Using seasonal climate forecasts to guide disaster management: The Red Cross experience during the 2008 West Africa floods

Arame Tall*, Simon J. Mason, Maarten Van Aalst, Pablo Suarez, Youcef Ait-Chellouche, Adama A. Diallo, Lisette Braman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


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 organizations 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number986016
JournalInternational journal of geophysics
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes

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