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Walker Institute hosts Rainwatch event in Senegal

Friday, July 1, 2016

What are the weather and climate information priorities for the West African national hydro-meteorological services? What are the priorities for weather and climate information for user communities in Senegal?

These are the main questions to be tackled at a regional Rainwatch event which will take place in Dakar, Senegal on 26-27 July 2016. This event is co-hosted by the Walker Institute, and Director Ros Cornforth will attend the event; partners include the Rainwatch-AfClix Team with support from the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS), the University of Oklahoma (OU) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), together with the Regional Met Services.

Human welfare in drought prone sub-Saharan Africa depends more strongly and directly on rainfall than almost anywhere else on earth. Yet climate change and variability is changing rainfall patterns, temperatures and extreme weather events across West Africa and challenging traditional mechanisms for maintaining resilient livelihoods. Increases in flash flooding, crop failures, livestock losses, pest and disease outbreaks and the degradation of land and water resources are likely. Despite this reliance on rainfall the management and use of rainfall data are hampered by technological and personnel constraints. Even in areas where rainfall data are collected, several weeks can pass before the information is processed and made available in a form that is useful to farmers and policy makers. What is needed now are practical sustainable approaches to implementing effective climate information services, accessible to the most vulnerable groups, including women.

Rainwatch is designed to help alleviate the situation. Rainwatch seeks to identify ways to provide actionable warnings to these vulnerable communities and to government and NGO decision makers developing response strategies or involved in short to medium term planning activities.

While many much more sophisticated rainfall monitoring programs exist, Such as Australia’s Rainman and ENACTS, the appeal of Rainwatch is its simplicity as well as the fact that it generates visual representations of daily rainfall data in a manner that can be easily interpreted and understood by interested parties, including farmers with little or no education. From previous research that interviewed over 600 respondents in 4 west African countries (see Tarhule and Lamb, 2003), we concluded that smallholder farmers in West Africa understand rainfall data by comparing it with past indicator years of good and poor rainfall. Utilizing this concept, Rainwatch generates percentiles representing the evolving season’s rainfall that are superimposed on seasonal percentile plots of a selected location or specified years. Users select the years or locations to be compared from interactive pull down menu’s. The number of sites and/or years that can be seen simultaneously is limited only by the amount of information In the database. Users can also request further analyses of the data to show the frequency and intensity of rainfall in certain areas, or view the occurrence of dry spells; information that is especially useful to farmers. If several station data are available, Rainwatch generates also graphs depicting the regional distribution of daily rainfall. The ability to automatically organize and  process rainfall and produce easily interpretable charts and graphics increases the likelihood that the information will be distributed to more people. When tested at the ACMAD (African Center for Meteorological Applications for Development) if new users with little familiarity with computers could comfortably navigate their way through the system within 10 minutes. Since 2010, Rainwatch has been used at ACMAD and by Direction de la Météorologie Nationale du Senegal (DMNN) Senegal for monitoring rainfall.

The Rainwatch platform has already been operationalized by the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NHMS) in Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone with extensions requested from Chad and Gambia. Development research continues to be conducted in three case study countries – Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria. It is hoped that Rainwatch will, in the long term, contribute to a regional monitoring strategy that supports a robust multi-hazard early warning system managed by CILLS.

The Rainwatch-AfClix team has a common objective of fostering learning and creating dialogue among forecasters, researchers, practitioners, and decision makers. We believe in pulling through the latest climate research for the effective up-scaling of climate information services in Africa  - to help Africa help itself to overcome the threats posed by climate change in order to achieve ongoing adaptation and thereby food security, climate resilient livelihoods, reduced risks and improved environmental management. The AfClix (Africa Climate Exchange) programme at the Walker Institute is playing an active role in facilitating this cross-learning.