With the Earth becoming warmer and weather events more extreme, the African Union has set up a disaster operation center in Nairobi to help monitor major hazards and provide regional early warnings for drought, floods, extreme rainfall, food insecurity, and pests like the desert locust.
Major floods have become more common in Africa and show how vulnerable the continent is to climate change, even though it's the lowest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
To cope with such disasters, the African Union has set up a centralized monitoring and early warning system for the continent. The Nairobi Disaster Operation Center for the East African region is the continent's first weather "situation room."
"Council of the ministers within the member states sat and said we need to have a disaster operation center in Nairobi, which will focus mainly on early warning systems," said Jully Ouma, a geographic information system analyst at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, in Nairobi. "So, that gave birth to the establishment of this office so that we look at broader aspects of different disasters within the region."
The center — located at the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Center — uses East Africa Hazards Watch, a system developed by the center for collecting and sharing multi-hazard data with member countries.
"The system works automatically so that it ingests in the data set," Ouma said, adding, "We have a super computing system within ICPAC, so there is less human attachment to it. It is also near real time. So, in every 10 days it updates itself and then we see the conditions of drought."
The center provides climate information and early warnings to 11 East African countries. Officials say local communities must be ready to respond quickly to save lives and minimize damage.
"So, we must equip the communities themselves to be able to respond to a disaster in its first hours at least," said Amjad Abbashar, regional director for Africa at the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. "And so, I think we owe it to them to set up these early warning systems and ensure that it is functional, and that people who are vulnerable to disasters are able to access that information in a timely way, to save lives and property."
The situation room in Nairobi covers and reports on drought and floods. Another one in Niger, set to open this month, will monitor extreme rains and cyclones. The information collected at both sites will be distributed by the situation room at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
"We are responding to a very complex situation," said Gatkuoth Kai, technical coordinator for disaster risk reduction at the Africa Union Commission. "Over the years, we have seen disasters increasingly becoming borderless. But even when a hazard is localized, the intensity easily overwhelms the national response. And in this situation, the Pan African solidarity is required. Therefore, having this situation room is going to facilitate that African solidarity."
As Africa experiences more extreme weather, officials say early warnings and early action will help limit its impact.