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Building resilience across East Africa through the production and communication of seasonal forecasts

The importance of seasonal forecasting

Due to a combination of climatic extremes and vulnerable communities, East Africa is the focus of much research, engagement and action. The WMO Regional Climate Centre, the Intergovernmental Authority of Development’s (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), is the focal point for regional-level weather to climate coordination across the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA).

Amongst other mandated responsibilities, ICPAC works with a variety of national, regional and international partners, including National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), to provide people across the area with climate information for decision making.

Long-term climate information can provide opportunities for adaptation against the impacts of long-term anthropogenic trends in temperature and rainfall, but many of the region’s economies are dependent on seasonal changes, as these underpin the ability for sectors such as agriculture, pastoralism and energy production to be resilient against variability in rainfall that occurs inter-annually.

East Africa countries (shaded green) covered by ICPAC. Note, not all countries are IGAD member states, but still benefit from the seasonal forecast. Figure: Creative Commons

To make the situation more complicated for weather and climate prediction, the climatic conditions in East Africa are varied, ranging from hot, dry desert regions, to cooler, wetter highland regions, and large variability in seasonal rainfall is experienced. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economies of the population in the region, a significant majority of which is food insecure.

Over 95% of the region’s food production is thus rainfed, yet only a minuscule percentage of public agricultural water investments support rainfed agriculture. Furthermore, access to regular and fairly accurate weather forecasts is limited.

This then feeds into the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty that are major issues for the region.East Africa is currently facing the prospect of a fifth consecutive ‘failed’ rainy season – that is, the fifth back-to-back Short and Long-Rains (March, April, May & October, November, December) which produces less than normal or ‘average’ rainfall, where the average is determined from an assessment of the climate over the last thirty years.

Such a significant lack of rainfall is driving a vast drought over large parts of the region, which is in turn cascading to increased food insecurity and hence famine for millions. The latter has been compounded by external socio-political and economic factors, such as grain import availability and cost due to recent geopolitical instability.

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