Forecasting trouble: How South Sudan’s weather service is failing farmers

JUBA: In Shirkat cattle camp on the outskirts of Juba, farmers say South Sudan’s increasingly unpredictable weather has turned their lives into a series of dilemmas.
Unexpected showers during the cold season can cause cows to contract East Coast Fever, a potentially fatal illness. Farmers then have to choose between paying for medicine that costs nearly $40 per dose or leaving their cattle untreated and hoping they survive, said camp leader Deng Bul.
When the dry season comes early or lasts longer than usual, pastoralists face another tough decision: Do they stay and wait for rain — possibly losing some animals to starvation — or move to other pastures and risk getting caught up in the country’s ongoing civil war? If they knew when heavy rain or drought were coming, the farmers said, they could make better decisions about their cattle and crops.
But in South Sudan, where two of the main economic activities —farming and pastoralism — rely heavily on sufficient and regular rainfall, the essential service of weather forecasting has been largely missing since the young nation attained its independence from Sudan in 2011.
Decimated by civil war, South Sudan’s meteorology department is now barely running, with inadequate funding, outdated equipment and untrained staff, experts say.
As a result, it is unable to provide even the most basic weather information to the public, they say, with some people even unaware it exists. When told there was a meteorological station nearby in Juba dedicated to predicting the weather, the farmers in Shirkat cattle camp said they had no idea the service even existed.
“I’ve never heard of this witch doctor you are talking about. Maybe it is for the educated,” Bul said.
Achiku Rashid Wani, a farmer in Juba’s Gudele suburb, said he had heard of South Sudan’s weather service, but said it is useless for most farmers. He grows vegetables during the dry season using a petrol-powered water pump.
“The factor that is affecting me is the fuel prices; it is expensive,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
— Reuters