The countries of the League of Arab States face significant challenges due to a variety of disaster risks, in particular those related to drought, floods, sand and dust storms, heat waves and tropical cyclones. Concerned about these challenges, representatives of Arab governments met in Amman, Jordan, on 28-29 February to review the current situation and consider a way forward.
This first meeting of the League of Arab States (LAS) Committee on Weather, Climate, Hazards Information Management was held under the auspices of the LAS and the Jordanian Meteorological Department (JMD) with the collaboration of the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA). It was hosted in Amman by the Kingdom of Jordan.
The committee is one of the sub-committees established by the Permanent Committee on Meteorology under the umbrella of LAS. Delegates from Arab countries, international and regional organizations, academia and media participated in the meeting. It was chaired by Mr Mohammed Semawi, Director General of the Jordanian Meteorological Department and Permanent Representative of Jordan with WMO.
Experts reviewed the current status of efforts to deal with extremes worldwide, the WMO Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) program, and the new paradigm established by the Sendai Framework on DRR. This Framework seeks to help countries move towards a more proactive approach to managing the risks of disasters.
The committee was set up to provide recommendations on policies, methods, and collaborative mechanisms to support early preparation for natural disasters as well as improved management of post-disaster situations. The work of the committee is meant to strengthen the pace of sustainable development in the Arab countries and to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It also seeks to build institutional capacity at the national and regional levels, greater resilience for dealing with extreme weather, climate and climate change, and improved strategies for managing risks and natural disasters.
Regional climate change
The committee considered a study showing that temperatures in most Arab countries are increasing faster than the increase in the global average temperature. Regional temperatures are projected to increase by 1 to 4 degrees Celsius by 2050. Drought is becoming a structural phenomenon in the region despite efforts over the past several decades to mitigate its impact. Projections show alarming scenarios of even more intense droughts with more negative impacts. Recent studies also show a projected decrease of 15-20 percent on average in rainfall, which will lead to deteriorating farmlands, soil erosion and lost soil fertility, declining agricultural productivity and changes in the quantity and quality of water sources.
In recent years, the region has recorded unusually heavy snow storms, particularly in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Countries in the region are not well equipped to deal with such events, which disturb transport and close public services and schools.
Mr Semawi, as Chair, called for an urgent plan to strengthen the capacity of Arab countries to respond to extreme weather and climate. There is no time to wait, as the impacts of climate change are becoming more visible and deadly, leading to increased socio-economic damages with serious consequences for sustainable development.
The committee emphasized the need to act quickly and to collaborate on ensuring the efficient coordination of existing facilities and expertise for dealing with extreme weather and climate events. Such events are expected to gain in intensity and frequency, as demonstrated by the unprecedented assessment research efforts in the region lead by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA) and WMO and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). The committee agreed to work on developing strategies for risk management, and it called for strengthening the capacity of Arab countries for addressing extreme weather, climate and climate change, especially in sectors such as water and agriculture.
The Committee called for Arab cooperation in compiling information on weather and climate and on losses and damages caused by extremes. This can be achieved through collaboration between NMHSs and agencies responsible for disaster risk-management and emergencies. A way forward could be a mechanism such as the creation of a unified Arab framework on weather and climate risk management and the establishment of an Arab center with a mandate to focus on coordinating weather and climate early warning systems in the Arab countries.
The Committee commissioned Mr Semawi to work with countries and international and regional organizations to develop a concept paper on the Arab center. The paper will be discussed at the next meeting of the Permanent Arab Committee on Meteorology, which is expected to be held in the United Arab Emirates in May 2016.