HIGHWAY improves early warnings for Lake Victoria

Twice-daily weather forecasts are now being issued for the fishing community on Lake Victoria as part of a coordinated campaign to improve early warning systems and increase resilience to extreme weather in the largest freshwater body in Africa and the biggest inland fishery in the world.

Until now, Lake Victoria has lacked effective early warning systems to protect those who depend on it. Thousands of fishermen and small boat operators die on the lake each year, affecting 40 000 dependents and compounding the poverty cycle. Locals get caught in deadly storms either because there is no weather warning, they do not receive the warning message, or the message is not taken seriously because it is presented in an unclear way.

“As fishermen, the problem that we face is that we encounter strong winds, fog, heavy clouds and water spouts. They just show up unexpectedly, making it difficult for us to do our work well,” says Joseph Omer a fisherman in Jinja, Uganda.

The Kenya Meteorological Department and Uganda National Meteorological Authority are providing marine forecasts, including wind magnitude and direction, waves, rainfall intensity and distribution, and visibility on the Lake. The Tanzania Meteorological Agency and Meteo Rwanda will also start providing forecasts very soon.

The forecasts have been developed as part of the HIGH impact Weather Lake System project, known as HIGHWAY,  which brings together partners including the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and UK and the US National Center for Atmospheric Research. It is managed by the WMO and funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). 

Such efforts builds upon WMO-led Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project (SWFDP) which strengthened countries’ capacity to deliver improved forecasts and warnings of severe weather to save lives and livelihoods, and protect property and infrastructure.

WMO has produced a video demonstrating the need and the benefits of the three-year project.

The NMHSs of the countries bordering the Lake (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) forecast for their own sectors of the lake. A key driver for the HIGHWAY project is therefore to coordinate early warning services for the Lake and its basin, with potentially one centralised operational centre utilising all available information and data from the whole basin.

 “We can use a system where training is brought to the community and the village chiefs, and the experts can pass on information on how the weather can be for the public because we depend on the weather when we go to the lake,” says Samuel Osewe, chairman of the Kiumba Beach community in Kenya.

Selected forecast recipients are providing daily feedback to both Kenyan and Ugandan  forecasters on the perceived accuracy of the forecast for an initial period of three months. Evaluation of how this feedback would be used to enhance the accuracy and reliability of forecasting is ongoing.

In Uganda, analysis of the informal daily feedback already received from some forecast users suggests that the twice-daily UNMA marine forecast currently achieves a high accuracy rate of about 75%. This is in line with the accuracy level attributed by fishermen and other users to KMD's marine forecast for Lake Victoria in Kenya. 

In order to provide such tailored forecasts in the long run and lay the foundations for an effective institutional framework for the generation, uptake and use of an Early Warning System (EWS) for the East African Region, the Highway project has secured the endorsement of a Regional EWS Vision 2025

The HIGHWAY project thus supports the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, by increasing resilience and food security and helping to combat poverty in fishing communities.

HIGHWAY is part of a wider  World Weather Research Programme 10-year research project called HIWeather, which seeks to develop the science required for improved early warning systems that will reduce the toll in lives, livelihoods, health and wealth.

In order to increase resilience, research is required for better monitoring and prediction of weather and related hazards, but also in human impacts and in effective communication of information to those most vulnerable. The scope of the project thus integrates work across many physical and social science disciplines.

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