Africa's weather data should be free

This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a tropical storm over Africa's West Coast and the Cape Verde Islands, west of Dakar, Senegal.

Africa could definitely benefit from having its weather data freely available.

More statistics on Africa's climate would enable scientists to make more accurate short and long-term weather forecasts — which would help predict droughts, floods and sunny days. Farmers would be able to better plan their growing seasons and crops. Relief workers could prepare for catastrophes and public health experts could better plan for outbreaks of malaria, for instance.

Right now most African countries charge for their climate data, as do most European countries, to help offset the cost of running their weather services.

Africa's climate data should be freely available urges Madeleine Thomson, a malaria expert at Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society. In an article "Africa needs climate data to fight disease" in Nature, Thomson and other scientists argue that climate data is a "resource for development" and a "classic public good that increases in value the more times the data are used." A mix of public and private funding is considered.

Scientists at Columbia University as well as Bill Gates and Google's charity arm are pushing to develop an Africa climate archive and to make it free to the world.

Researchers will share ideas to best utilize Africa's climate data at an upcoming conference in Ethiopia, "Climate and Health in Africa: Ten Years On," organized by the Columbia research institute, on April 4-6.