convention in 1950.

Allow me to take this opportunity to acknowledge the South African Weather Service, an entity of the Department of Foresty, Fisheries and Environment which represents our Government at the World Meterological Organisation. Let me also say that our Weather Service is highly regarded both nationally and internationally for its scientific contribution.

This year's World Meteorological Day theme is The ocean, our climate and weather . Chairperson, as one listened to our previous speakers, we thought one must acknowledge the tremendous work done by the South African Weather Service to enhance understanding of the connection between the ocean, climate and weather within the Earth System.

In this regard, our service with its significant weather stations in the Southern Ocean is uniquely placed to contribute to both local and global knowledge.

Allow me to also wish the World Meteorological Organisation well with implementing the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).

Ladies and gentlemen,

Early this year, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the important work our Weather service plays in mitigating the impacts of severe weather, natural disasters and climate-related challenges.

As you all know in January Cyclone Eloise travelled across our country wreaking havoc from Mpumalanga to the Northern Cape. For over two weeks we participated in the National Disaster Management Committee where SAWS tracked the unusual path of the cyclone, predicted disruptive rainfall and supported provincial and municipal governments prepare for and avert the worst aspects of this extreme weather event.

Using our state of the art technology and collaborating with other international organisations we were able to give accurate hour by hour information that enabled disaster management services across the country mobilise support services to close roads and bridges threatened by flooding, monitor dam levels, clear debris, and search for and rescue those affected by flood waters.

Much of our success in this regard was due to the progress SAWS has made in the 2020/21 financial year to change to Impact-based Weather Forecasting.

I believe that the advance warnings by the South African Weather Service as part of its Impact-based warning services played an important role to raise awareness among the public, thereby ensuring that the public took the necessary precautionary steps to be as safe as possible.

For over two weeks these meteorologists did not rest. I want today to salute one and all for your dedication during this difficult time and share with you that your dedication and hard work was commended in cabinet by the Minister of Co-operative Governance who chaired the National Disaster Management Committee.

We can rejoice in the fact that many our dams are now full and the drought was broken. But we are also saddened by the loss of over forty lives and the destruction of homes, schools, clinics and other infrastructure during the torrential rains. Let me express my condolences to tall hose who have suffered loss due to this severe weather systems.

Ladies and Gentleman,

Climate change is now part of all our lived reality. Across the world extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, and severe storms threaten communities and ecosystems.

Without proper observational and communications systems, we will not be able to communicate these threats and make severe weather impact-based forecasts. Neither would we be able to collect climate information, which is crucial for agriculture, industry and services.

Accordingly we must constantly strive to maintain and improve our meteorological infrastructure.

While we cannot prevent the occurrence of severe weather, we can prevent its effects by empowering the public to act on time and take the necessary precautions and be prepared. The South African Weather Service will continue with its awareness raising efforts on many levels and platforms in order to further create a weather aware and WeatherSMART society.

The service offering of the South African Weather Service can assist our society to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Internationally, the organisation meets the requirements of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and we are extremely proud of its role as Regional Training Centre (RTC), Regional Telecommunication Hub (RTH) and a Global Producing Centre (GPC).

Today, I want to emphasise the importance of getting the messages and warnings to all communities and weather sensitive industries, and especially those most vulnerable. It is often the poor and vulnerable that are most affected by severe weather.

For that reason, the role of the media is extremely important and I want to commend the media today for their daily participation in bringing the weather messages from the South African Weather Service to the community.

In this regard I hope we will as soon as the Covid-19 Pandemic permits, begin community-based education programmes with those most affected by extreme weather events. It is a well-known fact that in rural communities women will carry the burden of climate change, as women and girls carry the responsibility for water and fuel collection as well as agricultural cultivation.

Knowledge is power! And so it remains important that we find pandemic-compliant ways to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are equipped to understand that their current experience will not be isolated or one off, but rather part of a global change in weather patterns. It will also be important that we ensure significant adaptation partnerships and funding are linked to those who need it most.

Ladies and gentlemen,

COVID-19 has affected all levels of the economy, and still has a profound negative effect on sustainable development and our efforts to combat environmental degradation and poverty.

The South African Weather Service was also deeply affected during COVID-19. While it receives a Government grant, it is also dependent on aviation and other income to ensure that all its expenses are met. With COVID-19, a large portion of this income has diminished, leading to the pushing back of several crucial projects, amongst others those related to infrastructure development.

The South African Weather Service will, during the next few years, increase its efforts to improve its ageing infrastructure, especially its weather radars and ICT support.

Furthermore, it will continue to grow its pool of highly qualified scientists, weather technologists and other human resources to ensure that we maintain our scientific excellence and competitive edge to face environmental challenges while also adhering to various regulatory frameworks, national and international priorities.

In this way, the organisation, with the support of its Board and the Department will continue to play a leading role in aviation safety, disaster risk reduction and other key mandate areas.

Let me conclude by congratulating you with your collective achievements since the inception of the WMO in 1950. Efficient and accurate weather services are our first line of defence against the ravages of climate change.

May we continue to see excellent progress in the provision of weather and climate services and may we continue to understand the intricacies of the ocean, climate and weather for a better future.

I Thank you.

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