Livingreen sits with the chair, of the ECOWAS Ministers of Meteorology and Minister of Transport, Liberia, Bushuben M. A. Keita, at the 12th Bi-annual meeting of the meetings, held in Abuja, that witnessed the adoption of the ECOWAS Strategic Meteorological Programme. Keita provides highlights of the strategic programme and how it applies to the average ECOWAS citizen.
There is an increase in global temperatures, more than expected predictions. In fact, global temperatures have broken the set record for the second time, last February. What does this mean for the sub-region?
It means a lot of changes in our environment, changes in our way of life, and a lot of negative impact on our people. As ministers in charge of meteorology, we have to understand and develop strategies to combat this. The first strategy is awareness creation of what is happening. People need to believe that it is happening. Second, is to do something about it. it is not just about awareness creation but also to combat weather and climactic changes. And so, this document we have approved, will set the standard for all of us in ECOWAS such that we have a uniform approach to combating climate change and weather related disasters.
What does the ECOWAS Strategic Meteorological Programme imply?
It is an ECOWAS strategy for combating the increasing climate change and weather related effects, that will have more negative impact in the sub-region if neglected or not uniformly combated. Just as one of the members said, ECOWAS has been working on the document for the past 16 years, and we couldn’t come together to do something specific about it. Now, our experts have worked on it and the heads of meteorology and departments in different countries have reviewed the documents, during the meetings last week, and put together a document that we support. A document that that we think is adoptable as a good strategy, and that positions the community to respond to climate change as it occurs.
Give us details of the strategic programme?
It is a rather bulky document, but there are different aspects to it. For instance, relating to drought, there is a specific strategy that counters aviation of drought, so that the Sahara will stop pushing through the Sahel, to creep into the forest region in West Africa, such as the rising of sea levels. What do we do about that? Do we build coastal defenses? How does that affect fishing communities? What will the fishermen do to avoid that or what do coastal communities do to avoid their communities being eroded? Currently, river over flooding is affecting communities that live along river banks, washing away farmlands. It has affected rain patterns. Certain areas that experience frequency of rain, will not experience that anymore. Therefore, we have to build targeted ways to combat these challenges. It is a document that has specifics in it, that states how we respond to certain climate challenge as a community. One of the biggest thing we have done, is to set up Early Warning Systems (EWS). Each country will have Early Warning Systems centers, and they will all communicate to each other. we want to know when the changes begin, so we can stop them at the early stages rather than allow it grow bigger and out-of-hand.
The idea of taking preventive measures is good. But where will ECOWAS source funds for tackling climate challenges, obviously the fishermen cannot pay for the building of coastal defenses neither can some countries in the region truth be told?
That’s where the meteorology ministers and ECOWAS Commission come in to support these programmes. We also have some international partners and the World Meteorology Organization (WMO), and other European countries that are very supportive of this effort, like the Swedish, Finnish governments and German Suzuassie, we have got a lot of cooperation from Europe, and the United Nations support through the WMOs. Even two other agencies such as the UNDP. The cooperation that we want from the affected people will not be financial support rather cooperation and understanding of what’s happening. And accepting the responses we demand to combat this.
Will there be some form of trainings for NMHSs, to know the information they need?
Yes. There will be massive trainings, each of the EWSs involves training and a system of communication so that when you notice events, like leaves turning brown, a drop in water levels, we have several means of communicating the information. One, is by traditional means – word of mouth. Telling people what’s happening so they can go where it is happening to see what can be done.
It is very important to involve the private sector as you mentioned earlier. How can private sectors get involved in combating negative weather and climate change events?
We provide meteorological services, most people take it to mean just predicting the weather, but, that is just one aspect of it, which is quite useful. Media institutions, large scale farmers who own plantations, the travel industry are interested in the weather (or should be interested in the weather if they are not) so part of the EWSs develops the ability to read the weather. That is information that can be commercially useful to people, and provide some form of income to deflate some of the cost involved.
Part of the weather services abroad, particularly in the US, is the establishment of a meteorological center that specifically serves and delivers climate, weather information to owners of solar, wind or hydropower stations or farms. Do we expect such practice as part of ECOWAS’s meteorological strategy?
Yes, that’s part of our target. Like I said, large plantation owners, traveler, airlines, in the sub-region that would like to know what the weather conditions are at a particular point in time, there are lots of commercial uses from the information we will generate, besides the EWSs.
Is that likely what the WMOs Regional Climate Centers are meant to achieve?
The Regional Climate Centers will be generating information to each other, send the information abroad to other countries, and take climate information from other countries, abroad and disseminate back to us (West Africa). We want to integrate the communication network, so that we know what’s happening. If it’s coming down from the Sahel to the forest (West Africa is in the forest region), we will know it is coming. And the only way we will know, is when we hear about it from other countries that are already affected, and we kick start precautions at home. The WMOs Regional Climate Centers is an information sharing project. It is part of what we are doing at the ECOWAS Commission.
On information dissemination, how will ECOWAS disseminate climate and weather information earlier to the grassroots, the people who live near coastal and desert areas?
There are a lot of things inherent in the EWSs. It involves spreading the word. In some instances, we will be giving people cell phones, some the old-fashioned walkie-talkie,
These will be given to just random people?
They will be given to community leaders. We will also rely on the traditional word of mouth. There has to be a two-way information flow, so we will be sending information to them, and they will send information back to us. It is the common man who is in the first line of (the preventive strategy) telling us everything that these electronic devices pick up. In certain instances, they have to see it, observe it, and then let people know what their observations are.