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Kofi Annan’s remarks at the launch of the Global Humanitarian ‘Weather Information for All’ initiative

Geneva, Switzerland

“By bringing together the expertise and resources of different public and private actors, this project may help to save lives and improve the livelihoods of communities in Africa living on the frontlines of climate change.”

Thank you, Walter.

Thank you all for joining us today for the launch of the Weather Information for All Initiative.

I’m delighted to be joined by

Mr Carl-Henric Svanverg, President and CEO of Ericsson

Mr Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization

Lord Simon Cairns, Chairman of Zain Africa

Ms Margareta Wahlstrom, [Assistant Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction]

They are looking forward to taking your questions but first I want to set the scene about the importance of this pioneering initiative from the GHF.

The main goal of the GHF is to spread and deepen understanding of the human impact of climate change – and to help find and put in place solutions to lessen this damage.

It is to take climate change, if you like, away from the abstract and focus on the very real and disastrous effects on the lives of many millions of people.

WIFA, announced by the GHF at its first Annual Meeting, is exactly the kind of practical intervention we are determined to support.

The initiative brings together the technical expertise and resources of private and public bodies to help people adapt to the effects of climate change on their everyday lives.

There is no doubt that the challenge is both serious and urgent.

Climate change is not a threat in the future. For millions, it is a fact of life now.

And it is an all encompassing threat. To health, to security, to livelihoods, to the very fabric of societies.

It is turning productive land into desert. Exposing communities to floods and violent storms. Forcing many thousands of people to leave their homes.

And it is the poorest, as always, who are worst affected.

We need to act now to help them adapt to climate change.  

WIFA is designed to help improve protection and enable rural communities better to adapt the change taking place.

For climate change is already altering traditional weather and rainfall patterns and subtly altering the seasons.

For many of us here, these differences will have little real effect on our lives.  

But, for rural farmers and fishermen, the changes to the weather are already having a major impact.

Knowing, for instance, when to plant and when to harvest is the basis for success in agriculture.

In Africa and many parts of the world, it was knowledge, based on an understanding of weather conditions, passed on through the generations.

But the speed and scale of change is making this traditional knowledge much less accurate than in the past.

Dry spells occur when there used to be rain; there are floods when it used to be dry.  

These changes are reducing agricultural production.

Extreme weather pattern is becoming more frequent.  

To adapt better to climate change, rural communities need up-to-date and accurate information about their weather and climate.

These problems are particularly acute in Africa , where an estimated 70% of the population is dependent on agriculture.

It is also the continent, the evidence suggests, which will be hit hardest by the impact of climate change.

Yet, according to the World Meteorological Organization, Africa badly lacks the facilities to effectively monitor ground-level weather data.

As a first important step, we urgently need to scale up both the quantity and quality of information about weather patterns in Africa.

This will enable farmers to make informed decisions in planning the seeding and harvesting of crops.

It will also enable accurate warnings to be given about extreme and violent weather conditions – important if you live in low-lying areas or fish in Lake Victoria.  

There is another important reason for tracking more accurately weather patterns and climate.

The World Health Organization has identified 14 climate-sensitive communicable diseases, including malaria, cholera and dengue fever.  

The WHO believes climate change could increase exposure to malaria alone by 16-28%.

Access to accurate weather information will allow health agencies, governments and communities to plan better for increases in threats and epidemic.

For these reasons the Forum, with its partners, has made Africa the home of the first phase of the WIFA

WIFA has developed innovative Automatic Weather Stations for Africa.

These stations transmit raw weather data to national meteorological services, which can turn it into forecast and early warnings to be sent via SMS to farmers and other end users.

The raw data will also be made freely available to scientists, researchers and civil society.

Phase I of this initiative has seen the installation of 19 Automatic Weather Stations in the Lake Victoria Region.  These will triple the area’s weather monitoring capacity.

Phase II of the initiative, to begin later this year, will extend the initiative into the East Africa Community, with the deployment of further stations into Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and later we hope into Rwanda and Burundi.

This important initiative would not be possible without the involvement of the telecommunication companies Ericsson and Zain.

Their wireless network sites around Lake Victoria house the weather stations.

 In addition, Zain is providing bandwidth to send raw data from the stations and to disseminate forecasts and early warnings to end users.

And Ericsson is working to develop mobile applications for the dissemination of weather information.

The involvement of Zain and Ericsson is a great example of how businesses can contribute to development projects.

It is very much in the spirit of the Global Humanitarian Forum, which aims to bring together actors from all sectors to find solutions to this most urgent of humanitarian challenges.

I would also like to draw attention to the contributions of the World Meteorological Organization and the Earth Institute, and to thank two important donors, the MacArthur Foundation and the City of Geneva.

Climate change is the biggest threat humanity faces. It is already making life more difficult for millions of people.

Both the number affected and the scale of these problems will only increase over time.

As well as urgent, radical, and co-ordinated global action to reduce emissions – which must be agreed at Copenhagen – we need to act now to help people adapt to the climate change already underway.

Today’s initiative is exactly the kind of the project which will deliver practical and lasting help on the ground.