FATHUM Summer Placements: Reflections on the value of international knowledge exchange

Written by Linda Speight (with input from Moses Tumusiime and Steven Chanda)

Over the summer we had a busy four weeks hosting five hydro-meteorologists from across Africa at the University of Reading to learn more about flood forecasting, forecast based financing and GloFAS. So before we move on to the next activity, now is a good time to reflect on the impact of the placements.

Placement visitors at EA Reading (photo credit: Hannah Cloke)

The placements were designed to support capacity building. The delegates were from national river and disaster management organisations who are being supported by the Red Cross Climate Centre to develop Forecast based financing (FbF) system for floods. Each country is taking a slightly different approach, as we found out through presentations and discussion during the placements, but the core components include the establishment of triggers based on weather forecast and in-depth risk analysis, automatic funds release and pre- defined early actions, all these within the framework of an Early Actions Protocol.

In practice the placements were much more than this and demonstrated an excellent framework for knowledge exchange and relationship building between everyone involved.

“The placement has been good we have benefited both socially, technically and academically. We had experience of interactions with people of different cultures and languages” Moses Tumusiime, Uganda National Meteorological Authority

“It’s been really interesting to think differently about approaches to flood forecasting. What would we do differently if we had to start again with limited data?” Stuart Hyslop, Environment Agency

Following the activities in the first week we visited the Environment Agency in Reading where Stuart Hyslop from the Environment Agency and Jenny Pope from the FFC gave an excellent overview of flood monitoring and forecasting in the UK, which was enjoyed by all.

Through the visit to “the Environmental Agency I came to understand how the flood forecast can be coupled with the impact and how the floods in entire region of England are being monitored and what early warning actions are implemented.” Steven Chanda, WARMA

Talking about flood monitoring at the Reading gauging station with Stuart Hyslop (EA)

We also talked about why we model floods and how to evaluate models and assess their suitability for operational need. Alongside thinking about what actions would be taken to prepare for floods and when and at what forecast probability. This prompted an interesting discussion about the different attitudes to risk in different countries and the differing appetite to be informed of potential floods at low probabilities.

Much of the final week though was spent with Andrea Ficchi and colleagues from ECMWF on developing expert user skills with GloFAS, and it was this aspect that the participants particularly engaged with.

“I came to Reading University in order to learn more about the framework of GloFAS model and how the data analysis can be done in a smartest way. With the completion of the training I would that I am now very much competent with GloFAS data analysis and understood the full operation of the model itself.” Steven Chanda, WARMA

Through analysis of the skill of GloFAS during recent events the participant’s final presentations demonstrated that the use of a large scale hydrological forecasting model such as GloFAS is not without challenges. Before GloFAS could be used to support FbF there is further work to be done on understanding the local hydrology, data quality and interactions with dams, abstraction points and deltas.

Douglas Mulangwa presenting on GloFas skill in Uganda

Everyone left already benefitting from the experience. For the African hydrometeorologists the immediate confidence and esteem boost from attending training in the UK was evident. Many joint plans were made for further analysis, research papers, MSc projects, PhD proposals and a follow up workshop. As well as benefitting the individuals and organisations, these activities also provide opportunity to ensure the research we do at Reading continues to benefit end users.

“Me as a person I have already started achieving from GLoFAS even before returning home …[We’ve benefited from] interaction with high level researchers who opened our eyes academically as now some of us are looking miles ahead than when we came to Reading.” Moses Tumusiime, Uganda National Meteorological Authority

Luckily it wasn’t all late nights and coding though, we also made time for social activities including a boat cruise on the River Thames to give everyone a chance to enjoy the recreational side of UK hydrology.

Boat trip on the Thames (photo credit: Rebecca Emerton)

Events like this take a lot of time to organise and run but the experience of learning from others with different cultures and experiences is invaluable especially when you have such an engaging and clever group of people working together for an extended period of time. So many thanks to everyone who made the placements such a great success!

 “The environment for learning was very conducive and I felt like home, all the organizing team were very helpful and patient with all of us even though we had very limited time. I would say thank you to all of you guys for this entire training.” Steven Chanda, WARMA 

Final certificates (photo credit: Siobhan Dolan)

Final certificates

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