Freetown (Sierra Leone) – Accurate and timely weather information is taken for granted in much of the world, but it is almost entirely absent in Sierra Leone as much of the country's meteorological infrastructure was lost during the decade-long civil war.
Without an accurate weather forecast, farmers must guess when to plant and harvest their crops, communities receive no warnings of extreme weather events and understanding the impacts of climate change on Sierra Leone is made very difficult.
Recognizing that an effective meteorological service will have multiple benefits for Sierra Leone, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is supporting efforts to restore the country's weather and climate services.
In conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNEP is funding and overseeing a project which involves training for staff at the Sierra Leone Meteorological Department and installing six automatic weather stations in different parts of the country.
The project will re-establish basic infrastructure and maintenance procedures for both real time weather forecasting and climate applications, thereby reducing the population's exposure to weather and climate hazards and increasing their resilience to future changes in climate.
Experts from the United Kingdom Meteorological Office visited Sierra Leone late last month to assess the sites identified for the weather stations (at Njala, Kenema, Lungi, Fourah Bay College, Kabala) and for installing the central database systems (at Lungi and Freetown).
Meetings were also held with the Ministries of Transport and Agriculture, the Food and Agricultural Organization, and the Civil Aviation and Airport Authorities on coordinating the installation of the weather stations and maximising the cooperation between UNEP, UNDP and the UK and Sierra Leone Meteorological offices.
The project is enabling staff from Sierra Leone's national meteorological office to plan and develop their skills and experience in partnership with their counterparts from the UK.
A team from the UK Meteorological office will return to Sierra Leone in early 2012 to complete the installation of the weather stations and train five national staff as weather technicians and five staff as forecasters.
The project is part of the United Nations' "Joint Vision for Sierra Leone" which has a programme focused on "Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding", funded by the multidonor trust fund and led by UNEP in collaboration with UNDP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).