As the Nigerian Meteorological Agency marks its 20th anniversary, one notes that its growth was in tandem with the escalating climatic challenges of the nation. Over the past two decades, Nigeria has had its fair share of extreme weather events: floods, rainstorms, heat waves, and droughts have crept into our space and stuck to our body polity like a leech. Hence, NiMet may not have the luxury of time to celebrate, but just a moment to reflect on which next step to take in tackling emerging climate emergencies. As the country’s sole authority on weather forecasting, all eyes are on the agency to build our climate resilience.
With the impacts of climate change getting more intense, the odds are stacking up for the NiMet. Beyond its flagship offering, the seasonal climate prediction, through which the agency has propped up the country’s food security, citizens now expect more real-time information concerning impending extreme weather events. It is also expected to become more active in the marine sector, as it has done in aviation with marked reduction in air mishaps. With this, not only will the nation benefit from improved safety in our maritime ecosystem, but we shall gain forex from international operators in our waters.
Meanwhile, there is an interesting parallel between the evolution of the United Kingdom’s meteorological services authority, known as the Met Office, and Nigeria’s met office, NiMet. The UK Met Office was founded at a time marine transport was central to global development, while NiMet was set up when aviation aced in the atmosphere. Accordingly, while the Met Office introduced the meteorological technology that saved UK’s marine sector; NiMet installed the instrument that guaranteed safer flights in the country.
The Met Office, founded by Vice-Admiral Robert Fitzroy in 1854, was for the purpose of learning more about marine climatology to improve the safety of life and property at sea. When the Royal Charter sank in October 1859, Fitzroy argued for a supply of coastal observations. These observations were used for a new storm warning service, which began in early 1861. Now known as the shipping forecast, it is thought to be the longest running national forecasting service in the world.
Fast forward to the 21st century, Nigeria. In reaction to wind shear phenomenon, the NiMet installed Low Level Wind Shear Alert systems in Nigerian airports to avert air crashes caused by abrupt winds. Wind shear is one of the most hazardous weather incidents to aircraft, which occurs when the speed and/or direction of the wind changes abruptly. The LLWAS is a ground-based system used to detect wind shear and associated weather phenomena, such as microbursts close to an airport, especially along the runway corridors. This information can then be passed, in real-time, to warn pilots and aerodrome personnel.
Wind shear, which is particularly dangerous during take-off and landing when the aircraft is at low altitude, is prevalent in every part of Nigeria and could cause havoc at airports if there was nothing to alert pilots about it. Reports from the Accident Investigation Bureau had revealed that some of the unfortunate air crashes in Nigeria are linked to wind shear. Some of such air disasters are the Kano airport crash of June 24, 1956 (32 fatalities); the Sosoliso aircraft crash at Port Harcourt airport of December 10, 2005 and the ADC aircraft crash at Abuja airport, with 96 fatalities.
Suffice it to say that from May 21, 2003, Nigeria Meteorological Agency came into existence by an Act of the National Assembly (NiMet [Establishment] ACT 2003), and became effective on June 19, 2003, following Presidential assent, the services of the agency have carried the superstructure of the nation’s critical weather-dependent services, with various stakeholders, and as many others who are indirectly affected by its services and activities. Today, more than ever before, its responsibility to observe, collect, collate, process and disseminate weather related data and information within and outside the country has become a centripetal force in the nation’s socio-economic life.
And again, with the visible impacts of climate change becoming a cross-cutting issue in virtually all sectors, NiMet has become the climate action anchor. For instance, the annual Seasonal Climate Prediction highlights vital weather-related information that affects socio-economic activities in the air, land and water transportation; agriculture, water resources, disaster management, mitigation, tourism, health, sports among others.
There is a patriotic slant to this anniversary. Because of the type of technology-driven services it provides and the peculiar challenges in the sub-region, it has also evolved to become a business venture of sort; modelling, mentoring and enhancing service delivery to neighbouring countries, and being competitive in the market space, thereby strengthening and sustaining national visibility and loyalty for Nigeria in the comity of nations. On the same hand, dwindling government resources and the need to evolve a commercial realignment in a tense economy have made it a standard-bearer in the public service sector.
As the NiMet Director General and Chief Operating Officer, Prof. Mansur Matazu once said, “We are required to be innovative in thinking, as well as devising collaborative efforts or strategic alliances to sustain corporate relevance at the lowest possible cost.”
Actually, understanding NiMet’s world-class status is a no-brainer. The services it renders are not just for Nigerians but for the benefit of everybody anywhere in the world. When foreign airlines are coming into the country’s airspace, they rely on NiMet for navigation. Accordingly, it needs to keep the services top-notch so that whenever they go up, or they enter Nigeria’s territorial airspace, they get the best type of information that any meteorological agency can give anywhere in the world.
Nevertheless, as the agency enters its third decade of national service, I am of the view that it should begin to play a more central role in early warning systems. This would be in line with the United Nations-led global thrust towards what is now known as “Early Warnings for All” initiative. According to the UN, within the next five years, everyone on earth should be protected by early warning systems against increasingly extreme weather and climate change. So, NiMet should lead in the development of the “Nigeria Action Plan” for Early Warnings for All initiative.
The UN and the World Meteorological Organisation proclaim that with human-induced climate change leading to more extreme weather conditions, the need for early warning systems is more crucial than ever. These systems are not a luxury but a cost-effective tool that saves lives, reduces economic losses, and provides a nearly tenfold return on investment. According to the Global Commission on Adaptation, giving just 24 hours’ notice of an impending hazardous event can reduce damage by 30 percent. Investing just $$800m in such systems in developing countries would prevent losses of $3 to $16bn annually.
The Early Warnings for All initiative is built around four key pillars: Disaster risk knowledge and management; detection, observation, monitoring, analysis, and forecasting; warning dissemination and communication; preparedness and response capabilities.
The NiMet should leverage its relationships with other agencies, research institutions, schools and local authorities to create the synergies required to activate these pillars in our clime. One of such synergies is the one it just secured by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Rescue Committee, a global player that operates in 40 countries, helping people affected by humanitarian crises to survive, recover and rebuild their lives. In practical terms, while NiMet focuses on providing early warning systems within Nigeria, IRC operates globally, implementing impactful programmes centered around adaptation, emergency response and resilience-building.