Making seasonal forecasting accessible: bringing producers and users together

Friday, June 16, 2017

Twenty years after the first West African Regional Outlook Forum, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Humanitarian organizations organized a historic DRR consultation at the 2017 Seasonal Forecasting Forum organization

On May 18, DRR and Humanitarian planners representing a host of international humanitarian organizations came together in Accra, Ghana. The objectives of the event were to join the deliberations of the 2017 Regional Climate Outlook forum for the Sahel (PRESASS) and to create an avenue for engagement with seasonal forecast consensus producers to get timely products which will aid humanitarian planning and decision-making ahead of the season. Organizations represented included the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), World Food Programme (WFP), Action contre La Faim (ACF), OXFAM, PLAN International, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Volunteers, and the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

The DRR and humanitarian organizations’ primary objective was to access forecasts that will inform their regional and national planning. An example is the forecast below, which is of immediate relevance to dam managers at the Mono river dams. They are piloting a new partnership with Red Cross to avoid downstream river flooding of communities living by the banks.

Consensus hydrology forecast for season 2017 highlighting river flooding threats (Source: AGRHYMET, PRESASS 2017 forecast)

The heart of the process: Developing a consensus forecast

What was unique about this year’s event was that DRR and humanitarian organizations were invited to co-produce the forecasts and statements issued from the PRESASS forum.

Developing a consensus forecast requires multiple inputs and layers of engagement. The DRR and humanitarian stakeholders witnessed first-hand how the seasonal forecast are developed and elaborated.  Scientific deliberations were held, country data was presented, and group work sessions were conducted to bring  together climatology, hydrology and agro-meteorology issues and generate a consensus forecast.  A consensus forecast was built by aggregating the individual country inputs, with forecast maps produced.

Using a combination of statistical, dynamical and proxy methods, the seasonal forecast from global models was downscaled for the West Africa region. The consensus forecast agreed upon by the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, River Basin Organizations (RBOs), and the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) and Regional Centre of Agro-Hydro-Meteorology (AGRHYMET) agro-meteorologists, hydrologists, long range modelers and forecasters in attendance.

Responding to the needs of humanitarian organizations

When you sit with these scientists, you get much more than [what] you receive [from] their slides and final forecast maps… You get an unsuspected wealth of information from face to face dialogue …” 
- Youcef Ait-Chellouche, IFRC

Although seasonal forecasting bulletins are currently available on the ACMAD and AGRHYMET websites, it was discussed that more effort is needed to communicate and curate this scientific data into different accessible and contextualised information products for humanitarian agencies.

The DRR and humanitarian organizations presented seasonal forecasting needs that are currently not being met. ACMAD and AGRHYMET responded to the voiced issues which focused on:

  • Accessing seasonal forecasts earlier
  • Moving away from terciles to quintiles (well above normal/well below normal conditions), and preferably moving to Probability Distribution Function (PDF)
  • Need for important forecasts to be in a more accessible format for organizations to swiftly create models
  • Having electronic data exchanges
  • More geographical zooming and identification of specific hotspots
  • Developing joint specific operational products between ACMAD, AGRHYMET and RBOs that would guide action in the region.

Co-development of seasonal forecast advisories between DRR

There was great excitement from participants to see a co-produced forecast and communiqué from the PRESASS forum issued on May 19, developed by DRR/Humanitarian and science actors present at the workshop (see Figure 3). The new format was considered a step in the right direction. Two changes worth noting include:

  • Four probability categories are now been presented, and not only the terciles.  In areas where a clear departure from the normal is seen, forecasters added a category labeled “well above normal rain conditions”, and another category labeled “well below normal rain conditions”, indicating conditions of dryness.
  • The PRESASS forecast identified a hotpot of “well above normal” conditions, which previously had only been identified as 45% above normal. This addition of a “well above” category, indicates to DRR users a departure from the above normal category, and clearly indicates areas that are expected to experience much higher than normal rainfall probabilities 

(Source: AGRHYMET, PRESASS 2017)

Strengthened partnerships

I was at first skeptical of the value… DRR stakeholders would bring. Now however, I have seen and I believe that this dialogue, their presence, can [add] value [to] our products… I fully adhere now to this dialogue approach.”
- Al Agali, AGRHYMET

Abdou Ali representing AGRHYMET made a poignant remark about the relevance of this interactive forum: “We were able to translate our products to their needs; that was [an] incredibly [valuable] addition to the PRESASS . . . we need more of such pluri-disciplinary approaches.”

This event strategically provided an exciting set of new interactions with new relationships formed between these otherwise separate communities. There was strong consensus that these conversations need to be sustained to improve understanding of needs and constraints being faced by humanitarian agencies to prepare and respond to potential crisis in the region. 

The First DRR Consultation at the PRESASS was made possible thanks to support from OCHA, IFRC, ACF, WFP, UNV and WMO. PRESASS was co-organised by AGRHYMET, sponsored by the SAWIDRA project, and ACMAD.

Authors:  Arame Tall, Bernard Gomez, Alioune B. Kaere and Fatema Rajabali

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