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WMO Prepares First Ministerial Summit On Meteorology in Africa

The World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, says African countries must improve their forecasting ability to better prepare for weather emergencies and climate change. In an effort to bring this about, the WMO, in partnership with the African Union and the Kenyan government, will hold the first conference on meteorology in Africa next month in Nairobi.

This ministerial conference is not only a first for Africa, it is a first for the world.

The World Meteorological Organization says this pioneering meeting will be taking place in Africa because it is the continent most vulnerable to climate change.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud says it is important for African ministers responsible for meteorology to explore ways of strengthening weather, water and climate information, and other essential services.

"The very first challenge is that there are serious gaps in observation," he said. On average, Africa has a density for meteorological network, which is more than eight times below what we recommend as the standard. So there is a huge need to strengthen this observation network. But it is also vital to strengthen the production of services and the way these services are delivered to the various user centers."

Jarraud says vital weather information must reach government decision makers as well as farmers and others who depend on accurate weather prediction.

The climate record for Africa shows that most of the continent warmed by about 0.7 degrees during the 20th century. The WMO says natural hazards, including droughts and floods, are increasing and affecting millions of people on the continent.

Last year, several African countries were affected by severe drought and flooding. Kenya, which will host the ministerial summit, suffered a devastating drought that destroyed 40 percent of its maize crop.

Kenya is one of a few African countries with an advanced weather monitoring system. But the country's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Philip Richard Owade, says the meteorological service sometimes gets it wrong.

"The rains do not fall when they are expected to fall and that causes a lot of problems," he said. "The ordinary farmers, for instance, when they were growing up in many years past, they used to know exactly when the rains would come and they would prepare the soil. They would plant the crop and wait for the rains to come and the rains would come exactly when it was expected."

Owade says farmers no longer can count on the rains to come as before and that it is this uncertainty that makes the upcoming conference so timely. He says the the ministers will try to develop strategies to address the many variables of climate.

The World Meteorological Organization says the aim of the April conference is to support African leaders to adapt to and mitigate the adverse effects weather and climate. It says this is vital for the security and welfare of the African people.