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FEATURE STORY September 12, 2017

Improving Weather Forecasts Can Reduce Losses to Development in Africa



  • Hard-fought development gains can be reversed by harsh climates and adverse weather.
  • Africa’s first-ever ministerial level Meteorology Hydromet Forum formally recognizes the role hydromet services play in development.
  • Investing in hydromet, or weather, water, and climate services, reduces the risk an economy faces from natural disasters and climate change.

ADDIS-ABABA, September 12 2017‒“Hydromet” or weather, water, and climate services affect the decisions people, communities, and governments make every day. A family at their farm, a shopkeeper in a store, or a government worker on a dam, all need accurate, timely information to make well-informed day-to-day decisions. This can come from something as simple a river gauge, which warns of rising water levels, to more advanced weather forecasting systems alerting an entire country of the approach of a cyclone.

Disasters related to weather, water, and climate badly affect communities and cause billions of US dollars in economic losses every year. Globally, hard-fought development gains are placed at risk. Add the consequences of climate change, and such losses could increase.

Africa has the world’s least developed weather, water, and climate observation network, with less than 300 of its weather stations meeting the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO’s) observation standards. As much as 54 per cent of its surface weather stations, and 71 per cent of its upper-air weather stations, do not report accurate data. Budgets to maintain key infrastructure run short each year, and the cost of modernization investment needed amounts to more than US$1.5 billion.

These costs can be eased, however, or effectively offset. The World Bank Group’s research shows that countries can save US$13 billion in asset losses annually by investing in hydromet, as well as saving US$22 billion in losses to well-being, and US$30 billion through a resulting increase in productivity.

World Could Be 4 Degrees Hotter By End of This Century

Investing in hydromet creates savings

Overall, every US dollar (or its equivalent) invested in hydromet services has the potential to generate at least three dollars’ worth of benefits. Plus, being able to understand, predict, and warn citizens about natural hazards and disasters drives the ability of governments to reduce economic risks and save lives.

Advancements in hydromet services also generate economic growth.

Put simply, farmers who know when it will rain can avoid having fertilizer washed away, or move livestock to high ground before flooding. Fishermen with reliable information can avoid risking their lives at sea and improve efficiency on their boats. Transporters can prevent the unsafe movement of people and goods during heavy storms by using early warning systems.

The Bank worked with governments and other partners to form the Africa Hydromet Program, which supports the national and regional modernization of hydromet services. This initiative is raising US$600 million in funding to modernize old forecast technologies and build new ones. The program will make weather data more accessible and give officials and other decision makers the opportunity to better provide better weather prediction services for their citizens.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, better hydromet services are helping communities deal with everything from volcanic eruptions to floods.

The Bank-supported, Strengthening Hydro-Meteorological and Climate Services project is helping improve the quality of these services, with weather forecasts disseminated through the media, agricultural information services, extreme weather warnings, and forecasting specific to aviation.