Protecting Malawi with climate information and early warning systems

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By Simas Gerdvila

Setting the scene: Climate challenges in Malawi

Malawi, one of the Least Developed Countries in Africa, is highly dependent on its agricultural sector. Around 85 percent of the country’s population live in rural areas, with the majority engaged in smallholder farming. More than half of these people are currently living in poverty.

The already dire living conditions of rural people are further exacerbated by increasing climate-induced disasters such as floods, droughts, and strong winds. A high dependency on subsistence farming makes smallholder farmers especially vulnerable to climate-related hazards. Floods particularly represent a major threat, and they have been increasing lately both in frequency and severity. Flooding in Malawi during 2015 affected over a million people. It displaced 336,000 and killed hundreds.

The impacts of the changing climate are not limited to flooding. Shifts in the country’s rainfall season, longer dry seasons, and reductions in the growing season are already occurring, threatening the country’s agricultural value chain and food supply.

In addition to smallholder farmers, the livelihoods of fishing people is also under threat. Lake Malawi, one of the largest lakes in the world, is a central geographical and economic feature of the country. It provides food and jobs for millions of people living along its shoreline. Due to climatic changes, fishing people are already forced to search for fish further offshore. This means they regularly encounter more severe weather, while taking longer to return to the safety of the shoreline.

It is expected the frequency of climate-induced disasters will continue to grow, increasingly threatening Malawi’s most vulnerable communities. Therefore, boosting the country’s climate resilience and increasing community preparedness for the devastating impacts of climate change has become increasingly a national priority.

Early Warning Systems and climate information

With their livelihoods increasingly under threat from climate disasters, Malawi’s rural people urgently need accurate and timely information to warn them about impending floods, droughts or heavy rains. Such information forms the basis of their ability to take preparatory action, which is critical to reducing the vulnerability of disaster-prone communities and livelihoods.

In order to contribute to Malawi’s climate resilience and preparedness capabilities, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), together with the UNDP, is implementing the project Scaling up the Use of Modernized Climate Information and Early Warning systems (M-CLIMES). The project will expand Malawi’s meteorological network, install automatic weather stations, hydrological monitoring stations, and lake-based weather buoys, as well as increase the capacity of local officials to identify risks and forecast impacts.

Implemented by Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA), in partnership with the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS), the project will increase the warning time of impending climate-induced danger, allowing local communities sufficient time to prepare. In addition, a key component of the project involves training people in local hydromet networks to generate climate-related data. This helps them to forecast extreme weather and chart the broad effects of climate change.

Finally, generating accurate climate information is not enough. It must also be disseminated to the most remote parts of the country to ensure that fishing people and farmers are able to take timely and urgent action. The climate data obtained through the M-CLIMES project is spread through mobile phones, ICT, and radio channels - targeting vulnerable farming communities, as well as fishing communities around Lake Malawi. Working with the private sector, including telecoms and micro and small enterprises, the project will ensure people know what to do with this enhanced weather information.

Capacity building

The project provides funding to work with affected communities in flood disaster prone areas to undertake awareness raising and risk reduction. The capacity of local communities, district councils, and national agencies to respond to emergencies is being strengthened through training and improved emergency services.

Climate change remains a global challenge. It requires measures by all countries and their communities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and find ways to adapt to its onset. Climate effects, however, will continue to be local. In the case of this project, forewarned is forearmed. Improved information about climate change and enhanced ways to disseminate that information will save an uncountable number of future lives and livelihoods in Malawi.