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East African countries have strengthened the region's capacity to predict climate-related disasters by establishing a regional climate monitoring institution.

Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Sudan — members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an alliance of east African countries — signed up to the agreement in Nairobi this month (13 April).

The new institution, the IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC), will collaborate with the region's national meteorological departments to identify 'climate risk zones' — areas where extreme climate-related disasters are likely to occur and pose a safety risk. For example, the slopes of Mount Kenya — where heavy rains can cause landslides, killing dozens of people — have been identified as a hazardous area.

ICPAC will monitor regional temperature variations to ascertain which areas are at risk of dangers such as malaria outbreaks. Weather pattern predictions, based on data from US and European satellites, will also be important in determining appropriate building materials for the region.

The institution will be based at the Drought Monitoring Centre in Nairobi, created in 1989 by the UN World Meteorological Organization to combat drought and starvation in the Horn of Africa region. With the new agreement, the Nairobi centre will assume a new status as a regional climate institution, and will be under the ownership of IGAD member states. 

Speaking at the signing ceremony, IGAD Executive Secretary Attalah Bashir said the centre would "monitor drought, rain and give information on these on a minute-by-minute basis". The existing centre has already been equipped via funding from the United States Agency for International Aid (USAID).

The centre will monitor climate in the seven IGAD member countries. Talks are also underway to bring Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania on board as beneficiaries.

If talks are successful ICPAC will have an annual budget of US$500,000, with each of the ten countries involved contributing US$50,000 each year to its basic operational budget.

ICPAC deputy director Bwango Apuuli says the agreement expands the existing centre's source of funding to the IGAD states, which will create institutional stability and encourage donors to give funds for long-term climate-related projects.

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