Participants at the Early Warning Systems Workshop.

Promoting Early Warning Systems Awareness in a Changing Climate

The uMngeni Resilience Project (URP) recently held a planning workshop co-hosted by UKZN in which researchers as well as local government and civil society bodies involved in the project’s early warning systems (EWS) component collaborated on developing a comprehensive plan of action for building EWS awareness and response capabilities.

The workshop was hosted by the uMgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM) at the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ Provincial Disaster Management Centre (PDMC) in Pietermaritzburg in partnership with UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) and the South African Weather Service (SAWS).

The UMDM faces high climate change risks and the URP aims to reduce vulnerability faced by communities and small-scale farmers in the municipality’s area.

Represented at the workshop were SAWS; Umgeni WaterAgricultural Research Council’s Institute for Soil, Climate and Water (ARC-ISCW); UKZN-SAEES; the Central University of Technology; Richmond Fire Protection Association; Yazi Centre for Science and Society in Africa; and the KwaZulu-Natal PDMC. Members collaborated and shared ideas on the different EWS, approaches to communicating warnings/alerts to farmers, community members and officials, as well as moving forward towards developing a multi-environmental EWS to centralise communication.

‘The URP has a strong focus towards developing capacity for staff within the municipality to be able to deal with the issue of climate change and put in place relevant policies and other methods to support the communities in the district,’ said Ms Lungi Ndlovu, URP Project Manager at UMDM.

Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, Technical Co-ordinator of the URP early warning systems component, said the aim of the workshop was to get project partners to feed their work into the project, and for them to work together with the URP to develop a strategy to communicate with communities and plan for capacity development.

The URP has successfully created formal partnerships with numerous organisations to develop a multi-hazard EWS, disseminate this and encourage uptake. Collaborations also involve identifying gaps, capturing indigenous knowledge from farmers to feed into the EWS and inviting agencies to maximise on synergies rather than duplicating their efforts. Participants also discussed a monitoring and evaluation plan for the awareness and capacity building campaigns.

Professor Sue Walker of the ARC-ISCW delivered a keynote presentation on the topic of disseminating climate information to farmers, citing the lessons she has learned. She highlighted the need to ‘feed the people despite the weather’, covering how information is disseminated and diffused, how technology is adopted and how technology transfer is achieved through various approaches.

‘I believe we can make a difference if we work as advisers, extension officers, scientists and farmers together and take that agricultural information and add it to our routine weather reports and forecasts,’ said Walker.

Presenters included Dr Alistair Clulow and Ms Maqsooda Mohamed from SAEES, who spoke on the automatic weather station and early warning lightning detection system set up at Swayimane, near Pietermaritzburg.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod