The first stone of a new headquarters for Haiti's national meteorological and hydrological service has been laid, as part of a WMO programme to improve weather and climate services and increase disaster resilience in the Caribbean nation.
Full construction of the building, which will be resistant to earthquakes and hurricanes, is scheduled to begin in early January 2016 and be finished by September.
WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, Haitian Minister of Agriculture Lyonel Valbrun and Minister of the Environment Dominique Pierre and senior members of Haiti's meteorological and hydrological service attended the ceremony in Port-au-Prince on 13 November. Michel Taché, Deputy Head of Aid of the Canadian embassy, was also present.
The delegation also met with Haitian President Michel Martelly.
The construction project comes under the auspices of the Haiti Weather Systems Programme – Climate Services to Reduce Vulnerability in Haiti. The programme aims to rehabilitate and modernize the weather, climate and hydrology forecasting infrastructure which was destroyed by the 2010 earthquake.
"The drought currently affecting Haiti since the start of this year is linked to a particularly strong El Niño, which is one of the three most intense in a century, " said Mr Jarraud. "A modern and effective meteorological and hydrological service will be able to better predict and manage such episodes in the future and to reduce Haiti's vulnerability," he said.
Global Framework for Climate Services
He said that the development of the meteorological service in Haiti will benefit from the Global Framework for Climate Services. This WMO-spearheaded initiative aims to strengthen the provision and use of climate information to boost food security, strengthen water management, disaster risk reduction and health outcomes.
"We need better meteorological services, especially for agriculture which is so important to our economy," said Agriculture Minister Valbrun. "The construction of the building is important, but the provision of equipment and development of trained staff is crucial," he said.
Already weakened by 3 hurricanes in 2008, Haiti's meteorological infrastructure was largely destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. Since then, support has been provided by a coalition of WMO Members including Canada, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the Caribbean Meteorological Organization.
Thanks to this support, Haiti has a regularly updated website to provide and disseminate weather information and forecasts to the local and international community. New forecasters have been trained and there has been a coordinated effort to extend the lead-time and improve the reliability of weather forecasts and warnings.
In the past Haiti's meteorological and hydrological services were separate. Under structural reforms, it is now envisaged that they should be unified. If all goes as planned, the new unified service will move into its new building in late 2016.
Mr Jarraud said it was now important to establish a workplan and budget for the service and to reinforce recruitment of staff. "WMO will seek to assist you throughout the process to establish a hydrometeorological service which will allow you to face up to weather and climate challenges," he said.
Haiti is particularly exposed to natural hazards. It annually experiences two rainy seasons, from April to June and from October to November, as well as a hurricane season from early June until the end of November. However, the country is this year badly affected by drought, which is also impacting its Caribbean neighbours.
Haiti is also especially vulnerable to climate change, with more extreme rainfall patterns anticipated. Sea-level rise associated with global warming is expected to increase risks of inundation, storm surges, erosion and coastal hazards, compounding the challenges of population growth and environmental degradation.