African forecasting ‘held back by blocked access to historic climate data’

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Weather forecasting in Africa is reportedly being inhibited by governments wary of allowing access to historical weather data.

According to a report in Nature millions of written records of weather observations going back to the colonial era are languishing in storerooms throughout the continent.

International researchers are keen to digitize the historical climate data, which they say could be crucial in predicting the impact of climate change on the continent. However, African national governments are reluctant to give away data for free which they could potentially sell commercially.

The South African Weather Service (SAWS), for example, has turned down offers from the International Data Rescue (I-DARE) project to help digitize its historical climate data.

“If unrestricted access to the National Climatological Databank, of which SAWS is the custodian, is allowed, SAWS might not be able to deliver on its commercial mandate,” a spokesperson told Nature.

A similar motivation is holding back the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) in Niamey, Niger, which is currently sitting on an archive of two million surface observations from 48 African countries.

An exception to this is Botswana where the WMO and Germany’s weather service, Wetterdienst, have been providing training and equipment to help Botswana’s national weather service digitize and share its historical climate data. But without full-time staff to help the project has been slow-going with only 100,000 records out of an estimated two million processed since 2015 when the project began.

Ironically, the oldest data can be the easiest to access. Since many of these records were collected by European meteorologists who came to Africa during colonial times they are stored at institutions in Europe, such as the archives at the University of Cambridge in the UK, Nature reported.

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