SMHI builds flood forecasting and alert system in West Africa

Every year, people are surprised by unexpected floods in West Africa. 2018, Nigeria is particularly affected by major flooding which has killed more than 100 people during September. The interest is therefore great for the operational flood forecasting and alert pilot system that SMHI is building together with partners in the region.

A project led by researchers from SMHI, with participants from 17 West African countries, creates an operational forecast and alert service for floods in West Africa. It will be run at the regional centre AGRHYMET, which is an expert institute in agriculture, hydrology and meteorology in the area. They will serve national hydrological agencies in 17 West African countries (e.g. the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency) with forecasts of high flows and floods. The national agencies will then evaluate and refine the forecasts, and distribute alerts to key stakeholders on national, regional and local levels.

"We try to establish an ambitious cooperation across the region with a cascade of users at different levels to share information and take responsibility for their part in the production chain that we are setting up," says Berit Arheimer, Head of the Hydrological Research Unit at SMHI.

Medium flooding in the Niger River
During the rainy season 2018, the water level increased in the Niger River, leading to many deaths in the area. An operational flood forecast and alert service would strengthen the ability to inform about these situations in the region.

Knowledge transfer

Many West African countries do not currently have their own flood forecasting system. SMHI, on the other hand, has extensive experience in building flood forecast and alert services in Sweden and Europe.

"We share our expertise in building technical systems with our West African partners, but it is also important that we learn from the expert hydrologists in the region so that we can adapt and develop our technologies to the regional conditions, including our hydrological model HYPE," says Jafet Andersson, researcher in hydrology at SMHI and coordinator of the project.

Participants at the workshop
Participants from 17 countries are in the process of creating an operational flood forecast and alert service for the West African region.

Long-term development in the region

SMHI has been working in the region since 2012 in several projects in close cooperation with the regional institute AGRHYMET. Together they developed a hydrological calculation model for the Niger River. Now the model will be extended to the region from Cape Verde to Chad. An important part of the project is to clarify user requirements, as well as to expand, supplement and improve the HYPE calculation model with hydrological measurements and satellite information for the entire area.

The hydrological forecast and alert system is developed in the FANFAR project funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, during three years (2018-2020). The project plan includes securing more long-term funding to continue establishing the management and use of the system after the project phase. The vision is that AGRHYMET, together with the national hydrological and meteorological institutes, will be able to run the forecast system themselves.