The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Representative for North, Central and West Africa, Dr. Bernard Edward Gomez, in this interview with our Editor, in his Nigeria, Abuja Office, has said that he does not foresee weather extreme or climate vulnerabilities letting off its hold in the continent and in several parts of the world in 2022 and beyond.
The no hold pulsating encounter and interview granted EXTRAORDINAIRE News, perhaps is the first granted a Nigerian journalist since he assumed duty in Nigeria. The interview was conducted at the onset of weather vulnerabilities in the last quarter of 2021
QTN: Kindly introduce yourself sir:
ANS: First and foremost, I want to say that your presence here today is apt and of great relevance for us moving forward and therefore, it is highly appreciated, because we need journalist like you to pass timely and accurate information to the public and stakeholders as they need to know the weather and climate characteristics as its impact the environment bearing in mind the overarching importance on national development and poverty alleviation.
My name is Bernard Edward Gomez, the WMO Representative resident in Nigeria, which covers and foresee weather and climate activities in 27 countries: Five in the North Africa, fifteen in West Africa and seven in Central Africa.
The main responsibilities of the office are to support all of these members to develop their capacities and capabilities to be able to provide weather, water and climate services to their stakeholders. As you know especially in this part of this world where we depend on the bounty of natural resources of which weather and climate play a major role, we need to understand the distribution pattern of these resources which is extremely very important.
Because, in a way they are resources and in another way they are also hazards because too much water is hazard and too little is also hazard while also too much temperature or too little can be hazardous. So, we have these 2 extremes that we have to manage. We can hardly stop them from happening, what we can do is to observe, monitor and predict when they are likely to happen.
QTN: How long have been in Nigeria?
ANS: I started from Gambia, as a Meteorological Observer, climbing the rank until I became the Head of the Met Service in 2006. I left Gambia in 2014 to come over to join WMO in Nigeria.
QTN: Are there major differences in the climate pattern in West Africa?
ANS: The equator plays a major role in the climate pattern around us, the closer you are to the equator, the longer the rainy season will be, for example and the further away you are the less activities, like less rainfall but also you are more likely to be exposed to other hazards like dust, sandstones and heat-wave etc etc.
The interesting thing is that Nigeria has almost all the climate patterns in West Africa from being close to the equator, then semi-arid then to the most arid condition in the North. But of course, you don’t compare the climate in Niger Republic for instance to that of Nigeria. Those are the rear Sahel climate very dry and hot and dusty and for the South it is a bit more temperate, wetter and longer growing season.
QTN: What are the distinct areas of interface and collaboration between WMO and the 27 countries that you oversee?
ANS: For WMO to do their work, they first of all need to set standard so that these countries can work in a collaborative framework and for us to do our work in meteorology, we need strong collaboration between members. In fact, in the United Nations (UN), it is a common saying that WMO is the agency of cooperation by excellence because without cooperation we cannot do our work. So collaboration and cooperation among member and WMO remains our watchword.
For instance, take a look at the weather activities in Nigeria: Nigeria has no say on it because Nigeria does not have stations outside the country so you need stations that surround the country to share their data with so that you know what is going to happen next to Nigeria.
The first thing that we do is that we set standard for countries in terms of equipment, the way they layout their stations and secondly the training of personnel which we are also involved in. We assist in determining their curriculum in terms of what they should do to certain level and then we also go into recognizing the school and monitoring the schools that provide these trainings. We evaluate them so see that they are giving out the right level of training. By the way Nigeria has 2 schools recognize by WMO. Our experts on training and education come out every 4 years to assess the competence of these schools weather to continue providing training as set according to WMO standard.
The truth is that people here in Nigeria are very hardworking unlike other countries and of course Nigeria has a lot of intellectuals and manpower. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) and its stakeholders are doing perfectly very well. I must commend the Director General, Prof. Bako Matazu for his hard work. From the setting of the stations and standardization for training, we also provide scholarships, particularly for the less developed countries so that their personnel can receive training in the right places and at the right level that is very important because most governments especially in the West African region do not consider training of meteorologists and hydrologists as topmost priority.
In addition to that WMO goes further to look for projects to support countries and we do this through our regular budget to support these developing countries for training both in long and short term. Some countries especially in West Africa are not doing well, but the good thing is that Nigeria is doing extremely well in that area. As I always tell them charity begins at home and of course countries like Kenya and Ghana are doing well too. Nigeria, Ghana, Cote D’voire and even the Gambia, South Africa Tanzania are doing well.
However, one major obstacle in the region is the unpredictable instability, whether it is terrorism or political instability and ordinarily some of these countries are not very rich. With instability, the amount of resources available for development of weather climate issues are pushed to the background and are reduced and so these countries may not be able to fund environmental challenges.
