Hailstones kill 42 in Shinyanga ahead of World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

Large hailstones, destructive winds and rain battered Kahama village, Shinyanga Province in Tanzania on March 3, 2015, killing 42 people and leaving over 90 injured. Hundreds of houses were destroyed leaving families without shelter and food.  Many people sought refuge at a local primary school.  The government sent aid to the storm hit area.

New climate analyses have indicated that global warming is likely to cause a robust increase in the conditions that produce these types of storms.  The only way to reduce the frequency of such thunderstorms is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the scientists say.

Residents of Kahama holding the huge blocks of hailstones

Residents of Kahama holding the huge blocks of hailstones (Courtesy Photo)

Senior Meteorological Officer at the East African Community Secretariat, Mr. John Mungai, clarifies on this: “Early warning systems is one of the adaptation tools that can be used to address issues of drought, floods and hailstorms,” he said.

He says that all Partner States Meteorological Services are already producing forecasts that range from daily to three days, 10 days, monthly and seasonal scale predictions. The challenge now, he says, is communicating these products down to the village level.

However, the EAC countries are not yet equipped to forecast fast forming occurrences in the range of 1-3 hours.  “We need what is known as nowcasting, predictions for the range of 0 – 6hrs,” Mungai said.

The thunderstorm caused extensive damage to homes and property

The thunderstorm caused extensive damage to homes and property (Courtesy Photo)

He adds that as long as decision makers appreciate the linkages between weather, climate, sustainable development and food security, the Secretariat should be able to attract the kind of funding from Governments and Development Partners required to upgrade weather/climate systems in East Africa.

“EAC and Partner States are striving to have these systems and institutions in place and hopefully in future we should be able to predict these things in a timely and accurate manner and warn people well ahead of time.”

EAC Secretariat officials will be among the nearly 8,000 representatives from governments, civil society, donor agencies and development organizations converging in Sendai, Japan, this weekend to adopt a new framework to guide stakeholders on how to reduce disaster risks, such as this one of Kahama.

“Managing disaster early warnings is both a science and an art. When done well, it literally saves lives — but only if the word quickly reaches all those at risk, and they know how to react,” says Mr. Nalaka Gunawardene, a science writer who has covered disasters for over 20 years. He says early warnings work best when adequate technological capability is combined with streamlined decision-making, multiple dissemination systems and well-prepared communities.

“Rapid onset disasters — such as tsunamis and flash floods — allow only a tight window from detection to impact, typically 15 to 90 minutes. Other hazards, such as cyclones and floods, may occur within a few hours or days of detection.” The UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will take place from 14-18 March, 2015.

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