Strengthening climate information in Malawi

Nov 19, 2015

Lexina Mchakutu: Resident of Salima districts who benefits from SMS weather updates. Photo: UNDP Photo by Pauline Achoka

Lexina Mchakutu is from Salima District, Malawi. As the head of her household, she is responsible for feeding her mother, her three children and four of her nephews. Lexina is a farmer; and, like most farmers in the area, she grows maize to feed and support her family.
 
The effects of climate change have made maize more difficult to cultivate in Malawi, placing serious strains on households like Lexina’s. In recent years, Malawi has been experiencing more frequent and intense floods, droughts, strong winds and other extreme weather—the total annual rainfall in some regions is now exceeding 1,800 mm. While Lexina receives weather forecasts on the radio and via her phone, the information is often general, without area-specific details. This makes it difficult to predict what to plant and when to plant it.
But this is about to change.  

Financed by the Least Developed Country Fund and implemented by UNDP, the government of Malawi has initiated a new project titled: “Strengthening climate information and early warning systems in Eastern and Southern Africa for climate resilient development and adaptation to climate change”.

Locations for new weather stations are being identified and forecasting equipment is being purchased. These improvements will give farmers like Lexina access to more accurate and precise climate information and early warnings, thereby increasing their resilience against the effects of climate change. Community members will benefit from 21 new meteorological stations, each of which will include standard rain gauges, thermometers, wind vanes, cup anemometers, evaporation pans, hygrographs, sunshine recorders, telephones and computers. 100 new rainfall observation stations and 53 new Automatic Weather Stations are also in the process of being built.  

Although daily radio and TV broadcasts are already used to disseminate warnings, SMS messages provide targeted warnings to areas under immediate threat. Plans are underway to increase the frequency and specificity of SMSs sent to populations in disaster-prone areas.
“Dissemination of weather information though SMS to communities at risk will ensure that people are given timely early warning information to enable them to appropriately respond,” says Mr. James Chiusiwa, Director for Disaster Risk Reduction for the Government of Malawi.

The government is in the process of establishing partnerships with local and regional telecommunication companies so that text messages on weather conditions can be sent to farmers frequently. 280 members of 28 Village Disaster Risk Committees are already receiving the SMS updates and are responsible for disseminating the information to their communities. More community members will be identified to receive these updates, and the circle of people benefitting from the SMS’s will continue to widen.  

A total of 5,216,285 people from Karonga, Rumphi, Nkhatabay, Salima, Nkhotakota, Dedza, Mangochi, Zomba, Phalombe, Chikwawa and Nsanje districts will eventually benefit from this project.
 

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