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ECOWAS climate directors meeting opens in Banjul

May 15, 2014, 1:18 PM | Article By: Halimatou Ceesay

The 11th ordinary session of the ECOWAS Committee of Directors of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) Tuesday got under way at the Kairaba Beach Hotel. The three-day meeting in Banjul is hosted by the Gambia government with the ECOWAS Commission as co-host.

The Gambia’s minister of Fisheries and Water Resources, Mass Axi Gye, officially opened the meeting, and thanked the participants for attending, “to deliberate on the development of weather and climate services to support safety, livelihoods and development in the ECOWAS region”.

Gye also thanked the ECOWAS Commission for co-hosting the event, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) “for their technical expertise and willingness to support the region to develop its weather and climate services.

He thanked the government of Sweden for financing the holding of the conference in Banjul

Minister Gye said although there are other stressors, the climate is certainly among the dominant ones contributing to the high number of least developed countries in the ECOWAS region.

More than 70 percent of the regions inhabitants depend on rain-fed agriculture for their food and other needs, and it was common knowledge that rainfall distribution in the region is highly variable in space and in time.

Initiating the global framework for climate services (GFCS) by the world’s governments, the WMO and partners and the subsequent establishment of the intergovernmental board on climate services (IBCS) are clear proof, more than ever before, that all sectors of human endeavour in all countries, require climate services to excel or to reduce losses due to hazardous climate conditions.

He called on the heads on national meteorological and hydrological services “to take ownership of the framework for climate services, and for the ECOWAS Commission and WMO to provide the required support such that communities in the region experience the benefits of the GFCS.

Dr Johnson Boanuh, director of the Environment at the ECOWAS Commission, said it was crucial for meteorological services, which originally dealt mainly with meteorological issues, to have an expanded mandate to deal more with aspects related to climate change, prevention of climate risks including disasters, to meet the current needs of the populations of the region. 

He went on to speak of “the priorities of ECOWAS” specifically “the management of agriculture, transport, telecommunications, energy and water resources”, adding: “it was clear that the meteorological services could and should play an important role in the integration and strengthening of economic and social activities in the sub-region”.

Dr. Boanuh said “the application of meteorological information to agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forestry management has been recognized throughout the world, because knowledge of climate and weather contributes to monitoring crops and estimating crop yields, fishing, as well as monitoring grazing lands.

“That is why one of the six priority areas of intervention set by the agricultural policy on prevention and management of food crisis and other natural disasters, including climate change, was chosen to be able to predict the strategy needed to cope with climate change”, he added.

According to the ECOWAS Commission official, “the application of meteorology has also become more important in the context of the fight against the negative effects of drought, desertification and natural disasters such as floods and tropical cyclones or wind storms.

 Dr Boanuh went on to speak of the need for better monitoring of the weather and climate parameters, as well as improved management of the global environment.

“However, we can only realize the full benefits and potential capacity of the positive contribution of meteorological services if the services are strengthened so that, in turn, they can deliver more effectively to contribute to the socio-economic development in the region”.

Consequently, the ECOWAS Commission has developed and adopted a strategic programme for the reduction of vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in West Africa.

The programme’s main objectives and activities include the management of information and data on weather forecasting and climate model development; supporting the development of harmonized national systems of information and national databases collection.

He said to overcome the constraints faced by organisations, the ECOWAS Commission in collaboration with the regional directorate of the WMO for central, north and west Africa, in a spirit of capacity building for stakeholders, had developed a draft program “which is being submitted to you for review and validation”.

“This proposed program will enable the ECOWAS Commission to better focus its intervention in the sub-region in terms of weather activities, to better protect the most vulnerable populations including small-scale farm holders, residents of coastal areas, the poor and marginalized groups, women and children,” Dr Boanuh stated.

Joseph R. Mukabana, WMO director of the regional office for Africa and least developed countries, delivered a statement on behalf of the WMO secretary general.

Mr. Mukabana spoke of “the development of NMHSs to benefit key social sectors that drive the economies of our countries, including agriculture and food security, public health and sanitation, water resource management, and disaster risk reduction, among others.”

He said recent occurrences of floods, droughts and other severe weather and extreme climate events could well be indications of a changing climate. The future cost of inaction or procrastination to introduce adaptation measures against the vagaries of weather and climate could well exceed, by far, the cost of timely action.

 He said measures contemplated in mitigation and amelioration of adverse impacts of the changing climate should, therefore, be intensified. He said on the agenda of the meeting is the ECOWAS meteorology programme.

He added that the African Ministerial Conference on Meteorology (AMCOMET), a joint initiative of the WMO and the African Union Commission (AUC), was established in April 2010 in Nairobi, Kenya, as a high level mechanism for the development of meteorology (weather and climate services) and its application in Africa.

 “This mechanism is helping to increase awareness of governments on the contributions of NMHSs to sustainable development of AU Member states,” Mukabana said.

He said realization of the socio-economic benefits of weather, climate and water now forms a basis in the formulation of policy and as support in decision making in weather sensitive sectors and climate risk management.

He spoke of the establishment of national frameworks for climate services in some ECOWAS member states. WMO supports the development of ECOWAS member states through the NMHSs, whose information and data has profound impact on key weather and climate sensitive sectors of the economies of member states and on poverty reduction.

WMO would like to increase the visibility of NMHSs in the ECOWAS region through strengthening the service delivery programmes to better serve various stakeholders and contribute to development needs.

He also pledged WMO’s “continued support to ECOWAS member states in strengthening their NMHSs to enable them meet their mandates and play a more active role in their state’s development efforts.