METEOROLOGY DAY: UNMA GOES ONLINE
In March 23, 2015, the Uganda National Meteorology Authority (UNMA) joined the rest of the world to mark the World Meteorological Day with celebrations that took place at the Directorate of Water Resources Management complex.
These celebrations attracted stake holders in the Water, Environment, Climate and Weather fields. Several UNMA donors and project partners like GIZ (German Cooperation) the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Weather Information Management for East Africa Using Suitable ICTs (WIMEAICT) attended.
The guest of honour, the State Minister for Water and Environment, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu presided over the function which included, among other things, the commissioning of UNMA’s new offices, the launch of a new digitised weather studio and unveiling the much anticipated UNMA website (www.unma. go.ug). Digitally speaking, UNMA has come a long way.
According to John Eza, a supervisor at National Meteorology Centre (NMC) who has worked in this department since 2005, the best is yet to come. When we sought his views on the extent to which ICT is being used in weather forecasts and dissemination, he was open about things not being so rosy in the past but positive that they are on their way to improving. “Five years ago, we did not have as much IT in our operations as we have today.
Every passing quarter or year, we see that the involvement of ICT is invaluable in our work, right from observation of weather up to when this information is released for public service systems,” he says. Eza maintains that initially, since they were a department (DoM) under the Ministry of Water and Environment, they had budgetary constraints and so could not do much to better the situation.
However, with the current transformation to a semi autonomous entity, UNMA hopes to attract a number of development partners thus envisioning an acquisition of some high level digital equipment they need to upgrade to a modern weather centre. “We are also working with regional centres to come up with systems that are uniform throughout the country, right from training institutions to the broadcast office,” he says.
Uganda has been favoured by nature and so does not have extreme weather conditions that are life threatening like it is in the northern and southern hemispheres. It is perhaps because of this that the Government of Uganda did not consider weather important enough to fund and streamline it so that it can be included in the social economic development of the nation.
If it was not for world meteorological bodies, this department may probably have been scrapped off mostly because they didn’t understand its importance. However, with the severe climatic changes globally, Uganda cannot afford to stay primitive. It is time to change. Our tour to NMC was quite eye-opening.Evidence of old furniture, one or two computers lingering on a desk or two, and a general state of resignation greeted us.
Most of the meteorology assistants and meteorologists we talked to gave us the same story of how things have been and they ray of hope that has come with the transition of DoM to UNMA. For instance, many people who watch the UBC weather forecast may not appreciate what it takes to produce them. “Originally, somebody would go to the weather studio, read and present the weather data which would be recorded on a tape.
That tape would be taken to UBC physically; everyday, using the department’s staff bus that would be dropping off workers who would be on day shift and UBC would play the tape,” says Isaac Mugume, a meteorology PhD student being sponsored by WIMEA-ICT.
When we visited, we were happy to note that there has since been an upgrade in the system. With the commissioning of the new studio, trips to UBC are a thing of the past.
When the weather data is collected from automatic and manual weather stations, at about 3:00pm, it is downloaded on computers in the studio using the Internet. It is analysed, mixed by a graphics person and recorded.
The forecast recording is done by 4:00pm, packaged (on computer) and sent via email to UBC using the Dropbox system, an internet based file hosting service that facilitates easy sharing of files. That is a step in the right ICT direction and we commend UNMA for the strides they have made so far.
We now know change has come. Betty Nagira, a weather forecast producer and presenter at the National Meteorology Centre (NMC) pointed out that althoughstrides have been made to introduce ICT in their work, a lot more needs to be done.
“There are two people in this studio, the one who mixes the graphics and the presenter. However, compared to international standards, ours is way below par. It is very small. We need bigger space, more personnel and equipment,” she says. She further says, “We are the National Meteorology Centre.
Ideally, there should be several smaller, well equipped mobile weather stations between here (Entebbe) and Kampala to feed us with data. But there is none. Most of the weather stations still have old manual equipment. Therefore, by the time data comes to us, there are many irregularities,” she says. She believes that now that UNMA is an authority; it will regulate the flow of weather information to the public.
Some radio and TV stations simply go to the internet and pick information which they do not understand. They erroneously announce it to the public, “predicting” how hot or cold the day will be. That is not acceptable.
UNMA ON FACEBOOK/ TWITTER
Since 2009, GIZ has supported the Department of Meteorology (now UNMA) in weather forecasting, climate modelling,expansion of Station Networks, field vehicles for data collection, station monitoring and the digitalization and rescue of climate data.
They have also provided computers and IT infrastructure for data processing and management. Indeed, quite a lot has been done by GIZ to ensure that meteorological data and information, especially in the agricultural sector are disseminated through various channels with intermediaries and end users having the ability to utilize the services. This project is driving UNMA in the right direction.
To this end, WIMEA acknowledges efforts made by GIZ to accelerate the corporate branding of UNMA through the development of the official UNMA website (www.unma. go.ug). It has also integrated UNMA on social media platforms (Facebook-UNMA weather) & twitter handle (UNMA@ meteoUganda).
STRENGTHENING CLIMATE INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEMS (SCIEWS) PROJECT
The United Nations Development Programme, under the Energy and Environment Unit has partnered with UNMA to undertake a project called Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems (SCIEWS). The main goal of the SCIEWS project is to improve the country’s capabilities to provide timely weather information and early warning systems to minimize the impact of climate related disasters.
The project has procured Automatic Weather Stations. In addition, NMC is being connected to initially six synoptic stations by May 2015. This will improve on data flow from the monitoring stations to the NMC.
Laurent-Mascar Ngoma, the Programme Manager says UNDP is interested in building UNMA’s capacity to run like a modern weather station. “We have procured several Automatic Weather Stations. As part of the capacity building, we have procured Weather balloons, thermometers, and set up 16 functional weather stations.
These weather stations have both manual and automatic equipment. It should be noted that the budget has been small, thus most of the equipment at stations has not been maintained and so is not operational,” she says. Ngoma says although they have an office in Entebbe that receives weather data and distributes it, they do not use computer software to analyse it.
They have a computer or two with the software but because they were not maintaining it, it stopped working. This therefore gives credence to the fact that although these projects have contracted registered considerable success, weather information management and dissemination is still in need of an ICT revolution.
With all these developments going on, WIMEA-ICT is proud to be one of the partners in this noble cause to set up modern weather information management systems. This will ensure timely and accurate dissemination of weather information to those who need it.