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by Nick van de Giesen

EGU_2015The European Geosciences Union (EGU) has an educational outreach program for high school teachers, called Geosciences Information For Teachers (GIFT). Every year, workshops are organized during which teachers interact with geoscientists. As is stated at their website: “The main objective of the GIFT workshops is to spread first-hand scientific information to science teachers of primary and secondary schools, significantly shortening the time between discovery and textbook, and to provide the teachers with material that can be directly transported to the classroom.” Usually, these workshops are held at the General Assembly of the EGU in Vienna but this year there was a special workshop near Addis Ababa with 35 teachers from Ethiopia. During the 2012 EGU General Assembly, I presented TAHMO to European teachers at the GIFT workshop. This year, I did the same in Addis but now included the “build your own disdrometer” experiment. The teachers were very interested and there was a lively discussion on how we could bring further development in the classroom. Especially the question as to what extent local materials can be used for building weather stations was discussed intensely.


Teachers soldering disdrometers

The disdrometer exercise was, as always, a big success. Basically, a piezo-electric element is glued under a hard surface, in our case the glass of a little picture frame. Then the two wires from a standard mono-audio plug are soldered to the metal and ceramic parts of the piezo. The plug can then be plugged into a little amplifier with speaker after which the sensor can be tested by ticking on it. People were very eager and did not need any help with soldering, even though no one had soldered before! In a very short time, ten disdros were put together and tested. Several teachers expressed interest in repeating the exercise at their schools. It should be very simple to put together a small package with which one can perform the experiment. Most items can normally be sourced locally, such as soldering iron and tin, superglue, a hard protective surface, and an audio plug. A cheap radio can be hacked to make the signal audible. All that is really needed are some instructions and piezoelectric elements.

fishermenTAHMO has won the Global Resilience Challenge to develop a meteorological early warning system in Uganda to acute climate-induced shocks. Over the next two years we will implement an early warning system in Uganda to give critical warnings to fishermen on Lake Victoria, where 5,000 people drown annually due to severe weather.

Climate change is impacting the frequency and severity of severe weather events with residual effects the lives and livelihoods of people in developing countries who lack the capabilities and infrastructure to cope with these climate-induced hazards. National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) in the Horn of Africa region struggle to provide sufficient early warning and timely, accurate weather information in advance of disasters. Impactful adaptation measures to enhance resilience to these acute shocks must be undertaken.

Early Warning Systems (EWS) are a critical tool for saving lives and reducing economic losses from floods, droughts, storms, and other weather-related hazards. Five and ten-day forecasts have been shown to increase farmers’ resilience and increase incomes in the face of drought conditions. The implementation of EWS’s generate benefit-to-cost ratios between 4:1 and 36:1 in developing countries, but are often non-functional because of a lack of weather data, partitioned efforts by different agencies, and unsustainable long-term funding. TAHMO proposes to address the impacts of weather-related hazards on target populations in Uganda by establishing an early warning system (EWS) that is:

A complete end-to-end solution: Weather information will flow from our network of stations all the way down to millions of vulnerable fishermen and smallholder farmers in Uganda.

Scalable: Immediately after the launch, all 16 million+ mobile phone owners in Uganda will have on-demand access to weather information and all 8 million Airtel subscribers will have free access. As importantly, the partnership model we have with Airtel in Uganda is replicable in every other African country.

Sustainable: Our solution will continue to operate, independently of donor funding, for the foreseeable future.

Impactful: The partners in our consortium have a proven track record at delivering services that have measureable financial and social impact.
TAHMO develops the system together with Earth Networks, African Centres for Lightning and Electromagnetics (ACLE), Climate Change Adaptation Innovation (CHAI), and Human Networks International (HNI).

The Global Resilience Partnership, is convened by The Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, and Sida.


The winning team

The winning team

In the week of 13-17 July, a 5 days’ business workshop on Water and ICT challenges for young professionals in Rwanda was facilitated by Delft University of Technology (through the VPdelta programme and Delft Global Initiative), VIA Water and IBM Research Africa. During the workshop, fourteen young professionals were challenged to work on business cases that address urgent problems in the field of water storage, warning for (extreme) weather, water quality, water availability or Remote Sensing (RS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

The participants were trained by a team of experts (one of them being TAHMO initiator Nick van de Giesen) on topics such as water management, use of technology, entrepreneurship, business case development, market mapping, prototyping and proposal writing. But above all participants were encouraged to work within those five days, in a pressure cooking session, on their own cases. By using this approach the participants were stimulated to understand, design and implement their (new) sustainable business case on Water and ICT in Rwanda. The first four days of the workshop took place at the Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology in Gashora.