For example, the core of WMO budget depends on contributions from member countries and if they do not come as at when due, then we have less to spend.
On the challenge of downscaling of meteorological services to the rural areas, let me give you two case studies: In 2015 when there was Ebola outbreak in West Africa, one of the things that WMO did in collaboration with NiMet and United Kingdom (UK) Met office was to support Sierre-Lone with the daily weather forecast which they use to sensitize the health team that move around to collect corpses and sick people to the hospitals and this was extremely useful because with constant forecast they know what to do next.
Here in Nigeria, NiMet is doing a lot but they are a bit limited or restricted by the fact that the National Framework for the Application of Climate Service (NFACS) one of the key programmes that they should implement they are not doing it because the Federal Government is yet to adopt the bill.
Without the passage of this Bill, it becomes a challenge for NiMet to reach-out to the grassroot because what the framework does which is different from what they are doing now is the fact that the framework has something that we call a user community interface, whereby NiMet forecast will sit with the user community to determine what they need.
At the moment it is NiMet forecasters that are trying to determine. In the implementation of the framework, users are supposed to sit with NiMet and tell them this what we need and don’t need. At this point the user-community is given tailored made audience and not just a one size fits all for the entire country.
For instance, operators in laundry business need to know weather activities beyond the annual rainfall prediction, they need to know when is it going to rain, is it going to be in the morning or afternoon because they want to know how to programme their operations economically and more efficiently for development purposes.
Not until the user-community sits with NiMet, because there are two issues here NiMet has the information, do they have the medium to go out there downscale it in the different communities tailored made to meet their needs and to serve the community better with the information at their disposal.
However, two sectors though that are currently benefitting a lot from NiMet tailor made information: The airline through the pilots obtain their flights information through data from NiMet and fishermen, most of the West African fishermen get their advisory from NiMet whether to go to sea or not.
The other user sector is agriculture sector, I’m however not sure whether they are very detail to the grassroot like the issue of downscaling their services that you raised and I’m not really sure whether they get the information that they need to plan on daily basis.
I know for instance that one of the challenges is that users of NiMet’s products and services do not seem interested in putting money into this thing because they want these services to come free of charge.
QTN: What are the likely trend of weather/climate vulnerabilities beyond 2021 ?
ANS: On climate change looking grimmer by the day and future for Africa or West Africa and implication, the future of climate change for the whole of Africa is grim, why? We depend on the rainfall because if there is enough rainfall there is enough food and vice versa, in this part of the we do not have the infrastructure, for instance, look at what happened recently in U.S and Germany with all their development and infrastructure, the amount of destruction that followed the weather vulnerabilities. At this point, the picture looks grimmer because extreme events in our surrounding are becoming more common. For instance, starting from the Bight of Benin for the first time this year in Gambia, experienced some catastrophic weather phenomena.
On what we should do? Especially in West Africa, we need to increase our capability to be able to predict these phenomena, and secondly, we need to start looking at extreme impact of weather and climate events in buildings, agriculture, transportation etc etc and try putting in adaptation to mitigate these occurrences that may come in years ahead.
QTN: Are West African governments (ECOWAS) taking this very seriously
ANS: I will not say or no because as you know some of these countries are not very strong economically. Nigeria is the power house of West Africa and I’m glad that NiMet is doing in this regard, doing what is expected of them like provision of tailored made services and products for several sectors in the country.
But it is unfortunate that a lot of countries in the region are not investing enough toward increasing their capabilities in early warning signals. The Centralized Meteorological centre, in Senegal that monitors extreme weather event and e-forecast in good time to be able to control is a commendable initiative.
Also, it worth mentioning that the ECOWAS Commission recently finalized a programme to develop weather and climate service in the region which we believe that if it is funded it will go a long way to ensure that all the countries in the region have some minimum capacity to provide early warning services.
QTN: What is the level of synergy that exist between West African Met bodies?
ANS: like, I said, we that cooperation between these countries. Most times storms come from the East and if a storm is coming into Nigerian forecasters may see from satellite but to know the characteristics of that storm, they need information from the originating country (Cameroun) and it is that weather stations that facilitate communications between these 2 countries. One barrier especially in West Africa is the language between countries.
QTN: On UK Met and other international assistance to West Africa?
ANS: It is that that UK Met has done a lot to assist and support countries in Africa with capacity development and infrastructure, the other supportive nation for example is Meteor France, the U.S National Service and what must be understood is those hurricanes in the US usually emanates from Africa.
