Director-General/CEO of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), Prof. Mansur Bako Matazu, in this interview, speaks on the import of the United Nations-sponsored Systematic Observation Financing Facility (SOFF) through which the agency is providing meteorological services to neighbouring countries regarded as the weaker countries and how this has positioned Nigeria as a big player globally in meteorological and climate business. He speaks on other germane issues regarding NiMet’s.
NiMet is providing meteorological services to some countries like Liberia, Niger, Somalia, among others. Are you getting paid for these services?
There is what we call WMO/VCP (World Meteorological Organisation/Voluntary Country Partnership) which is called in ICAO as “No Country Left Behind.” So the weather is dynamic and it moves from one area to the other. Even if you have the capability and you don’t share that expertise with your neighbours, I don’t think you are helping.
As for Nigeria, if there is a problem in Niger with drought and flood, we have over a thousand kilometres of borders. All of them would move; that is number one. The reason why America and other countries are called superpowers is by providing some of these supports.
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So, for you to get relevance, and credibility and become big brother, you have to provide some support to the weaker community, and with that, we have achieved a lot as a country, we have been categorised as the best Met Service and they always refer to us if there is anything, and I gave example with the issue of fertiliser. So, anything you have to start small, and people will appreciate and value it.
We have started that VCP with WMO at no cost but if I tell you, the VCP meeting that we attend, Nigeria is the only black nation because you have the US, UK, Spain, and Netherlands, eight of them plus Nigeria because we want to show the world that we are not a beggar nation in all ramifications. Even in the science of weather and services, we are not waiting for any country.
We just had a meeting with the French government, we are going to do a programme with them and they were very happy with what they saw.
This provides credibility, trust, and relevance and with that, you would get noticed by the global community. And they suggested Nigeria will help these countries under this United Nations-financed Systematic Observation Financing Facility (SOFF). The essence of this SOFF is based on the UN Secretary General’s statement that in the next five years, all citizens in the world must have access to early warning. You have seen what happened in Libya. 10,000 people are unaccounted and more than 6000 people were confirmed dead in one incident. But it has been confirmed globally that if people get an early warning of any imminent weather hazard, they are bound to reduce casualties by more than 70 per cent. But if they get the information one week ahead, it will increase.
The way we give our seasonal climate prediction, almost six months in advance, is a very good lead time, and based on this, the UN gathered people, financing facilities, and all these development banks like the World Bank, have contributed money and it is through this money that they said, “Okay, bigger nations should help weaker ones.” That was how they identified Nigeria and we are assisting Niger, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, and also Somalia.
What are some of your activities in the health sector?
Health is very critical because it determines productivity and in the tropical region, most of the diseases are climate-induced. For instance, malaria is due to the humidity, temperature, and availability of vector-breeding sites being provided by either waterlog operation or vegetation. So we do have an analysis that we do, NDVI (Normalised Difference Vegetation Index/weather climate and during our seasonal climate prediction, we can predict the malaria incident including even the ability of the mosquito to bite because that ability depends on weather for the mosquito to breathe and even to bite. So with that, we have a permanent relationship with the Centre for Disease Control and the Federal Ministry of Health (Public Health Department).
Under our Applied Met Department, we have a Climate and Health Desk. Every month we provide them with information including how effective the performance of the drugs is because the drug performance/ efficacy is also influenced by weather. Meningitis, cholera, and measles are all climate-induced and with this, the agency was invited last time by the WHO to participate in a regional project to develop a framework on climate and health.
How far have you gone in installing the Low-Level Wind Shear Alert System across the nation’s airports?
Actually the LLWAS (Low Level Wind Shear Alert System) project started after the Sosoliso crash and it is a phenomenon that is very dicey and dynamic, something that happens within seconds and then it goes. Ab initio, we were not as an agency of government and also within the industry, able to track this but after that incident, it became open to us and we came up with a proposal for this LLWAS and today we have done it in 18 airports. Here comes the challenge; at times before you finish a project, you are already experiencing vandalisation.
In Port Harcourt, they cut the whole mast from the base. In Lagos, even within the airport perimeter, we recorded vandalisation but we were able to weather through the storm. One, we are working on alternative technology even though it is very expensive which we call Terminal Doppler Radar. We are also devising what we call north-central approach which helps us to study cloud physics over any area in the country. With cloud physics knowledge, you would know whether clouds could result in microbursts and it is from microbursts from an entire set of clouds that we could have wind shear. So we are using multiple approaches to the wind shear just as they are doing in the US.