Participants of Water and ICT Accelerator

Participants of Water and ICT Accelerator

On the final day, the participants pitched their business case in front of an expert jury at the Dutch Ambassador’s residence in Kigali. The winning team pitched a ‘Severe Weather Warning for Musanze City’ to provide timely and reliable predictions of lightning and floods through a Geoportal and App. They won a prize of 2,000 USD wherewith they are expected to develop their business ideas further into a full proposal for the VIA Water fund, a Dutch Programme which supports innovative water solutions in Africa.

The runner-up team ‘Indogobe Smart Water Ltd.’, proposed to provide water storage and delivery services in urban Rwanda by means of intelligent water tanks together with an ordering app. They were offered a prize of 1,000 USD or an entry ticket to the six weeks innovation challenge offered by VIA Water.


Fabrice Muvundja (left) and John Selker (right) in Rotterdam, March 2015

Fabrice Muvundja (left) and John Selker (right) in Rotterdam, March 2015

Last March, Fabrice Muvundja paid a brief visit to Rotterdam to meet up with TAHMO co-directors John Selker and Nick van de Giesen. Fabrice was finishing up his PhD research on “Hydrological variability and biogeochemistry of particulate organic matter in a large tropical rift lake, Lake Kivu (East Africa)”. Lake Kivu is a very interesting lake at the border of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The bottom of the lake contains high concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide. If the lake were to overturn, the lives of the two million people who live around Lake Kivu would be in danger.

About one thousand years ago, this was the last time this occurred. At present, the plans are to extract methane from the lake without disturbing its stratification. Monitoring is the main tool to ensure no such disaster will occur. Monitoring the weather is one part that is needed, which is why Fabrice contacted TAHMO. It was agreed to set up three stations as a pilot activity Eastern DRC. Three schools were selected. The first one is in the South at Fabrice’s own school, ISP Bukavu, where he teaches in the Department of Chemistry. The second one will be placed at a school on the island of Idjwi in the more central part of the lake. Finally, the third station will be placed at the Ecole du Cinquantenaire in Goma at the northern part of the lake. The Ecole du Cinquantenaire is a special school that was inaugurated only recently and educates students in the fields of Civil Aviation, Construction, Electronics, and Petro-Chemistry.

On Tuesday 14 July 2015, the three stations were handed over in Kigali, Rwanda. Sister Jeanne-Marie, the director of the Ecole du Cinquantenaire, had traveled especially for this occasion from Goma, as had Fabrice from Bukavu. The three stations will monitor the western part of Lake Kivu and thereby contribute to the management of this unique lake.

Opening of the Ecole du Cinquantenaire, with left Sister Jeanne-Marie

Opening of the Ecole du Cinquantenaire, with left Sister Jeanne-Marie

FishermenTAHMO, along with 4 partner institutions, have been selected to move onto the second stage of funding from the Global Resilience Partnership Challenge. This challenges focuses on bringing together people and organizations from across sectors to collaborate on innovative solutions for climate change resilience. TAHMO, the lead organization, is working with Earth Networks, Human Network International, Climate Change Adaptation Innovation (CHAI), and African Centres for Lightning and Electromagnetics (ACLE) to create an Early Warning System around Lake Victoria, improving fisherman and sailor safety through accurate and timely severe weather alerts. As this system expands across Uganda, it will provide critical high-resolution weather information country-wide to enable climate-ready response actions by stakeholders in the agricultural, transport, aviation, and public health sectors.

Lake Victoria, a source of livelihood for 35 million people who live along its shores[1], has an estimated 5,000 deaths per year due to drowning[2]. Increasing fisherman and sailor access to early alerts for severe weather which cause dangerous high winds, waves, and lightning, is crucial to reducing the number of deaths on the lake. Additionally, this weather information can be used by multiple entities to strengthen rural resilience to climate change through agricultural insurance, improved farmer planting practices, and informed transport  and food processing decisions.

Currently, TAHMO is installing 6 automatic weather stations in southern Uganda with the support of the Ugandan National Meteorological Authority. In the next phase, TAHMO is planning to install over 200 stations for a dense country-wide weather observation network to support Earth Network’s installation of total lightning detectors. Together, these sensors will supply much-needed weather data to enhance severe weather predictions for the region. But an Early Warning System consists of more than risk knowledge and data collection, appropriate alert dissemination and educated stakeholder are necessary for transformative action to occur. To enable mass dissemination of the enhanced alert information, HNI is creating a 3-2-1 voice call-in and SMS platform that will deliver much needed information free-of-charge to any mobile phone in Uganda. This free service will be accompanied by value-added products that generate revenue for the system, allowing it to become financially sustainable in the long-term.


[2]Mary Ak, Gomes C. Lightning safety of under-privileged communities around Lake Victoria. Geomatics, Natural Hazards and Risk 2014; (ahead-of-print): 1-17.

