Monday, September 12, 2016

The Last Mile: Uganda Towards the Finish Line

Uganda President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, releases a weather balloon at UNMA Stall in Jinja. Before him in a black jacket is Dr. Robert K. Rutaagi.
UNMA is working hard at bridging the last mile with the help of the private sector and civil society.

By Dr. Robert K. Rutaagi, Chairperson of the UNMA Board

Since the CIRDA Team, led by Project Manager Bonizella Biagini, blew the whistle in Livingstone to launch the workshop The Last Mile, the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) has been sprinting towards the finish line. As we traveled to Livingstone, braving both distance and the clock, the  ride became more enjoyable, courtesy not only of the beautiful Zambian geography and climate but also to the rich subject matter being discussed. We were provided more time to deeply reflect upon the workshop agenda that was focused on identifying the means and messages needed to communicate climate information to vulnerable communities.

The trip to and from Livingstone and the debates that arose from the regional workshop allowed for my delegation to quickly formulate a package of nine recommendations to move Uganda towards the finish line in looking to bridge the Last Mile. These included:
  • Working for the distribution of hydro meteorological information through efficient and effective channels like schools, churches, Rotary Fraternities, Police and media (among others)
  • Simplifying the message by translating technical meteorological terminologies into simpler and better understandable language. 
  • Exploring opportunities for partnering with private sector companies such as Fit Uganda and others to disseminate weather and climate information.
  • Working towards unpacking weather data and tailoring it for different audiences depending on the needs and the devices used by end users.
  • Guide UNMA's Expatriate Technical Advisor to analyze all available raw materials/resources including Consultancy Reports, to develop practical and implementable follow up actions.
  • Arrange an urgent meeting between the UNMA and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Department of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Management to harmonize issues of intersecting mandates in the generation and dissemination of climate and weather information.
  • Invite CIRDA Experts to visit to both agencies (UNMA and OPM), evaluate the technical environment for early warning systems and review the design for automatic weather stations (AWS) that includes the option to host in school premises as well as to provide support in arranging a national workshop to bring together national stake holders involved in communicating climate and weather information. 
  • Bring the Climate Action Hackathon to Uganda through a Ugandan Hackathon Sattelite Group that will include brilliant, dynamic and highly self motivated ICT-survey youths from higher institutions of learning like Makerere University and its Business School, Uganda Technology and Management University, Kyambogo University, among others.
  • An increased focus on downscaled weather product dissemination to provide an important building block for the product development needed by the Country.
To begin to enact these strategies, UNMA and the UNDP/GEF/SCIEWS Project organized national stakeholders through a Forum that took place from 20-23 June, 2016 in Entebbe. The Stakeholder Forum had among its objectives to identify the opportunities for partnering with the private sector for the dissemination of weather and climate information as well as to visualize the potential for product development.
Participants to the Uganda Stakeholder Forum

