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[ADDIS ABABA] Scientists are failing Africa in its attempts to adapt to climate change, a conference was told this week.

They spend too much time collecting data and attending conferences, and not enough time providing practical solutions that local people can implement, according to Anthony Nyong, manager of the Compliance and Safeguard Division at the African Development Bank.

For instance the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development, based in Niger, regularly collects data on drought. Yet the main need of people whose livelihoods have been devastated by droughts is knowledge on how to cope, he said.

Governments and donors were also to blame for failing to integrate climate adaptation plans into development programmes or to take account of local knowledge. They also squander large sums of money on conferences instead of spending it in the field, he told the UNEP-Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Climate Change Adaptation Collaborative Programme meeting on Monday (11 October).   

Nyong urged scientists to redirect some of their energies from collecting data and producing information to transforming this information into knowledge that could help African people cope.

"85 per cent of the money coming to Africa for adaptation is used for 'capacity building' [meetings] in hotels — yet nobody has ever built capacity in a hotel," he told the meeting, which preceded the Seventh Africa Development Forum: Acting on Climate Change for Sustainable Development in Africa, held by the UN Economic Commission for Africa this week (12–15 October).

"If Africa is to adapt then it must change the way it is doing things," he said. "When will African governments do real work on adaptation and not just pilot projects by scientists," he asked, claiming that there have been ten years of such activities with little to show for them.

Nyong added that there is much indigenous knowledge on both adaptation and mitigation that scientists could tap into. Resources and knowledge should be directed to household level adaptation and mitigation, funding approaches such as rainwater harvesting and local, cheap energy sources, he said.

According to Nyong climate change adaptation activities such as National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), which have been designed for the least developed countries to prioritise climate adaptation, are failing because they are not embedded into wider development plans.

Amadou Cham, director of planning in the Ministry of Planning in Gambia, said NAPAs were never formulated from national and local communities' perspectives. "Unless these programmes are drawn up in consultation with the affected and mainstreamed into national planning, efforts to bring them to the people will never succeed," he said.

But Dickson Nyariki of the South Eastern University College, in Kenya, said the collection of data was important because it was needed to understand particular phenomena and climate change was no exception.

He also defended pilot projects, saying they help make issues clearer. "Pilot projects are important in areas where there are no clear procedures and information is also unavailable," he added.