Visualization of weather stationWhile all of the climate variables measured by TAHMO hydro-meteorology stations are important for researchers and scientists, precipitation data are often the most valuable for farmers, weather insurance providers and other African stakeholders. Unfortunately, precipitation is also one of the most difficult variables to measure accurately, especially when rainfall is very light or very intense. Traditional rain gauges use a tipping bucket design, which incorporates a rocking mechanism designed to tip after filling with a pre-determined volume of water. If the bucket does not fill completely, the rocking mechanism does not tip, so the gauge’s ability to record small rain events over short time intervals is often limited. Further, in high-intensity events, the buckets splash and the time of tipping becomes a limitation, so the gauge under-reports.  Additionally, the tipping bucket gauge’s moving parts make it susceptible to mis-calibration and failure in environments where dust and insects are prevalent.

In an effort to mitigate these challenges, Decagon Devices, Inc. recently designed a new, no-moving-parts rain gauge ten times more sensitive than most tipping bucket gauges. The gauge, which is incorporated in all new TAHMO stations, measures precipitation depths as small as 0.02 mm. It does so by directing collected water between two electrical contacts and calculating the size of the individual drops. In addition, the gauge measures the electrical conductivity of the water, which, when combined with soil water data, allow quantitative partitioning the water which infiltrates into the soil and that which runs off, the key requirement for calculation of a local water balance and aquifer recharge.

The gauge has performed well in lab and field tests, and is able to measure events ranging from the formation of dew to heavy storms with intensities of over 200 mm/hr. Also, because the gauge measures precipitation electronically, calibration can be both dynamic and adjusted remotely—critical features for the regions where TAHMO works. We believe that advances like these will continue to reduce the costs of data collection while improving data quality, and our partnership with Decagon continues to produce exciting results!

Kigali Agricultural Show of 2015 at the Dutch Pavilion

Kigali Agricultural Show of 2015 at the Dutch Pavilion

At the beginning of June, Zach and Friso went to Rwanda to explore the possibilities for TAHMO. Together with Norbert van der Straaten and William Mwangi they met with the Rwanda Meteo Agency where they discussed the possibilities for collaboration. The Rwanda Meteo Agency already has 42 weather stations operational, which is more than TAHMO’s guideline of 1 every 30 km. However, because the geography of Rwanda is predominantly rolling hills, more might be required. Preparations are made to sign an MoU between both parties.

Furthermore, the TAHMO group visited the Gashora Girls Academy for possible implementation of a weather station and to explore the possibilities of hosting the VIA Water business development workshop. The school is the best middle school in Rwanda, with state-of-the-art facilities like a large farm, on site accommodation and fast and stable IT capabilities. Students on this school are encouraged to excel and the goal of the academy is to send one third of the students to top universities in the world (e.g. Ivy league). The academy proofed to be a perfect location for the weather station, and the staff was enthusiastic to assist in hosting the workshop.

Finally, TAHMO was present at the Kigali Agricultural Show of 2015 at the Dutch Pavilion (Holland Paviljoen). Here, farmers and interested local and regional institutions were introduced to the TAHMO concept and the TAHMO weather station. Rwanda shows great opportunities for TAHMO to vastly expand the network of weather stations and weather data in Africa.

Teacher helping with the installation of the AWS

Installation at the Populier, the Hague

At the beginning of this year we started a competition for teachers, in which we asked teachers to share their favorite lesson plans related to weather and climate. The most creative, useful and innovative lesson plan was created by Eric Schippers from the Populier, a secondary school in the Hague, the Netherlands. His lesson plan was about solar cookers, which students have to design, make, test and evaluate. The TAHMO-members thought this lesson plan fits TAHMO’s vision, is very innovative and contributes to the 21st century skills.

TAHMO workshop at the Populier

TAHMO workshop at the Populier during 24 hours challenge

With winning this competition, the Populier got a TAHMO weather station installed on top of the school building. Additionally, the school is now part of the School2School pilot in the Netherlands. Together with another Dutch school, named Haagsche Schoolvereeniging, the school will test several lesson plans and provide feedback for optimization. Furthermore, these two pilot schools are closely involved in the creation of the entire School2School program and its activities.

The Populier is known of its very creative and active science department, in which maker education plays a major role. It is also noticeable that the students are very engaged and motivated. In June, for example, they organised a 24-hours marathon to raise money for better education in Ethiopia, in which students got 24 hours non stop lessons. During day and night students did several workshops, games and a walking tour to the beach. One of the lessons was about TAHMO and students could make an acoustic rain gauge, which was conducted by Nadine Rodewijk. A total amount of 5000,- has been raised during this intensive event.