We got a chance to speak with Boris Anato, Head of Forecasting at Meteo Benin to talk about the severe impacts of flooding and their struggle to access funding.
What is the history of meteorology in Benin?
Our meteorological service was creating during colonisation as a way to protect maritime services but after our independence in 1960, our meteorological service was part of ASECNA. The role of ASECNA is to improve meteorological services for areology. So aerological meteorology was improving but other types of meteorology were neglected. We didn’t have a lot of stations and the stations we did have were not made very well and the maintenance was poor. In 2004, the government of Benin decided to take their own direction to improve agro-meteorology and climatology, and the first director for meteorology was nominated in 2010. From then to 2015, they created the new agency for meteorology that gave us more opportunity to grow. With recommendations from the WMO, the Minister of Transport asked us to create a strategic plan to improve meteorological services.
Does creating an agency give you more independence and autonomy with your own plans?
Yes. When we became an agency, we had our own budget to carry out our plans to improve meteorology outside of civil aviation. We have big challenges as our budget is small but the government does what it can. We’re getting more stations with the assistance of the UNDP but we still have a lot of problems with forecasting across Africa as there are not enough stations, which I was in contact with you because there is a lack of radar coverage.
What are the main climate challenges in Benin?
We have wet and dry seasons. In the wet season we have big problems because we need to have accurate forecasts. We experience heavy rainfall, flooding and coastal erosion, and we need to be able to forecast this better.
In south Benin, we have the coast with the Atlantic and we have two wet seasons and two dry seasons. We don’t have the information that the population needs but the one thing we have, which is very helpful, is a seasonal forecast that we made together with our western African partners in ACMAD. This is very important for agriculture because they know how much rainfall there will be. It is very important for the final user but also decision-makers.
There has been a history of bad flooding in Benin. I know that in 2008 and 2010. Have you noticed a change?
Historically, 2010 was the most dangerous time but we have been doing more with organisations like the UNDP and the World Bank who are trying to help the country. It has not been as good as hoped because we need to develop not only for flooding but also strong winds, sea-levels rising, coastal erosion and others. So we have a big challenge to face these impacts.
How much do you collaborate with your neighbouring met services in Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria? For example, sharing data and information.
Our collaboration mostly comes through regional organisations like ACMAD and AGRHYMET. However, we don’t collaborate directly very often but I think that we could quite easily. For example, I was talking to the Director from Togo and we were talking about the possibility of future collaboration. Togo is a small country like Benin and our problems are very similar so we could have the same projects for stations and radar because the radar that covers Benin could cover Togo as well. I think that if we work together we can get a lot of things done and this would be very important to us.
What problems do you have with funding?
That is a big problem for all meteorological services and especially in Africa. In Europe, people understand the importance of meteorology but in Africa it is not such a high priority because we don’t have the funds to allocate to better services. Since we started the seasonal forecast, people are starting to understand the importance of the work we do now that they see how we can be more productive and grow if we understand our weather. It is a big challenge to find out how we can get the funds.
What are your thoughts on private banks investing in Africa? In contrast with organisations like the World Bank.
It is good but we in meteorology don’t have the power to go directly to get funding but maybe we just don’t know the way to do it. If we could learn how to do it we would be very happy. We need help as we know what the organisations are but not how to actually get the funds so that we can improve our services.
Where do you see the future of Meteo Benin and what are your priorities?
The future of Meteo Benin is planned to be a strong agency that is close to our end users. And focused on what the users need. This is our challenge. To be able to be able to do everything that our users need, for example to predict the beginning of rainfall seasons so that they will be able to plan ahead and be productive. The challenge is to be able to give people the information they need. Our problems is that we don't have a lot of technology and we don’t have our own model. We use the global model and we need to use our own model to educate the population on meteorological language so they can understand what we are trying to show them and to maintain our networks.
Are there any final thoughts you would like to share?
Yes I wanted to say that I think that creating more partnerships is a very good idea. I want people to show us how to do more, like get more funding and find better equipment so that we can grow.