Table 1: Key Achievements, Limitations and Lessons learnt from the Red Cross’ 2008 Early Warning-Early Action initiative in West Africa.

Obstacle typeAchievementsRemaining obstaclesRecommendations

(1) Institutional (gap between providers and users of climate information)Initiation of a dialogue between Red Cross-West Africa and regional climate providers (ACMAD, AGRHYMET); formal partnership established with ACMAD, securing inflow of reliable climate information (at the seasonal to short-term timescales)Insufficient capacity in humanitarian sector to provide scientists with meaningful feedback on how to tailor forecasts to humanitarian needs.
No packaging of provided information to the specific decision making needs of communities at risk
(i) Increased provision of feedback to scientists on provided information and continued exchanges.
(ii) Overcome the obstacles to community level access and use of climate information, through participatory processes bringing together providers of climate information with communities at risk

(2) Mindset (no tradition of disaster preparedness and prevention among policy-makers, current paradigm of response)Shift from a mindset of Response to one of Preparedness through use of forecast (understanding that climate risk can be managed);
Managers of the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Emergency Fund (DREF) convinced to release funds ex-ante of floods' onset based on seasonal climate forecast.
Early warning-early action not systematic; funding of emergency appeal too little, too late;
absence of international funding frameworks for forecast-based disaster management
(i) Systematize early action through the development of standard operating procedures, clearly assigning roles and responsibilities for action.
(ii) Develop international funding framework for forecast-triggered disaster management
No-regret strategies implemented by Red Cross: win-win strategy, effective way of placing loss-minimizing bet on probabilistic forecastNo clearly defined thresholds of intervention, or chain of command to carry out early actions following forecastsDefine clear thresholds of intervention, linking early actions to specific early warnings for relevant hazards probabilities of occurrence

(3) Technical (content of forecasts unintelligible to decision makers)2008 forecast timely (adequate lead time), contextual, and confidentForecast still not usable by decision makers as unintelligible without an in-house climate translatorRender climate forecasts less technical and jargon-filled, more understandable to users untrained in climate science, through detailed, clear forecast commentary in lay language; establish help desks.
Low capacity of users to understand and use forecastsBuild capacity of users to absorb forecasts and understand their uses/limitations through user-scientist trainings; initiative mostly urgent at national level to enable meaningful Early warning-early action at the community level

(4) Scientific (low skill level)Realization that existing seasonal forecasts over West Africa provide information useful for disaster managers (e.g., likelihood of above-normal rainfall over the course of the season)Limited forecasting skill over West Africa render current seasonal forecast irrelevant to decision making needs of community-level stakeholders; climate forecasts unable to respond to key information needs of end users in the region (e.g., onset of rainy season, rainfall distribution across season); regional climate research not driven by the information needs of decision makersDecision maker needs to inform future regional climate research (user-driven research), namely on:
 (a) threshold identification and probabilistic representation using terciles (“above normal” does not enable decision making)
 (b) additional geographic precision
 (c) intraseasonal extremes distribution

(5) Limited capacity to act on forecastsUse of existing community-level capacity (Red Cross volunteers, solidarity groups at community level) to disseminate early warnings to communities at riskIn context of low human development, very limited capacity to act on seasonal forecast informationSupplement seasonal warnings with accompanying measures that enable communities to act on received information, adopt behavioral change, and increase their resilience to forecast hazards

(6) Low trust in forecastsA consensus-based confident forecast (high probabilities) inspired confidence in the climate science to inform decision makingThis time the high probabilities for above normal rainfall announced in the forecast materialized themselves; in the future when probability level is invalidated will the same trust remain? Is there enough understanding among Red Cross decision makers about the uncertainties inherent in the forecasting process?(i) Better explanation of the science and limits of climate forecasting (and the uncertainties involved in the process of climate forecasting) to develop trust.
(ii) Participatory, sustained and reiterated workshops explaining, to regional, as well as national and community-level end stakeholders uses of climate information