Ethiopian herders get automated weather stations

A Nuer cattle camp on the banks of the Baro River.
Copyright: Panos

Speed read

  • Ethiopia gets solar-powered stations giving herders climate information
  • Ragged landscape means data needed from several locations
  • Herders’ limited knowledge of services and trust in scientific data also barriers

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Automated weather stations (AWS) are being installed in some of Ethiopia’s lowlands to help herders and other climate-vulnerable residents respond better to recurring shocks related to climate change.

The project Market Approaches to Resilience (MAR) is led by the NGO Farm Africa in three Ethiopian regions — Afar, Southern Nationals People's Region State and Somali regions — in response to increasing climate variability facing lowlands communities.

In 2017 alone, poor rains and the residual effects of past extreme weather events forced millions of Ethiopians to rely on food assistance, according to FAO’s report Ethiopia: Drought response plan and priorities.

“The automated weather stations are providing herders with reliable climate information, so they can weigh up risks and make preventative decisions.”

Negusu Akilu

Negusu Akilu, MAR’s project head, told SciDev.Net last month (18 December) that the project, which is part of the UK aid-funded Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters programme, aims to help over 178,000 people in the region.

“The automated weather stations are providing herders with reliable climate information, so that they can weigh up risks and make preventative decisions, like when to destock cattle or scale up water conservation activities,” said Akilu.

Increasing climate variability has brought many herders in Ethiopia’s lowlands to the edge of survival. As temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, these problems could potentially worsen, Akilu says.

A total of 25 solar-powered AWSs have been installed since 2015 when the project started, according to Farm Africa. It also involves the private sector to offer micro-insurance that covers climate risks.

The NGO expects the institutions implementing it to continue offering these services even beyond the 2018 expiry date of the project, says Jonathan Garrard, its head of programme support and design.

“When working with governments, we are careful to provide training and support for government colleagues to help them absorb and manage the workload as the project phases out,” Garrard adds.

Solomon Woldetsadik, senior programme officer for climate change at the NGO Christian Aid Ethiopia, says the country’s landscape is ragged and highly varying — and this makes it necessary to have many AWSs for location specific weather observations to generate real-time data for early warning purposes.

Other challenges the MAR project could face, according to Woldetsadik, include the loose link  between climate knowledge producers and the intermediaries who customise it for end-users with user-friendly context or languages.

“End users either do not have knowledge about what weather and climate products are available, or do not understand the application of climate products for livelihood decision making,” adds Woldetsadik. “They tend to use traditional knowledge.”

There is also the low distribution of radios and mobiles phones, he says, which denies communities access to up-to- date climate information. In addition to that, not enough airtime is being allocated to weather forecasts by media agencies which have a low level of understanding about their importance.

Trust for scientific climate information is another critical challenge, and Woldetsadik is calling for more work to promote change in attitudes and behaviours among residents.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.