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Getting wise to an unpredictable climate

Rising temperatures, changing rainfall and prolonged drought, are increasing the vulnerability of people in Africa. Many livelihoods hang in the balance. But, with a new, large-scale project, the Met Office is helping change the outlook for some of the world's most vulnerable communities.

In the last 25 years, over 420,000 Africans have died as a result of extreme weather while, economically, the cost to the continent has totalled USD 9 billion since 1980 alone. But change is on the horizon.

Backed by an investment of £35 million from the Department for International Development (DFID), the Met Office and a range of international partners are working to build the resilience of African people.

Getting WISER

Launched in June 2015, the Weather and clImate Information SERvices for Africa (WISER) programme is now approaching the end of its first year of a planned four. The initiative aims to empower local communities and regional decision-makers through a better understanding of weather and climate.

From village farmers considering which crop to plant next season, to governments developing long-term infrastructure policies, WISER is focused on putting users at the heart of its projects. As WISER Fund Management Technical Lead, Bill Leathes explains: "It's not about a meteorological agency deciding what people want to know. It's about developing an understanding of what's required."

The programme aims to improve the generation and dissemination of new and improved products and services, promote collaboration between service providers and users - and put weather and climate firmly on the policy map. From delivering early warning systems to explaining the benefits of robust long-range forecasting, WISER will give Africa better tools and knowledge to manage the uncertainties of climate variability and change.

The East African component of WISER, which the Met Office is fund-managing, is initially focusing on six countries in the region: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. A range of international and national institutions and universities are working together to deliver five 'quick-start' projects across the region. With a long history of supporting local meteorological agencies in East Africa, the Met Office is perfectly placed to lead four of these five projects. The Met Office is working closely with the Africa Climate Policy Centre which is managing pan-African aspects of WISER. If successful, the regional approach being tested may be rolled out elsewhere in Africa.

As WISER Fund Management Technical Lead Bill Leathes explains: "Sub-Saharan Africa has been a primary area of focus for the Met Office's international development programme for many years. The projects we're running under WISER are very much a continuation of our work in the region - building on the experience we've gained and relationships we've nurtured in previous ventures."

The case of Tanzania

One of the projects builds on a long standing partnership between the Met Office and the Tanzanian Meteorological Agency (TMA). The project aims to develop a Multi Hazard Early Warning Service to enable Tanzanian citizens become more resilient to high impact weather events.

"It's not just about developing the service that will deliver better weather and climate information. It's about making the connections between the TMA and its stakeholders that will enable the right information to get to the right people in a timely manner," explains Bill.

Still in its initial stages, the Multi Hazard Early Warning System will service Tanzania's coastal regions - helping to mitigate the impact of extreme weather through high-quality, timely weather services. Through the Met Office's experience of delivering world-leading science to multi hazard early warning services and the TMA's local knowledge, the project will deliver real benefit to the most vulnerable citizens in Tanzania as well as government and industry.

The shape of services to come

Along with leading individual WISER projects, the Met Office is the designated fund manager for the whole East African initiative. Bill explains:

"We're responsible for managing the fund on behalf of DFID to make sure its investment is handled properly. We monitor and evaluate all the projects under the programme to ensure they demonstrate value for money. And we disseminate the knowledge gained from each to our project partners."

Since WISER is the test case for a wider roll out, sharing information and learning from experience is central to the ethos of the programme. The five projects underway today won't just inform what the next few years look like - they'll help shape the future of weather and climate services across the whole continent, and beyond.

A WISER future

"Weather and climate has really come up the development agenda in the last five years," says Bill. "Governments and agencies are beginning to realise that if we don't mitigate the risks posed by extreme weather now, we're going to set back the development progress that many countries have made in the last twenty years."

The products and services under development with WISER will help East Africa protect its most vulnerable people. They'll boost economic development and give these countries the chance to compete on the international stage. From agriculture to infrastructure, energy services to health providers, WISER aims to deliver the knowledge and understanding needed to secure the future of generations.