Minister Barbara Creecy: World Meteorological Day 2022

Programme Director, Mr Ishaam Abader;

Ms Feziwe Renqe – Board Chairperson of the South African Weather Service

Dr Mmaphaka Tau, Board Member of the South African Weather Service and Special guest speaker from the National Disaster Management Centre

Provincial Disaster Managers

Representatives from Academia

Members of the media

Management and staff of the South African Weather Service

Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today at the celebration of World Meteorological Day 2022. This event is held the world over by Members to the Convention on the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to commemorate the coming into force of the Convention 72 years ago, on 23 March 1950.

Each year, the WMO’s Executive Council chooses a relevant theme for the celebration of World Meteorological Day, with this year’s theme being “Early Warning and Early Action” – a theme that shines a spotlight on the importance of Hydrometeorological and Climate Information for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the past 50 years, worldwide more than 11 000 weather, climate and water-related disasters were reported. While the number of disasters increased five-fold, the number of deaths decreased almost three-fold since the 1970s. This is thanks to improved early warnings and disaster risk reduction strategies by countries.

All too often, severe weather hazards cause impacts on infrastructure, agriculture, transport, energy and health systems. As an example, recently tropical cyclone Batsirai, hit Madagascar in February 2022, causing violent winds and torrential rainfall, resulting in casualties and destruction, triggering coastal and inland flooding as well as land- and mudslides.

Closer to home, heavy rains led to flooding in Ladysmith and other inland parts of KwaZulu-Natal province earlier this year destroyed business and infrastructure and led to loss lives,

Heatwaves are often associated with drought, poor air quality and wildfires – which in turn can exacerbate the risk of flash flooding during any subsequent rains. While these multiple weather hazards can compromise our food security, they simultaneously also increase socio-economic costs, jeopardising sustainable development.

As we have heard today, the Sixth Assessment report of the Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that we are already seeing an increase in severe weather events such as heatwaves, heavy rain, droughts, tropical cyclones and their influence on human lives – and this trend, which contributes to climate change extremes, is expected to continue. We will see more drought, flooding, risk of veldfires and loss of human lives and livelihoods in future. It is furthermore estimated that by 2030, 50 per cent of the world’s population will live in coastal areas that are exposed to floods, storms and tsunamis – this type of urbanisation will increase the vulnerability of communities and further enhance the frequency of natural disasters impacting lives and livelihoods.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As weather, climate and water extremes have become more severe in many parts of the world, South Africa can attest to the number of weather-related disasters we have experienced, not just over the past season, but also over the past decade and more. Our earlier presentations today served to indicate how the South African Weather Service, in partnership and collaboration with other stakeholders has had to deal with several severe weather events and their impact.

While the international meteorological community strives to reach all citizens with early warnings, the truth is that a third of the world’s population is still not covered by early warning systems. It is said that only 40% of WMO Members have Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems and that large gaps exist in many countries regarding weather observations, which are essential in producing accurate early warnings locally and globally.

The international weather community, under the umbrella of WMO, advocates that greater coordination between national meteorological and hydrological services, disaster management authorities and development agencies is fundamental to improve prevention, preparedness and response. In this regard, South Africa is heeding this call, by making inroads in collaborating with stakeholders at a national, provincial and municipal disaster management level as well as with weather sensitive industries in the country, to continuously improve the prevention of weather-related disasters, create a prepared society and respond on time when disasters happen.

Ladies and gentlemen

Behind the message of destruction and damage today is a message of hope. Thanks to international and national collaboration, improved multi-hazard early warning systems have led to a significant reduction in mortality. Today we are better prepared and equipped to save lives – we are assisted by supercomputers and satellite technology, that have improved our forecasting ability tremendously. We are able to tailor services for specific purposes – building our expertise on research over decades. Even artificial intelligence is now complementing human ingenuity and this, along with national, regional and international coordination enables us to mobilise communities quicker to resist disasters. In addition, traditional media and social media assist us to reach an even wider audience than before, making people more aware and alert to heed impending weather disasters.

We have seen that the progress in climate science enables us to more accurately predict several months in advance, phenomena such as the recent La Niña that we have seen this summer. As explained by Dr Christien Engelbrecht, these forecasts inform decision-making in climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture, health (such as water-borne diseases, heat-related illnesses) and water management.

South Africa is joining the WMO community to improve the provision of user-friendly early warning services on air quality, ultraviolet radiation and environmental hazards. Furthermore, for us to address the challenges in South Africa, we need continue to collaborate on many levels, both nationally and internationally. We need to strengthen collaboration between meteorological services, the private sector, academia and users to ensure that forecasts are accurate, timely, accessible and valuable. The challenge of climate change and extreme weather is too big for any one country to tackle alone. People-centred, gender-sensitive, multi-hazard early warning systems are a highly effective way of strengthening adaptation and resilience and it is estimated that investments in these services can save lives and assets, worth at least ten times their cost.

Ladies and gentlemen

Partnerships are key – and impact-based forecasting, as promoted by the South African Weather Service, will continue to transform complex scientific information into actionable messages that enable humanitarian interventions which make a real difference on the ground.

South Africans need to be prepared and able to act at the right time and in the appropriate manner. In this way, many lives will be saved and livelihoods protected, especially amongst the most vulnerable communities. Ultimately, we will collectively contribute to a better life for all.

Thank you.

Source: Government of South Africa