National early warning systems in West Africa supported by stronger regional capacities CREWS Impact Feature, June 2020

The burgeoning region of West Africa is as diverse as it is vast. Similar in size and population to the United States of America, the region covers approximately 6.5 million square kilometres (2.5 million square miles) and is home to an estimated 325.5 million people in 17 countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.

Comprised of expanding cities and suburbs, dense forests, lush highlands, the southern sands of the Sahara, Africa's third-longest river the Niger, and hundreds of miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, the region experiences a wide range of severe weather events including floods, droughts, coastal and river storm surges, sand storms and even frost.

West Africa can be subdivided into five broad east-west belts that characterize the climate and the vegetation. These are the bioclimatic zones known as the Saharan, Sahelian, Sudanian, Guinean and Guineo-Congolian regions, shown in the map below.

a changing climate

As climate change continues to affect our planet, regions such as West Africa are expected to be significantly impacted.

Already, communities are experiencing hotter dry seasons causing more severe droughts, and wetter rainy seasons causing more severe floods. Agricultural zones are now shifting and and in some areas shrinking.

This is having, and will continue to have, a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods across West Africa due to damage to crops, homes and other buildings, as well as to transportation, energy, healthcare and education systems and services.

With advanced warnings, communities can plan, prepare and react when a disaster risk is imminent – building their resilience.

critical role of early warning systems to reduce loss of lives and livelihoods

Regionally coordinated community-based early warning systems were setup in West Africa as far back as 1973 to monitor food security caused by droughts. Agrometeorological services, have also been established, which have the potential to boost productivity and reduce crop losses.

Over the years, the number of countries benefiting has increased, while the food security monitoring has improved and now takes into account climate monitoring and predictions together with locust invasion risks, livelihood, food reserves and crop market prices.

While national early warning systems play a critical role in reducing economic loss and death or injury, building and maintaining the necessary technical and knowledge capacities to meet the wide array of disaster risks in these countries can be cost prohibitive at the national level, and in some cases unnecessarily duplicative. Most countries in West Africa are designated as a Least Developed Country (LDC), with limited financial and technical resources to manage disaster risks.

In response to these early warning system needs and capacities across the West Africa region, the Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative is now working with national and regional meteorological and hydrological organizations and agencies to expand early warning systems and services across the region.

Through the CREWS West Africa regional project, this harmonized framework for food security monitoring is being strengthened to enable more frequent updates based on sub-seasonal forecasting; and at the same time communities will also receive warnings for rapid-onset phenomena like sand and dust storms, heavy rainfall, other storms and flooding. A plan is under development to also provide coastal inundation warnings in the longer run.


The CREWS West Africa regional project works to strengthen engagement of regional entities with national hydrometeorological agencies, in order to improve risk information and early warning services at the national level in each country.

The project is led by experts with the World Meteorological Organization, which is an official CREWS Implementing Partner together with the World Bank / Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. World Bank / GFDRR experts are also supporting the CREWS West Africa project.

The project recognizes that, while provision of meteorological, hydrological, climate and early warning services is a national responsibility, a number of support functions can be best performed at a regional level, which can result in economies of scale and an enhanced quality of services.

The initiative supports all countries that form part of the Regional Climate Outlook Forum for Sudano-Sahelian Africa (known by its French acronym PRESASS), which is coordinated by the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development (ACMAD) in Niamey, Niger. In addition to countries in West Africa, it also covers neighbouring Central African Republic and Cameroon.

This regional level CREWS project also builds on national CREWS projects in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Togo.

Jean-Baptiste Migraine, CREWS Technical Coordinator, WMO

"West African communities often live in environments exposed to flooding to access more fertile lands, or to live closer to economic opportunities. Therefore, the development of national warning capacities for hazards such as sand and dust storms and flooding, to complement the existing capacities related to droughts and locusts, directly enables communities to access opportunities while managing the risk to lives and livelihoods through increased resilience to these risks."

Linking regional capacities to national needs

Two key specialized agencies in the region have been identified by the CREWS project for such regional-level roles that can support national agencies:

  • The Regional Centre of Agro-Hydro-Meteorology (AGRHYMET) in Niamey, Niger is a specialized institution of the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS). Its mission consists of conducting research in food security issues and controlling drought and desertification effects for a new ecological balance in the Sahel.
  • The Regional Specialised Meteorological Center (RSMC) in Dakar, Senegal is part of the National Agency for Civil Aviation and Meteorology (ANACIM) and provides severe weather forecasting and WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS) coordination.

Additionally, the CREWS West Africa regional project is strengthening the capacity of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) to provide crosscutting support to regional activities and flash flood guidance.

CREWS West Africa delivering impact

Since its establishment in August 2018, the CREWS West Africa regional project has already achieved a number of key milestones towards its goal of realizing "seamless operational forecast systems and technical assistance for capacity building" across the region.

Valuable technical partnerships have been facilitated and signed with The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, the German Meteorological Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst), the University of Reading in the UK, the International Research Institute for Climate & Society at the Earth Institute/Columbia University, and the US Hydrologic Research Center.

A Community of Practice has been set up for countries and regional institutions to ensure a harmonized approach to supporting warning services, for sharing ideas, good practices, technical specifications and terms of references.

Technical guidance has been provided to ECOWAS for the development of a West Africa Flood Management Strategy.

A project Steering Committee has been established, comprised of regional and national institutions, with two member meetings already held to advance the project.

Participants from 15 project countries have taken part in a Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project Training Workshop on numerical weather prediction interpretation and common alerting protocol use for warning dissemination.

A detailed work plan is now under development for strengthening the capacity of the Regional Specialised Meteorological Center in Dakar, Senegal to provide severe weather and flood forecasting guidance to NMHS across the region.

Weather and hydrological forecasters from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have been trained on flash flood forecasting.

Photos and videos courtesy of: Peter A. Harrison, DEZALB, USGS, UNICEF/Olivier Asselin, USGS, World Bank/Van Leggelo-Padilla, Cindy Trossaert, ACMAD, WMO, NASA, UNDRR, Bethany Laird, ooyooy.

Made possible through the generous support of these CREWS Members:

The Government of Canada also provides support for CREWS projects directly to WMO.

CREWS Implementing Partners:

CREWS also partners with and/or contributes to:

© 2020 Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems (CREWS)