Africa facing climate data shortage

Africa needs information about water resources Copyright: Flickr/vredeseilanden

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[JOHANNESBURG] Africa must increase its collection and analysis of data about climate change’s impact on water supplies, a meeting has heard.

The continent needs information about water resources at local, national, regional and transboundary levels, said scientists at the 2nd Africa Water Week this week (9–13 November), organised by the African Ministerial Council on Water in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Chris Moseki, research manager of the South African Water Research Commission told SciDev.Net there is gross disparity in data availability between African countries.

"There are some countries with data on climate change and water related issues, many others without," Moseki said. He cited Central Africa Republic and countries to its north as areas where such data is scarce.

He said analytical tools such as software to analyse and map information from the field — such as on water levels in rain gauges — was lacking in most African countries.

"A country like South Africa has many organisations — such as the South African Weather Services — involved in data collection and monitoring of the water-related impacts of climate change has a lot of data," said Moseki.

"But even where the data does exist, the level and depth of coverage may be found wanting because of a lack of technological tools. Data quality differs from one country to other," he said.

Patts Odira, an environmental health engineer at the University of Nairobi, said that in Kenya, infrastructure for data-collection is dysfunctional because of neglect.

"You can only get reliable rainfall data in Kenya up to 1980 as the existing infrastructure, like rain gauges and stream gauges, are no longer working," he said. "The danger of not having data is that decisions on developments related to climate change will not be realistic," he added.

Moseki said African governments should invest in data collection and monitoring and try to get the private sector involved in funding such initiatives.

Moseki added that African scientists must tap into resources already available, such as the European and Canadian Space Agencies’ wealth of satellite data about Africa. Currently African researchers are not accessing such data because of a lack of both appropriate software and the skills required for accurate data interpretation.

"We should ensure that we have access to data, through UN agencies like UNESCO, and do ground-truthing for accuracy," he said.