Unpredictable and deadly: that’s been the weather in Central Africa so far this year.
The erratic start of the rainy season and a fear of drought have led farmers in northern Cameroon to plant their crops several times. Eastwards across the border in neighboring Chad, floods swept away numerous homes and worsened a cholera outbreak.
Experts say the absence of early warning systems increases the effects of climate fluctuation on the poor.
Meteorologists and disaster management experts are urging governments to endorse the construction of climate observatories across Central Africa. The recommendation was announced at a recent forum held in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé, in late September.
Andre Kamga is with the African Center of Meteorological Applications for Development, AMCAD, based in Niger. He said setting up the climate monitors is a matter of urgency, considering the increasingly unpredictable changes in climate.
"What we are planning to do is to have sub-regional climate centers that will take care of early warnings – a season in advance, a week in advance, a few days in advance and a few minutes before flooding events and other disasters," he said.
There are few statistics on the social and economic effects of weather-related problems for Central Africa. But figures obtained from Cameroon’s National Meteorological Service indicate that 19 major natural disasters killed over 295,000 people around the world in 2010 with material losses evaluated at more than US$ 130 billion.
Kamga said the centers would not only collect and assess climate data and other information for up-to-date forecasts that would help policy makers make better decisions.
"What hampers policy awareness [and the ability to] work towards reducing disasters is the fact that in many countries, when a flooding occurs, there is no estimate of its cost [which would help] policymakers take the right decisions.," he said. "These climate centers will have as mandate to assess post-disaster impacts."
Representatives from the governments of Gabon and Cameroon at the Yaoundé meeting pledged to back the creation of the centers. But a time frame for the construction has not been mentioned.
Many people in Cameroon are growing frustrated – both with the unpredictable weather patterns, and the reaction to it by politicians and scientists.
But meteorologist Andre Kamga remains hopeful. He said initial steps have been proposed.
"One," he said, "is the (eventual) establishment of a mailing platform on the Web to exchange information between experts on climate and disaster risks in the sub-region. The platform would be run by ACMAD in collaboration with national meteorological offices. The second step is the strengthening of the process of establishing a climate center for Central Africa."
Meantime, the African Center of Meteorological Applications for Development has issued its fifth regional climate outlook for Central Africa. The document, based on a consensus of experts, warns that coastal zones from Cameroon to the DRC are likely to witness above-normal rainfall this year. The center says such knowledge can help decision makers adjust their policies.
They could make preparations for the flooding that accompanies torrential rains. They could also remind farmers to wait until the heaviest period of rainfall is tapering off before planting their seeds or suggest that farmers plant their crops twice.
They say those suggestions would be an improvement over the situation as it is today, where weather catches farmers by surprise and unprepared.