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International Journal of Geophysics
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 986016, 12 pages
Research Article

Using Seasonal Climate Forecasts to Guide Disaster Management: The Red Cross Experience during the 2008 West Africa Floods

1Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), 1717 Massachusetts Avenue, N. W., Office 715, Washington, DC 20036, USA
2Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, The Hague, The Netherlands
3International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Palisades, NY, USA
4UNISDR Africa Regional Office, Nairobi, Kenya
5African Center for Meteorological Applications to Development (ACMAD), Niamey, Niger

Received 29 September 2011; Revised 22 December 2011; Accepted 15 January 2012

Academic Editor: Gregory S. Jenkins

Copyright © 2012 Arame Tall et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


In 2008, the seasonal forecast issued at the Seasonal Climate Outlook Forum for West Africa (PRESAO) announced a high risk of above-normal rainfall for the July–September rainy season. With probabilities for above-normal rainfall of 0.45, this forecast indicated noteworthy increases in the risk of heavy rainfall. When this information reached the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) West and Central Africa Office, it led to significant changes in the organization’s flood response operations. The IFRC regional office requested funds in advance of anticipated floods, prepositioned disaster relief items in strategic locations across West Africa to benefit up to 9,500 families, updated its flood contingency plans, and alerted vulnerable communities and decision-makers across the region. This forecast-based preparedness resulted in a decrease in the number of lives, property, and livelihoods lost to floods, compared to just one year prior in 2007 when similar floods claimed above 300 lives in the region. This article demonstrates how a science-based early warning informed decisions and saved lives by triggering action in anticipation of forecast events. It analyses what it took to move decision-makers to action, based on seasonal climate information, and to overcome traditional barriers to the uptake of seasonal climate information in the region, providing evidence that these barriers can be overcome. While some institutional, communication and technical barriers were addressed in 2008, many challenges remain. Scientists and humanitarians need to build more common ground.