There was a time the hurricane emanated from Cape Verde and when the storm left the continent it was still relatively not strong and by the time it landed US it became turbulent. And because there was no observatory station in Cape Verde, they did not know until the U.S Meteo centre picked it and informed them. That is how we collaborate in this area. We call these observatory centres in developed world global producing centres where they receive data from all over the world and also make productions.
Again, I want to commend NiMet for their high level of capacity, highly trained people PhD and MSC holders. The only challenge that they may have in their foray into marine services is the cost of equipment because deploying observatory station at sea/marine technology is many times expensive than on land.
QTN: How can met services be better sustained in African?
ANS: UK Met gets support from their government but they also provide services that come with cost, they also recover cost from the aviation sector. Most of these advanced countries also do similar things. The aviation sector gives back to them so that they can improve their services in the sector. In this case the participation of the private sector is extremely and very important. WMO has recognized that and they have even created a directorate on PPP this was done 4 years ago in Geneva.
QTN: How do you coordinate the 27 member countries from Abuja?
ANS: This has become relatively especially with the advent of ICT and digitalization of interaction in daily lives. We connect through phone and zooms technology.
QTN: What is the impact of lack of reliable data in met services in Africa?
ANS: The data of losses from Africa from weather and climate is not here with me. However, reporting and generating economic data on losses and damages is a major problem in Africa, suffice to say that meteorological services do not generate data on disasters. They rely on other agencies like NEMA and other agencies as those data are somehow beyond the mandate of met services. We recently sent some questionnaire to Gambia on the recent weather and climate disasters there, we are still waiting for the result.
QTN: The implications of weather and climate vulnerabilities on food security?
ANS: As they say think global but act locally because that is what affects you. This is grim for West Africa simply because we need depend on climate resources for food production. If the distribution of rainfall is not good of course our crops will suffer they will not yield as expected. And when yields are not good, we are not food-secured. And as I keep telling people all the time food security is part of national security. Our people, especially in West Africa, need food on daily basis and if they don’t have food to eat then there will be food in the country.
QTN: How much has WMO given to support NiMet and others?
ANS: One challenge that we may have in WMO, is the ability or even inability to quantify our support in terms of money. For instance, most of the overall support that we give to country members is to provide data around the clock so that they can do their forecasting and that data per annum is estimated at least $10 million for each country at least.
This is a question of how much data a country can use because there is so much data out there and it depends on the capacity of the country. We believe that at least $10 million worth of data is made available to each country annually. We also organized professional training and continuous training.
QTN: Challenges in the sector?
ANS: Most meteorological agencies across the West African region are not getting enough support from their governments because they only way that these agencies can be strong is that in addition to what is coming from their government, they should make money through the services and products that they render to the aviation sector. This is not the same situation with all the countries because the air traffic in Nigeria is much different from other countries.
For instance, in Gambia there is only one airport. The biggest constraint is maintaining the experts because many of the employees are mainly civil servants. The skill is very low and so you can train people and all that they do is to pack their load and go. The sector is very technology intensive like the marine forecast and operating a radar and where a country is lacking resources much cannot be done in dishing out good forecast. In some West African countries, you don’t even know there is a met agency because you don’t see human forecasters simply because they do have the resources to do so.
QTN: WMO’s budget challenge?
ANS: What we do mainly is a guide and advice on what to do and in all the met services we have a focal person there and most times what they need from is technical like a document that they are formulating they need our capacity. Where we are we always work with the met office and we encourage the met office to collaborate with the Universities just like what NiMet is doing presently. The link with universities is extremely important because of the research that do for the services. Nigeria is doing well in this regard because of that agency is an academic and so he maintains a robust relationship with the academia and this should be sustained. In most other countries having people with MSC is not easy like Mali, Niger, Chad etc etc Mauritania
QTN: On the bill for NFACS!
ANS: the Federal government should expedite action on passing of the bill. It is very important so that the services can get to the grassroot because they are ones who need the services most because they are the most vulnerable.
QTN: Message for Nigerian government and their counterparts?
ANS: One message that I want to send out is that the Nigerian Government should adopt and approve the bill for the establishment of NFACS. I think it is very important so meteorological services and products can get to the grassroot because they are the ones who need it most because they are the ones that are most vulnerable and for them too much or less of rainfall is extremely important for them to know in good time and they cannot afford to buy these services and they therefore depend on the government to get and support them these services
QTN: What is your projection on weather and climates beyond 2021?
ANS: Well, climate change is very much around because things are getting crazier so I will not foresee any let off in the number of extreme weather and climate events happening instead they may even increase I’m also a believer and I don’t want to say that prayer doesn’t work but again one thing with the weather is that when it turns nasty there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. Like I said all that we need to do is to develop our capacity to be able to predict and get the information out there to the general public so that they know what to do to save themselves and their properties.