The workshop was well attended by local, regional and international stakeholders from public, private, civil society, international development partners and NGOs. While time and space will not permit me to delve into greater details of all that transpired, I will endeavor to articulate the pertinent outputs and outcomes of the event that both prove testament to the hard work being developed by the UNMA as well as its vision in moving forward and reaching the Last Mile:
  • UNMA has become more accurate, with its accuracy levels rising from 50% (2014) to 80% (June 2016). This has been validated by both ACCRA and World Vision which has used the information with Ugandan farmers and has found it to be "commendable" (ACCRA UNMA & MWF: The Climate Forecast Model, 2016).
  • Based on the information generated and shared during the Forum, UNMA has or is en route to enter into several Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with significant stakeholders. These include the Uganda National Road Authority and the Uganda National Farmers Association. While entering into formal PPPs will require harmonization, refinement and expedition in terms of commercialization prospects, these issues are well noted and will be addressed. We have appreciated the work realized by the CIRDA Team through its own market study in bringing to light the various challenges that will be faced.
  • UNMA now has some local (FIT Uganda Ltd) and international (aWhere, HNI, etc.) partners ready to improve its dissemination of weather and climate information products through radio stations on mutually agreed upon terms, including pro bono (free) ones. All that is required is the training of the radio station staff in presentation techniques, good public relations and marketing. 
  • UNMA will urgently plan to conduct an in-depth study on the contribution of meteorological services on Uganda's GDP. Once completed, it will assist UNMA in mobilizing the much needed resources to develop the requisite infrastructure on her other operations as well as her corporate image. 
  • An SCIEWS Application Programming Interface (API) has emerged with an imminent capacity to "enable smoother PPPs, rapid end user application development and sustainable weather and climate solutions for Uganda" (ref. PPP Forum main report 20-23 June, 2016).
  • UNMA also took note of the urgent need to review its organizational structure, especially the need to create an independent Aeronautical Division/Dept to handle its strategic aeronautical services which have the highest potential to internally generate revenue for the Authority and augment the insufficient Government funding. 
  • The need to re-brand UNMA was a recurring topic and a basic output of the Forum. Much will depend on it being seen as an efficient and effective service delivery of meteorological services to end-users. 
All conversations, during the Last Mile from Livingstone to the PPP Forum in Entebbe seem to suggest that Uganda, as she approaches the finish line, is in fact becoming ever more conducive towards creating the PPP partnerships needed to communicate climate and weather information and do so in a manner that can become sustainable in the long term. As if to validate the above conclusion, soon after the PPP Forum UNMA was invited to participate in the annual Uganda National Farmers Agricultural Show in Jinja. UNMA's performance was excellent and its stall became the center of much attraction and had the distinction of being twice visited by Presider Yoweri Museveni. His enthusiasm in the event spurred him to personally launch and release UNMA's weather balloon and provide much attention to the relevant and exciting work being developed by UNMA.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Uganda Pioneers Lightning-Based Early Warning System

