Climate information services vital for sustainable planning

Guest Column: Peter Makwanya

UP-TO-DATE and regular climate information services are vital to citizens in many aspects. Farmers, tourists, travellers, businesses, sportspersons, fishermen, vulnerable groups and general citizens require context specific information on the weather and climate so that they are able to manage climate risks, sustainable planning and adaptation purposes. Weather forecasting has been practised for centuries and surprisingly, we thought we knew much. This comes as a result of how weather reporting and forecasting has been taken for granted for quite a long time, particularly here in Zimbabwe. The weather experts sometimes just report in passing while the audiences do not normally give it the attention it deserves. As such, these are challenges of communication having gone wrong somehow.

Stakeholders and beneficiaries of climate information services need to enhance their understanding of the weather phenomena. Weather experts are required to communicate climate information services appropriately and the same applies to the various media institutions and personnel. This is paramount because a wide cross-section of the communities requires these services every day so that they can make decisions on how best to go about their itineraries.

Stakeholders in the climate services discourse community have reciprocal roles to play. ln this regard, farmers, as one of the most important stakeholders, first, also rely strongly on how the media communicates climate information services. If the weather experts miss the point or fumble, in their forecasting procedures, then that mistake has dire consequences as it is carried over to the journalists who will go on to transmit wrong information to stakeholders. This will obviously become a cycle and a series of misinformation and miscommunication, contributing to a dreadful lack of service to the important stakeholders. Climate information services should serve a purpose and communities should invest their faith and trust in them.

That stakeholders or recipients of information services require accurate and context specific data is not to be compromised. It is a given and a milestone in its own right. Sometimes, attention is normally directed to farmers, but travellers also require weather details that are not misleading. .

What binds the providers of climate information services and the consumers of these services, is their overall articulation and comprehension of basic discourses of climate change and weather. The language of meteorology is heavily embedded in science and is somewhat deceiving. While scientific issues are not supposed to be an issue, it’s how to situate them appropriately which is a challenge. Phrases such as, ”cold at first-mild to hot later”, ”north-easterly air-breeze”, ”fire-hazard index”, ”light showers, drizzle-heavy downpours”, ”sunny or cold spells”, ”overcast, partly-cloudy or cloudy”, ”fog” or ”mist”, ”upper-twenties or lower-twenties”, while they are not certain and non-committal, they are also difficult to quantify or measure. Therefore, stakeholders can only assume, imagine or succeed in doing nothing. In this regard, they are problematic to comprehend unless they become localised and contextualised.

The other bone of contention is how many of the stakeholders can differentiate between a weather forecast and report. Sometimes weather experts do forecasting when they are supposed to be reporting or vice-versa. If such procedures can sometimes escape experts, then what about the uninitiated. Stakeholders are used to getting weather reports and forecasts at the same time and they cannot streamline. That is why we also have these forecasts in vernacular although vernacular presentations have challenges of failure to have equivalents in English or scientific terms. Besides the linguistic, communicative incompetences and gaps, local people have adopted and adapted, hence they have their own traditional and historical means of forecasting.

When beneficiaries of climate information services, watch or listen to climate information services, they would be hoping that their specific needs are catered for. These beneficiaries always assume that both the weather experts and journalists already know what they want.

The information received would be required to be understood and put into use. In this regard, a lot of faith and trust has been invested in these two communities of practice. It is also not that weather experts and media institutions don’t take the climate information services seriously, but it all depends with their sources of data.

Where are they taking this vital information from or how advanced is the machine or equipment they are using for data gathering? Furthermore, from whose lenses or perspectives are they using in reporting?

Some weather stations and institutions don’t even have super computers which are very vital in weather forecasting, information storage in large volumes, data processing and analysis. These weather stations continue to do business in the absence of these state-of-the-art gadgets, thereby risking giving outdated or substandard information to stakeholders. Although super computers are very proficient and powerful tools in weather collection and forecasting, local communities have also relied on the power of their indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) ever since and they have worked. But nowadays because of complex weather and climate phenomena, and gaps in IKS, these forms of IKS need to be integrated into modern technologies so that these processes are versatile and sufficiently empowering.

Media institutions and weather experts should not betray the trust of their stakeholders by reporting inaccurately and inconsistently. That is why most of the local farmers rely on local climate outlooks as information services because these scientific services are full of uncertainties and events usually don’t unfold as has been forecasted. Localised climate information services appeal to communities’ local knowledge, world views and heritages. Local climate information services are contextualised, people-centred and user-friendly and they resonate well with the communities. Stakeholders use these local climate information services in order to manage climate risks, decide, adopt and adapt.

In this regard, local farmers need to utilise these information services fully in order to realise resilience, food security and environmental sustainability. This will also help in value-addition and problem-solving.

A very dangerous weakness that weather experts and journalists do is to appear ignoring vulnerable communities in this discourse. Vulnerable communities also require climate information services and their knowledge of resilience also need to be harnessed. These communities are normally located in the remote, isolated peripheries and disaster prone areas, so they also require this discourse specific information and they are also important stakeholders too.

There are also a number of beliefs, misleading theories and perceptions that vulnerable groups don’t have decisions or they might not be stakeholders, which is quite unfortunate and a bad precedence too.

Finally, all stakeholders in the provision and receiving of climate services information need to reach out to one another, revisit areas of concern, conscientise and sufficiently empower each other, with their beneficiaries in mind.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: petrovmoyt@gmail.com

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