UNMA’s ICT journey progressive, thanks to WIMEA-ICT
James B. Magezi – Akiiki is the Ag, Assistant Commissioner, Training and Research (Climate Change Specialist) at the Uganda National Meteorology Authority (UNMA). He is also the contact person for IPCC Focal Point for Uganda. A veteran meteorologist with a Masters in Meteorology, he has worked on previous projects at Makerere University and is also involved with the WIMEA-ICT ongoing project. As a trainer, researcher and policy maker, WIMEA-ICT was privileged to have his input in the revision of the Meteorology curriculum at Makerere University. He talked to REBECCA RUGYENDO and DOREEN NERIMA about UNMA’s ICT journey.
QUESTION: What has been the state of meteorology?
ANSWER: Before 1947, when the East African Community was still active, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania worked together as the East Africa Meteorological Department. When the community collapsed so did the relationship in the departments die. This resulted in the formation of the Department of Meteorology (former DoM) which has now become the Uganda National Meteorology Authority (UNMA).
Q: To what extent are the weather forecasts from UNMA accurate and credible for public consumption?
A: The accuracy of our weather forecasts has improved over the years. However, the challenge is that the public doesn’t know how to interpret the data we collect and disseminate. The data provided is usually 80% accurate so there is a possibility of a 20% failure. That the public expects 100% total accuracy is expecting too much. This is because of the poor network the unit currently has that limits the quality and accuracy of the data we collect. Staff training is going on in modelling better networks. Partnership with stakeholders is helping to improve and create awareness of weather information management and dissemination.
Q: Does UNMA have the sole and exclusive rights to weather data analysis, management and dissemination?
A: The Authority has developed an Act that states that for any information on local climate and weather to be accepted for public consumption, it has to be authorized by UNMA. This is intended to curb other sources that disseminate wrong weather information, especially on the Internet.
Q: How has ICT been embedded in the Meteorology unit?
A: Firstly, the introduction of Automatic Weather Stations has been such a great leap. The unit currently has over 40 automatic weather stations. Although some have developed mechanical problems pending repairs or replacement, those that function well use GPRS thus sending data directly to the server at UNMA. These stations don’t need personnel to read or manually record readings as it used to be in the near past. Visits to these stations are made for maintenance purposes. Secondly, we are proud to introduce the UNMA Website. Through the website, links are being created with stakeholders so that they can conveniently send and receive data without personally coming to UNMA offices to get information.
Q: To what extent will this WIMEA-ICT partnership involve current technical staff working at UNMA?
A: Most of our staff are ICT literate and have taken the initiative to train themselves in relevant computer programmes.
Q: Are Meteorology students at the training school in Entebbe being oriented in ICT systems or are they still being tutored in the old manual system?
A: The training school has a computer laboratory, which means our students are computer literate. The institute originally operated under the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which meant that it was managed by the Government of Uganda. However, now that we have become an Authority, we are in the process of taking over, as other ministries like Health and Agriculture did when they became autonomous by recovering their training schools from the Ministry of Education.
Q: What’s your take on the new Meteorology degree curriculum?
A: It is a good thing. In the past, there was no Meteorology Department at Makerere University so all those who wanted to study the subject had to go to Nairobi or Dar es Salaam, This made training to be a meteorologist quite expensive. This has resulted into a low manpower base. The advent of this curriculum will help increase and improve our manpower. UNMA is in partnership with the WIMEA-ICT to carry out digitalization of data and also train technical staff.
Q: How best can the Authority increase awareness in schools and the public and interest people to join, making it more attractive?
A: We have embarked on a sensitization programme in schools; especially secondary schools, to encourage them to take part in this field. We are also producing booklets that are updated yearly to inform the public on what is going on. Weather information is important for our wellbeing. In these times of acute climate change, we are trying to ensure that the ordinary citizen is fully aware of their climate so that they can plan their social-economic activities accordingly.
Q: How will UNMA ensure it moves at the same pace with ICT standards globally in its daily operations, especially where weather information management and dissemination is concerned?
A: It’s the Authority’s dream to move with this pace globally by embracing change as we move along.
Q: What are some of your major challenges?
A: Poor networks, under funding, under staffing and poor interpretation of weather information by the public. However, now that we are an Authority, things are looking up. The media has come on board. They come to us and ask about the meaning of weather data so that they can break it down to the people through their media houses. We have also partnered with an organisation that has taken the current weather/climate information and has translated it in various languages for the consumption of the local farmers in the villages who need it for farming purposes.
Q: As an Authority, what are some of your expectations and dreams this year?
A: To reduce on the bureaucracy in the organisation so that we can make independent decisions as an Authority. For instance the ability to run our own budget will improve efficiency and ensure timely delivery of weather services and products. Finally: I would like to appreciate Makerere University and the WIMEA-ICT project for such an enriching partnership. As an Authority, we look forward to the acquisition and set up of the Automatic Weather Stations the project will provide plus technical training and support they will accord UNMA staff in handling and managing these stations.