By Joyce Jelagat
With contributions from the IGAD Climate Change Technical Working Group
Effective communication is an essential component of weather and climate services and has become increasingly apparent in recent years as the impacts of climate change have become more evident. It helps to ensure that people receive accurate, timely, and relevant weather and climate information, which can help communities make climate-informed decisions and take appropriate actions to protect themselves and their property.
Despite Africa’s climate-related challenges, only 40% of the African population has access to early warning, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which could protect them from extreme climate events. The climate services in the region face several challenges, including limited capacity, infrastructure, financial resources, data gaps, and poor governance.
High vulnerability and low adaptive capacity to climate change underlie the urgency to strengthen the early warning system while ensuring it leads to earlier action.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), one of WMO’s accredited regional climate centers, works closely with national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHSs), disaster management authorities, and other stakeholders to provide accurate and timely weather and climate information, forecasts, and warnings.
Its services are designed to support a range of sectors, including agriculture, water management, health, and disaster risk reduction. Through its partnerships with NMHSs, disaster management authorities, and other stakeholders, ICPAC is helping to build resilience and reduce the impact of climate-related disasters in the region. To achieve this, ICPAC has developed various weather and climate information products (crop monitor, climate monitor, and weekly, monthly, and seasonal forecasts) and tools (East Africa Hazards Watch, East Africa Drought Watch, and Agriculture Watch).
Even with the various tools and products developed at the regional level by ICPAC and national levels by NMHS, the challenge remains with their usability, interpretation, and application. This, therefore, limits their use by end users in making climate-informed decisions and thus hinders the resilience-building process.
To achieve the UN Secretary General’s call on early warning for all by 2027, there is a need to strengthen communication as one of the main pillars of achieving this goal.
Over the last 25 years, ICPAC has convened Climate Outlook Forums for the Greater Horn of Africa (GHACOF), a regional User Interface Platform (UIP) for decision-making. The conference brings stakeholders from different sectors, climate scientists, climate information users, experts, and decision-makers to co-design and co-produce regional climate outlooks and sectoral advisories.
Other UIPs include the National Outlook Forums (NCOFs), and Participatory Scenario Planning workshops (PSP) at the national and sub-national levels respectively, which allows for involvement of users to co-produce climate information and advisories. However, a lot remains to be done for effectiveness, including building capacities at the national and sub-national levels to ensure that the information and advisories are communicated on time and translated into decision-making.
Weather and climate information can be complex and challenging for the general public to understand. Therefore, using plain language and avoiding technical terms and jargon is vital to make the information more accessible and user-friendly. This can involve scientists using clear and concise language to describe weather and climate conditions and explaining any necessary technical terms.
Additionally, weather and climate information dictionaries could be developed and translated into local languages to ensure that people lacking technical knowledge can understand and use the information for example in Kenya, climate information dictionary for Swahili language has been developed.
Also, providing context-specific weather and climate information by further downscaling the information can help people better understand its relevance and implications. For example, explaining how a specific weather event compares to historical data or providing information on how it may impact specific industries or communities’ livelihoods. This can help people make informed decisions on preparing for potential impacts, such as evacuating or securing property.
Media plays a critical role in communicating weather and climate information. The capacity of journalists should be built to communicate weather and climate information better. ICPAC, for example, through the ACREI and CONFER projects, has trained journalists in three and ten countries in Eastern Africa, respectively.
However, this should be further moved forward by training more journalists and equipping them with the tools or resources to enable them to train other journalists (training of trainers). Some relevant training topics include breaking down the information to make them understandable and understanding climate terms, modes of effective communication, how to reach different users, training other journalists, and collecting feedback from end-users.
Media should also be part of the entire climate services value chain to create more understanding and interest in weather and climate information.
Improving connections and data exchanges among global, regional, and national climate organizations is also essential. Collaboration platforms have been established at the regional levels, including the Network of Climate Journalists in the Greater Horn of Africa (NECJOGHA). NECJOGHA brings together journalists interested in weather and climate information reporting and enhances regional interaction with scientists.
To further strengthen the Network, there is a need to create more publicity to ensure that journalists and scientists across the region know and benefit from it. It is also important to increase opportunities for interaction among the members to facilitate experience sharing and peer learning.
Engaging with stakeholders, sectoral experts, community leaders, church leaders, farmer group leaders, traditional forecasters and the public can help to ensure that weather and climate information is relevant, timely, and actionable. This can involve seeking feedback on the effectiveness of communication strategies, tailoring information to meet specific needs and interests, and ensuring that the information reaches the people who need it most.
Similarly, leveraging partnerships and strengthening synergy with private sectors, including telecommunication service providers, agro-dealers, insurance companies, banking, and media, is essential in ensuring effective communication and comprehensive weather and climate information coverage. Agro-dealers, for instance, have a direct link to the farmers, and by participating in PSPs, they will be able to share the advisories for the season with the farmers and advise them on the kind of seeds and best farming practices to undertake.
Establishment platforms, including season-based weather and climate round tables, could be a good opportunity for bringing the private sector together and building their understanding of the importance of and increasing interest in weather and climate information.
Establishing a feedback mechanism on weather and climate information is also essential in ensuring that the gaps in weather and climate reporting are communicated to allow for improvement. Feedback also allows the scientists to provide information that is understandable and usable by the end users.
Feedback mechanisms should be clear and consistent and can take several forms. This includes stakeholders, giving feedback during the user interface platforms, e.g., GHACOF, NCOF, and PSP, conducting periodic surveys, e.g., using the Kobo toolbox at the regional, national, and sub-national levels. Journalists should also be trained and equipped to collect feedback from the end-users.
Women and men face different problems and opportunities when accessing climate-related information, applying it to enhance management, and benefiting from those improved management decisions.
It is, therefore, crucial to ensure that weather and climate services are inclusive and relevant to everyone, including women and gender-diverse individuals.
To strengthen communication of weather and climate services to include gender approaches such as understanding the specific needs and priorities of different gender groups, using gender-sensitive language, consultation, and partnership with gender and women’s groups, and utilizing various communication channels can be employed. Similarly, in communities where women lack access to mobile phones and radios, establishing radio listening groups for women would ensure all have access to climate information.
Also, women journalists can be encouraged to take part in reporting weather and climate information by creating targeted training opportunities for women and launching competitions and awards. Extension workers are critical agents of climate information; therefore, increasing the number of female extension workers will help improve women’s access due to existing cultural barriers that limit women from engaging with men. By implementing these approaches, we can ensure that weather and climate information is inclusive and relevant to everyone, regardless of gender.
In addition to these strategies, several emerging technologies can help strengthen the communication of weather and climate services. For example, artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used to analyze large amounts of data and provide more accurate and timely weather forecasts. Social media and mobile apps can give individual users personalized weather and climate information based on location and preferences.
In conclusion, effective communication is essential for weather and climate services to provide accurate, timely, and relevant information to the public. By using plain language, providing context, using multiple channels, building the capacity of journalists, strengthening existing networks, engaging with stakeholders, and gender inclusivity, weather, and climate services can ensure that their information is accessible, actionable, and trusted. As the impacts of climate change continue to increase, the need for effective communication will only become.