Ethiopia Reacts to ENACTS: How Climate Services Were Received in Lucy’s Birthplace

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

Me, standing in front of the Ethiopian NMA before my presentation and meeting, July 2015.

Me, standing in front of the Ethiopian NMA before my presentation and meeting, July 2015.

By Aisha Muhammad

Although the epic discovery of the 3.18 million-year-old Lucy should be enough to pique anyone’s interest in Ethiopia, my affections were rooted in the country’s diverse topography and climatology. Not only is Ethiopia considered to be part of both the Sahel and Greater Horn of Africa due to its impressive collection of lowlands, highlands, rifts, valleys and deserts, but its climate spans more than 60 percent the Köppen-Geiger Climate Classification scale, ranging from dry and arid in the east to tropical and monsoonal in the west.

So when my manager, Madeleine Thomson at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), asked me to participate in a climate and health project with visitors from the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) using ENACTS products and tools, I immediately said ‘YES!’

Admittedly, I had no idea what ENACTS was, how it was related to Ethiopia or how climate was related to health. That was in December 2014. But I quickly learned about it and by July 2015, I found myself riddled with vaccines and leading meetings in Ethiopia on how ENACTS and climate services could aid in decision-making and strategies for malaria elimination.

In spite of my anxiety to perform and represent IRI well, I felt prepared. In fact, I felt good, and I was ready to disrupt the Ethiopian malaria community with ENACTS and our climate services. Earlier in March of the same year, we had composed a technical report. Exploring the relationship ENACTS climatology products to malaria epidemics in 12 districts, we found that temperature anomalies were more readily associated with epidemics when compared to rainfall anomalies.

Although this discovery was not earth shattering, it was the first time in which ENACTS products had been used to substantiate climate’s effects on malaria transmission. In May 2015, I took our research and preliminary results to a climate and health conference in Barcelona, and received positive feedback and constructive criticism. In June 2015 and from this research, my team at the IRI was awarded an Earth Clinic grant to respond to a climate services request from the Ethiopian Ministry of Health (MoH) for malaria elimination strategy in 50 districts, which is how I ended up in Ethiopia last month.

At the meeting, I anticipated questions and comments outside of my limited knowledge. I was armed with the classic but helpful answer of, “I am not entirely sure, but I will get back to you shortly.” Overall, I thought that there would be a positive and receptive consensus. I did not expect the mixed grab bag of  reactions that the ENACTS program generated from the various Ethiopian stakeholders.

What is ENACTS Ethiopia?

Of course you might be wondering what exactly ENACTS is. It’s initiative piloted in Ethiopia in 2008 by the Ethiopian national meteorological agency (NMA) and IRI that aims to simultaneously improve the availability, access and use of climate data by national decision-makers.

Examples of ENACTS Maproom tools driven by climate data from Ethiopia. Credit: IRI Data Library

Examples of ENACTS Maproom tools driven by climate data from Ethiopia. Credit: IRI Data Library

Data availability is improved by combining data from the national observation network with satellite and reanalysis products. In order to enhance the access to information products, online tools are provided to national stakeholders and the research community for data analysis and visualization. The use of climate information is facilitated through sustained engagements with stakeholders and co-production of information products.

Since its inception, the ENACTS work in Ethiopia has generated over 30 years (1983-present) of rainfall data and over 50 years (1961-2012) of temperature data for every 4 km grid and nearly every district across the country.

How ENACTS is integrating climate into malaria prevention…

Numerous publications attest to the extreme sensitivity of malaria to climate in Ethiopia. The majority of large-scale epidemics in the past were associated with climatic variables such as temperature and rainfall. That’s why monitoring climatic variables is considered a key element to strengthening malaria control and elimination.

Recently, the MoH prioritized malaria elimination as part of its five-year strategic plan. Malaria elimination follows a decentralized approach where interventions are adapted on a local level. The MoH has requested specific climate information support from IRI for 50 districts so each can tailor their malaria plan.

Building a practical partnership between the MoH and the weather service is central to developing this process. My ENACTS outreach journey in Ethiopia began with the MoH, followed by the African Climate Policy Center, the EPHI and finally a stop by the weather service.

How did the Ministry of Health (MoH) react to ENACTS?

With all smiles. Given that the MoH had specifically requested climate services from IRI, their representatives were very engaged and ready to provide any assistance necessary. They seemed very pleased with the ENACTS climate tools and products that were available on the district level and were impressed that the IRI and EPHI had dedicated the time to perform analysis for past malaria epidemics. To them, this further substantiated their request. They seemed excited that younger students and scientists were taking on the task of malaria elimination in Africa.

…. African Climate Policy Center (ACPC) ….?

With operational concern. I had not the slightest idea that the ACPC had financially supported the implementation of ENACTS Ethiopia. Though they praised its success, ACPC now wanted a regional focus of ENACTS. From IRI’s perspective and experience, there were many political roadblocks and logistical nightmares that prevented such collaboration and multi-country partnership. However, the ACPC viewed country-specific ENACTS as counterproductive, inefficient and costly.

… Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI)…?

With optimism. Having visited IRI and co-authored the technical report I worked on, the EPHI was fully invested in using ENACTS for malaria elimination strategies. I was even invited to their retreat in the lake district of Bishoftu to present our work. They are currently working in conjunction with the MoH to establish 25 of the 50 malaria elimination sites within the next three months. The EPHI also believes that ENACTS climate tools will be helpful in elimination strategies for other infectious diseases endemic to Ethiopia.

… National Meteorology Agency (NMA)…?

With determination to become more involved. Although the IRI and other non-Ethiopian entities have helped to launch ENACTS Ethiopia, if able and willing, climate services should ultimately be supplied by the country of origin. The NMA was very determined in making climate analysis for malaria elimination their organizational priority. They also explained their intentions to dedicate staff to collaborate with the MoH and hold ENACTS training workshops for the public health and academic communities.

After Thoughts

Prior to this trip, I had very little experience in campaigning for climate services. With much naiveté, I traveled to Ethiopia believing that ENACTS could the change the malaria game. Although I had learned about general climate perception in class, I had never seen it in the real world nor had I ever stopped to think that the perception of climate services was something entirely different from how we talk about it in my office and class. Yet, I still believe that the project has the potential to act as a trailblazer for improving the uptake of climate information across all climate-sensitive sectors in Ethiopia and in other ENACTS implementing countries. I only hope that IRI will allow me to stick around long enough to see this come to fruition.

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