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Strengthening Meteorological and Climate Anticipation at MSF

This project aims to strengthen MSF’s ability to anticipate extreme weather events and improve our medical and humanitarian response for vulnerable populations.

Tell us about the problem you are trying to solve.

Extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, heatwaves, and tropical cyclones, regularly top the list of global threats faced by populations that MSF assists.

With climate change expected to increase the likelihood and intensity of these weather events, the direct impact on vulnerable populations is expected to worsen. These events may also induce secondary crises including disease epidemics, mass displacement, and food insecurity.

Although MSF already responds in the aftermath of extreme weather events, there is an opportunity to improve our operational approach in terms of timeliness, assessing the humanitarian needs, and defining our working space.


What is your solution? What motivates you to work on addressing this problem?

The main organizational gap is a lack of anticipation within MSF for these types of weather events. Our goal is to improve MSF’s anticipation capacity by reinforcing the “weather intelligence” of existing MSF structures. This includes emergency preparedness and country briefings (Operations), anticipatory cell support (Operations through emergency teams), and anticipatory impact mapping (Operations, Geographic Information Systems Unit, and the MSF Reaction Assessment Collaboration Hub).  


What have you done so far and what results have you achieved?

Since launching the project last November, we are better understanding how internally we use weather and climate information to inform operations and externally what tools other humanitarian actors use to anticipate extreme weather events. We have also provided direct assistance to teams on the ground – examples include providing a cyclone forecast in Mozambique, a flood forecast in Madagascar, and a forecast on the evolution of locust swarms in South Sudan.


How has your project pivoted to support MSF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

We have been tracking new research on the connection between meteorological indicators and COVID-19 transmission rates. This has been very well received by MSF Epicentre and we are continuing to collaborate on this front.


What challenges have you faced? What lessons have you learned? What is next?

It has certainly been a challenge for an early-stage project like ours to establish strong connections with Operations right now. Understandably, in this context, our operational teams have very limited bandwidth left to engage on this matter. On the other hand, in an increasingly hazardous world, anticipation becomes essential. 

While the initial focus of this project is on anticipating extreme weather events, we realized early on how important it is for MSF to have a systematic understanding of how weather and climate affects the populations we assist but also to understand the secondary impacts of such events such as internal migration, displacement, disease epidemics, etc. as this is often where MSF intervenes as a medical and humanitarian organization. 

Going forward, we are looking at creating seasonal emergency calendars, a catalogue of user-friendly anticipatory tools and more, which will be made available on your favourite MSF social networks.


What have staff said about the project?

There is a strong interest for meteorological and climate anticipation within MSF. For this to succeed, it needs to be deeply embedded within operations and strongly connected to other internal units and projects like the GIS Unit, MSF REACH, and Epicentre among others. So far, we have had very interesting ongoing discussions with these colleagues and the need for this information is very much shared.

We’ve also had great feedback when providing forecasting information to MSF operations:

“Thank you for the information! We will be vigilant on the road. According to your forecasts, the east coast is going to be badly affected, and for us it would only be heavy rain… We’ll get closer to the east side…to see if there’s any damage. Thank you.” – Emergency Log & Supply Manager (in response to a flood forecast in Madagascar)

“Thanks a lot for your answer…with floods and cholera, we do not need a cyclone now!!! We keep in touch!” – Head of Mission, Mozambique (in response to a tropical cyclone forecast in Mozambique)


Are there any interesting partners that you are collaborating with?

The field of anticipatory humanitarian actors is incredibly rich for external collaboration as it is a meeting ground for space agencies (NASA, European Space Agency, etc.), which engage in earth observations and modelling; the United Nations (World Food Programme and Food and Agricultural Organization); and other humanitarian actors (START Network, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, etc.). We are currently in discussions with these external actors, but any formal collaborations have yet to been defined given the project’s early stage. 


What is the expected long-term impact of the project? How will this project improve MSF’s lifesaving work?

In the long run, we hope this project will help MSF significantly reduce the time (days) needed to assess and intervene in the aftermath of an extreme weather event.

In addition, we expect that this project will help MSF to better evaluate the needs so we can allocate corresponding resources; better understand the humanitarian working space prior to launching an intervention through discussions with external actors; and build up our institutional intelligence of the connections between extreme weather events and their multiple impacts on vulnerable populations. We can help MSF to better anticipate and respond to extreme weather events effectively and efficiently.