Enhanced national climate outlook and drought advisory services leading to improved early disaster preparedness action by stakeholders.
The precursor conditions and impacts of rapid onset disasters such as tropical cyclones are often obvious within hours of an event. Drought on the other hand is a 'silent', slow onset disaster with impacts appearing over months. Due to the obscure nature of drought onset communities are often unable to prepare for and plan well enough for droughts because of the lack of warning and slow impacts.
The need to address this issue was realized and through funding provided by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Humanitarian Partnerships Division (HPD) through the Climate and Oceans Support Program in the Pacific Phase 2 (COSPPac2), in country trainings were conducted in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea Tuvalu and Samoa to develop national Early Action Rainfall (EAR) Watches.
An Early Action Rainfall Watch workshop was held in Funafuti, Tuvalu. The first 3 days was attended by the Tuvalu Meteorological Services staff who received drought monitoring and seasonal prediction training. This was followed by a National Climate Outlook Forum and Stakeholder Consultation Workshop. This workshop was facilitated by representatives from the Australia Bureau of Meteorology, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Fiji Meteorological Service and the Pacific Community (SPC).
Through consultations an Early Action Rainfall Watch bulletin was developed and finalised for use.
What is an Early Action Rainfall Watch?
An Early Action Rainfall Watch is a monthly issued seasonal rainfall monitoring and prediction bulletin. It serves to prompt government and non-government agencies working in disaster management (e.g. Red Cross) to act to reduce the impact of drier or wetter than normal conditions on Tuvalu communities. Through this workshop, an Early Action Rainfall (EAR) Watch bulletin was developed in consultation with the Tuvalu Meteorological Services and its stakeholders.
One key component of this workshop was understanding and linking time periods to impacts. Drought affects aspects of the natural environment at different times. As the atoll soils of Tuvalu have low moisture holding capability it takes less than month for shallow rooted crops to become water stressed. Breadfruit a staple food in Tuvalu comes from a large tree which has deep roots. It can therefore cope with longer periods of low rainfall. Drought therefore needs to be monitored at multiple timescales to account for the range of time aspects of the natural environment are affected.
In addition to the obvious impacts to agriculture and water supplies, drought can also have socio-economic impacts. During periods of drought, community disputes increase in Funafuti and as the impact of drought becomes more severe, desperation results in an increase in crime. During extreme drought, visitor arrivals are restricted and community gatherings, school and government offices are closed.
The Tuvalu EAR Watch includes agricultural and hydrological impacts that have been associated with meteorological drought at 1-, 2-, 3- and 6-month periods. Also presented are social, economic and health impacts. The impacts that are listed help stakeholders to understand what aspects of water supply, agriculture, health and socio-economy may be significantly affected when a location is in drought for a 1-, 2-, 3- or 6-month period of time. This could help to inform their preparedness and response activities.
Tuvalu Meteorological Services Director Tauala Katea said, “This will be an additional piece of information with more details in terms of timescales and a better understanding of the impacts and people would understand the bigger picture. Compared to our 3 monthly seasonal outlook, this will be very useful for our stakeholders down to a community level. Feedback received from stakeholders is that they find this useful especially with the inclusion of agriculture and health and they realise that more information can be extracted from the EAR watch itself.”
The learning process:
Understanding drought, seasonal outlooks or even disaster preparedness and planning can be difficult especially if non-technical people are in one room. Utilising games as a fun learning tool has been effective in helping participants at such workshops to understand technical concepts such as how to use probabilistic information for disaster planning.
Paying for Predictions is game that allows participants the opportunity to learn about the value – and limitations – of using probabilistic seasonal rainfall forecasts to aid preparedness for drought. Integration of games into the workshop was aided by the Tuvalu Red Cross Society and Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.
In addition, being able to learn from others experience is a great learning process. Fiji Meteorological Services Senior Climate Officer Bipendra Prakash was part of the Tuvalu workshop to share his experiences and assist to facilitate this workshop.
A similar EAR Watch workshop was held previously in Fiji with positive outcomes and the development of an EAR Watch Bulletin.
“Having Fiji Meteorological Services Senior Climate Officer Bipendra Prakash is good because we can compare with Fiji. It is a bit different for us since we rely on rain, so it is good to hear him share how they came up with those indicators and timescales. It gives us a better picture but in a different angle,” said Tuvalu Meteorological Services Director Tauala Katea.
Bipendra Prakash, Senior Climate officer from Fiji Meteorological Services shared his experience of being part of this workshop. “I was in Tuvalu to assist the Tuvalu Meteorological Services develop an Early Action Rainfall Watch bulletin. We have done this in Fiji a couple of months back and this was a huge success. Basically I am sharing the knowledge that we have acquired in Fiji with the development of the EAR Watch. But at the same time I am learning a lot from Tuvalu’s experience and it has unique challenges due to its size and geographical location. Some of the Islands in Fiji have some similar setting.
COSPPac2, with the support of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, is currently working with the National Meteorological Services (NMS) in Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Samoa and now Tuvalu to develop and implement a National Early Action Rainfall (EAR) Watch bulletin in each country for use in disaster preparedness activities.
The design of the Tuvalu EAR Watch is based upon a Regional EAR Watch developed by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Australian Bureau of Meteorology and produced by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme for the Red Cross in the Pacific.
Since 2012, the Australian-funded Climate and Oceans Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac) has worked to build the capacity of Pacific Island Meteorological Services and other relevant agencies to understand and apply climate, ocean and sea level information for the benefit of island governments and communities.
COSPPac is managed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in partnership with SPC, Geoscience Australia, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), and is a key component of the Australian Government’s support to Pacific Island countries in adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate variability and change.
For more information:
Evlyn Mani, Capacity Development & Communications Officer, Pacific Community (SPC),
Olivia Warrick, Senior Pacific Climate Adviser, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre,
Simon McGree, acting Team lead CliDE and Seasonal Prediction, s