Malawi has embarked on an ambitious drive to integrate weather and climate information into its national health planning in a move which could radically improve surveillance and management of diseases like malaria, diarrhea and malnutrition, which are all influenced by weather and climate.
Until now, there has been little formal contact between the meteorological and health communities in Malawi. But that is now set to change thanks to the Global Framework for Climate Services Adaptation Programme for Africa, which seeks to provide user-driven weather and climate services for climate-sensitive sectors like health, agriculture and disaster risk reduction.
«I am confident that together we can build for ourselves a safer society in Malawi,» said Jolamu Nkhokwe, Director of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, at the end of a three day National Consultation which brought together the main providers and users of climate services on one united platform.
« The weather is such a natural force to reckon with that it cannot and should not be ignored in everybody`s day to day activities because in any tussle between weather and man, the weather always wins. Let us use weather and climate information seriously in every venture and adventure and make the framework for climate services in Malawi a reality, » said Mr Nkhokwe.
« Right Intervention at the Right Time »
The GFCS Adaptation Programme for Africa, also known as Climate Services for Action, is funded by a grant of US$ 9 750 000 (NOK 60 000 000) from the Government of Norway. It is being rolled out in Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania. It is the first multi-agency initiative to be implemented under the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) spearheaded by the World Meteorological Organization and so is regarded as a flagship. It combines the expertise of natural and social scientists, the research community, development and humanitarian agencies, and other key user sectors.
Malawi`s national consultation, which took place from 9-11 June in Lilongwe, agreed to that weather and climate service providers and users should be united into one committee which meets on a regular basis and reports to top-level government bodies. This will ensure that products like daily and seasonal forecasts are accessible and understandable to users including national and government departments, big businesses, community leaders and subsistence farmers, who account for the majority of Malawi`s population.
« This is the right intervention at the right time, » said Jane Swira of Malawi`s National Climate Change programme.
Big challenges, big potential
The challenges facing Malawi are immense. The southern African nation has a heavy burden of disease, high vulnerability to extreme weather, and severe land degradation. All are expected to increase as a result of climate change, meaning that concerted action is needed through the Climate Services for Action programme to strengthen health, disaster resilience and food security.
The potential to improve the lives of some of vulnerable communities through joint action on climate and health is particularly striking, as is the need.
« Once we have a better linkage with the meteorological department, we will be able to use climate services for planning. We will be able to improve our level of preparation and response to diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and malnutrition, » said Humphrys Masuku of Malawi`s Ministry for Health. « Previously we rarely used meteorological information, but now we will be able to choose products and so plan for different diseases associated with weather and climate. »
Malawi faces a constant struggle with malaria. Even highland areas like Zomba which only used to see sporadic outbreaks, now have year-round transmission. Increasing temperatures and more intense rainfall and floods are conducive to more malaria-bearing mosquitos and faster transmission rates, according to Dylo Pemba at the University of Malawi. He said a new concern is that dengue fever, which is also mosquito-born, is expected to spread into Malawi over the border from Tanzania and Mozambique, adding an extra strain to the over-burdened health sector.
Clear Focus, Clear Deliverables
Malawi`s climate is varied and influenced by the vast surface area of Lake Malawi, which brings lower temperatures and more rainfall to adjacent areas. Mean annual temperatures increased by 0.9 degrees Centigrade between 1960 and 1996, with the increase in temperature most rapid in the rainy summer (December to February), according to the Malawi Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (MDCCMS). There has been a substantial increase in the frequency of hot days and nights in all seasons, and there is evidence that the intensity of droughts and floods has increased over the past 20 years.
Climate Services for Action therefore aims to improve the accuracy, the delivery and communication of daily and seasonal weather forecasts to farmers and disaster managers in nine target districts to help cope with extreme events and climate-related impacts on agricultural productivity like reduced soil moisture and heat-stress.
Discussions during the national workshop highlighted the need for clearer explanations of seasonal outlooks ; more explicit hazard warnings in daily forecasts ; more localized forecasts ; better training of agricultural extension workers ; and better integration of indigenous knowledge – which remains highly regarded - into weather forecasts.
Wezi Mkwaila of the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources said analysis by researchers and social scientists in her group showed the need for more straightforward language and more down-to-earth advice which users could translate into practice.
Ms. Mkwaila said the special strength of Climate Services for Action was the variety of organizations with different interests and mandates all working together for a common cause.
WMO is supporting the Malawi Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services. Other partners include the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS); the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO); the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI); the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) through the Malawi Red Cross; the World Food Programme (WFP); the World Health Organization (WHO).
« It brings everyone involved in climate services in Malawi under one roof and it makes them talk to each other, » said Ms. Mkwaila. « It minimizes duplication, has a clear focus and clear deliverables. »