Friday, January 30, 2009

Why climate scientists and aid workers don't talk

Megan Rowling in Reuters AlertNet: Last May, the Red Cross office for West and Central Africa decided it wasn't going to let the flood disaster of 2007 happen again. The floods had affected over 800,000 people when torrential rains pummelled the region, destroying crops and homes.

Red Cross partner, the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development, and other forecasters issued warnings for abnormally heavy rains during the 2008 wet season. Acting on their advice, the aid agency decided to issue an early appeal for funds to help countries prepare, including stocking up on relief supplies in major cities.

Yet such cases of collaboration remain relatively rare. At a recent seminar bringing climate scientists and aid workers together in London, organised by the Humanitarian Futures Programme, a research initiative based at King's College that helps aid agencies tackle major challenges to their work, participants agreed they didn't communicate enough.

… One major problem is that scientists tend to focus on how the climate will change in 20 to 100 years' time, whereas humanitarian workers want nearer-term forecasts for their planning - ranging from this week's weather to the next wet or dry season, and up to around five years ahead.

…Fortunately, according to Liverpool University's Morse, this mismatch of time horizons should be fixed in the next few years as more money is made available to fund shorter-term forecasting. But it's not just a matter of time. Another complaint from aid agencies is that forecasts aren't available on a small enough geographical scale to be useful in the field…..

Cyclone Nargis makes landfall, 2008, via NASA

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