New Automatic Weather Stations Installed on Cell-Phone Towers Improve Storm Forecasts and Protect Lives
By Pascal Onegiu Okello
KAMPALA - Uganda’s weather reporting is destined to become one of the best in the East African region after the installation of a network of five all-in-one Total Solutions Automatic Weather Stations (TSAWS).
The five stations, which include a total lightning detection system, will provide improved weather reports, issue early warnings for fast-acting lightning storms, connect Uganda with regional monitoring systems and improve the country’s overall sustainability of investments in climate information services.
The TSAWSs, which were procured by the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) through the UNDP-supported Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Project, will work in concert with six already existing lightning sensors from the “Pilot Project on Severe Weather Now-casting Based on Lightning Detection in Lake Victoria Region.” This brings the total number of TSAWS sensors in Uganda to eleven.
The increased number of total lightning detection stations will now provide coverage for the Central, Eastern and Northern region of the country, and hopefully reduce the number of lightning fatalities in the country, which has been noted to have more lightning fatalities per year than anywhere else in the world.
Lightning strikes killed over 205 primary school children between 2012 and 2013. Apart from lightning, fast-acting storms and unpredicted high winds are also a cause of worry as some estimates show that around 5,000 people perish each year on Lake Victoria due to them.
The Total Solutions AWS will also integrate lightning data from neighboring networks in Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania, making for improved regional cooperation in early warning systems.
All this is part of the Government of Uganda’s efforts towards building early warning systems, with the support of UNDP’s Programme on Climate Information for Resilient Development in Africa (CIRDA) and funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF)’s Least Developed Countries Fund.
A Focus on Sustainability
In an effort to ensure that the stations are able to work well, UNMA has partnered with local telecommunications companies, which allowed them to install the TSAWSs on their towers in the five districts of Kaliro, Sironko, Napak, Kotido and Agago (Otuke).
This not only reduced installation costs but also ensures that the stations have a continuous supply of power and communication for monitoring them as well as security from vandalism.
In addition, Earth Networks, a private weather services provider that was procured to provide the equipment, also integrated this new-generation of weather-monitoring equipment into UNMA’s existing monitoring system.
They also trained seven UNMA technicians on how to install the stations so that they are not only able carry on this installation process but also monitor it for efficient use.
“During the first installation in Kaliro, as we completed the assembly of the sensor on the ground and prepared for the hoisting, we observed some rain clouds in the distance. Since we heard no thunder, we assumed it to be safe to send the rigger up to begin the installation. However, the Earth Networks project manager logged into the WeatherBug App and saw lightning activity within 3km of the site. He advised that we wait a few minutes before proceeding,” Georgie George, Alternative Technologies Specialist for the CIRDA Programme, said.
He added that using the App enabled them to make an informed decision that kept them safe from the heavy downpour and lightning.
Macintosh HD:Users:greg:Desktop:UNDP:PPP-Publication:Photos:Real-Time Thunderstorm Rainfall Intensity Estimates on Lake Victoria.png
Real-time thunderstorm rainfall intensity estimates as
visualized through the computing infrastructure of the
Pilot Project on Severe Weather Nowcasting Based
on Total Lightning Detection in Lake Victoria Region.
How the System Works
The early warning system installed in Uganda is based on networks of real-time, automatic weather stations installed on existing mobile telecommunication towers and equipped with total lightning sensors. Real-time communications are achieved through a GSM/3G/4G capable modem. This means weather reports will be shared with UNMA every minute, allowing for the creation of early alerts on fast-acting lightning storms.
Macintosh HD:Users:greg:Desktop:UNDP:PPP-Publication:Photos:Dangerous Thunderstorm Alert polygons on Lake Victoria.png
The technology generates polygons where
dangerous thunderstorms are active. These polygons can be used by
NHMS to issue early warnings to fisherman and
lake-side communities likely affected by these storms.
In-situ observation data is integrated into cloud-based data repositories as well as nowcasting and numerical weather prediction systems. This solution provides easy access for National Hydro-Meteorological Services (NHMS) such as UNMA to surface observation and forecast data for historical analysis, as well as real-time, current weather conditions and observations.
Displaying data in real time from Uganda’s five new AWS.
The network is already picking up intense
lightning activity in the northwest and
northeast regions of the country. This visualization is available
on the Earth Network tools
such as StreamerRT (PC Based) and the
Mobile application - WeatherBug.
If all the stations are operating with uninterrupted electrical power and internet communications, the pilot network around Lake Victoria provides a cloud-to-ground lightning detection efficiency of over 95 percent for the high resolution area.
It also provides intra-cloud detection efficiency of over 60 to 70 percent in the region, which enables key information on storm development and behavior to be detected in time. When working at maximum capacity, the system provides detailed total lightning data for storm cell identification and tracking in the region and serves as a tool for monitoring of storm intensity, position and movement. Lightning location accuracy is 200-300 meters within the region and less than 400 meters well beyond.
This information is then processed through cloud-computing infrastructure to create an integrated early warning solution. All the data points and layers are visually presented in a specialised display environment, which is utilized by the National Hydro-Meteorological Services (NHMS) to aid in the issuance of early warnings.

Next Steps
The new technology has introduced and aims to sustain total situational awareness across the region with real-time tracking and automated alerts of impending hazards. This means that timely and localized decisions on the issuance of early warnings can be made without having to install expensive, hard-to-maintain weather radar systems across the region.
The need for real-time data products and services requires that UNMA staff be trained to cope with the technological requirements for operation and maintenance, as well as the analysis and interpretation of data.
The new data sets, however, present an opportunity for developing new tailored weather information products for the emerging new markets, which in the long term will help to develop the economic potential and financial sustainability of UNMA.
In the long-term, the public-private partnership with Earth Networks has already delivered $500,000 in co-financing through the donation of assets, hardware and services by the company. When fully implemented this partnership has the potential to deliver an additional $1 million in shared revenue.

Learn More 

With financing from the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Country Countries Fund, and supported by UNDP and the Ministry of of Water and Environment, the Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems (SCIEWS) project in Uganda aims to support adaptation planning via an enhanced climate monitoring network and early warning systems. Securing, transferring and installing critical technologies, as well as developing and integrating the necessary systems for climate change-related information in decision-making processes, the project is working to increase the capacity of the national early warning network to forewarn and rapidly respond to extreme climate events.