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A scientific challenge

Improving weather forecasting

Skills of short to medium range weather forecasts of precipitation in the tropics are well below those obtained today for extratropical regions such as Europe or North America. This is due in particular to the difficulty of simulating key elements of the West African Monsoon, such as the precipitating weather systems. Weather prediction for West Africa also suffers from a lack of routine monitoring. There is a need for systematic study of operational forecasting methods in the region, so that skills and techniques can be collected, documented and shared among operational centers. Improved forecasts are essential for early warning systems for food security, risk management and civil protection in Africa.

Improving climate forecasting

At seasonal-to-interannual timescales statistical forecasts of the seasonal rainfall over Africa are arguably the best tool available to us. Dynamical models have some fundamental weaknesses when applied to West Africa. For example they poorly represent the annual cycle and even disagree on the sign and amplitude of rainfall changes for a climate with increased greenhouse gases. This state of affairs can be attributed to a complex and poorly understood interaction between the ocean, the land-surface and the atmosphere. Progress in this area is critical for food security and the development of agronomic adaptation strategies at the longer time scale.

Environmental monitoring

The African continent is one of the least well covered by operational atmospheric and environmental observations. The rain gauge network is in steady decline and does not provide a satisfactory basis for water management. The upper-air sounding network is outdated and the observations made are not always distributed on the global meteorological telecommunication network. This hinders considerably the determination of initial conditions for forecasting systems and hinders long term monitoring for detection and attribution of climate change.

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Inauguration of the Tamale station/A. FinkİAMMA

Managing food security, water resources and public health

West Africa is characterized by a low income household economy mainly based on rain fed agriculture. The significant increase in demographic pressure and the vulnerability of rainfall-dependent agricultural systems mark West Africa as one of the most food insecure and drought prone areas in the world. Understanding the effects of the West African Monsoon on regional and local water resources, food production and public health involves studying both the direct effect of the monsoon on the human activities and the possible adaptive strategies. Adaptation to climate variability is inherent in traditional agricultural - and broader livelihood - strategies and is embedded in social structures.

Training and education

The capacities of the African research community to maintain and develop forecasting and early warning systems by integrating new knowledge and user feedback is currently insufficient. More African students and scientists need to be enticed to enter this field of research. This will promote the development of bodies of experts in the region who can advise the decision-makers on matters such as mitigation strategies for climate change and can develop strong positions for international negotiations.

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