Drought is widely recognized as a slow creeping natural hazard that occurs as a consequence of natural climatic variability. In recent years, concern has grown world-wide that droughts may be increasing in frequency and severity given the changing climatic conditions. Hence there is an urgent need to shift gears from reactive crisis management to proactive risk management in order to reduce vulnerability to droughts. National policy frameworks that incorporate improved drought early warning systems enabling communities to act are indispensable. To promote this approach, WMO, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and other partners held a High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policy in Geneva from 11 to 15 March.
His Excellency Brigi Rafini, Prime Minister of the Republic of Niger, addressed and chaired the opening of the High-Level Session of the meeting on 14 March. He highlighted the recurring problem of drought in his country and a number of government initiatives to address the problem, which have permitted Niger to avoid famine during the last periods of drought. He called on the developed countries to lend assistance to the developing world in mitigating the effects of drought.
His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange, Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water & Sanitation (UNSGAB), also addressed the High-Level Session. “Drought’s drama is played out in slow motion over the course of years,” said Prince Willem Alexander. “They are an even more complicated global challenge than we thought. Droughts are threat multipliers or stresses. They can ramp up conflict or issues already at play.” He advocated for higher political priority to be given to water and sanitation challenges. He impressed upon the audience that solving global water problems is central to eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development. He concluded by underlining the actions identified in the UNSGAB Hashimoto Action Plan (HAP) for achieving breakthroughs in vital areas of water management, water supply and sanitation.
The High-Level Meeting reached consensus on a Final Declaration on National Drought Policy. The Declaration acknowledges the urgency of the problem, the scientific progress in drought monitoring and early warning systems and the urgent need for vulnerability and impact assessment and for rapid relief and response. It then highlights the need for effective drought policies as already recognized in the outcomes of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), in the COP10 call of the UNCCD for a framework for the establishment of national drought policies and in the implementation plan of the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS).
The Final Declaration encourages Governments to develop and implement National Drought Policies, urges WMO, UNCCD, FAO and other related UN partners to assist Governments with the task, specifically calls on developed countries to assist the developing countries in this area and encourages international cooperation to foster drought policies in developing countries.
We cannot stop droughts from happening, but we have the knowledge and the experience to put in place measures that will mitigate their impacts, including crisis or famine. The Final Declaration should complete the shift to a new paradigm: from reaction to resilience.
Droughts cause more deaths and displace more people than any other kind of natural disaster. While rainfall and water supplies vary everywhere in the world, the countries most vulnerable to serious drought are in the world’s drylands, which have increased by almost two per cent per decade since 1950. Climate variability and change threaten to bring higher temperatures, greater evaporation and altered rainfall patterns in the years to come.
The effects of drought can last long after the rains return, with food remaining scarce and expensive and depleted water resources, eroded soils and weakened livestock lingering for years. Sometimes, droughts are broken by flood events that catch the communities at their most vulnerable, further impacting them. Often, a new drought hits before local communities have had time to recover from the last one. Recurrent droughts and other extreme weather events erode the capacities of vulnerable families to respond and make them ever more dependent on external aid. This situation can degenerate into conflicts.
The cost of inaction is high. Despite this, drought rarely inspires governments to respond proactively, perhaps because it builds slowly over time and across vast areas. Too often, countries get trapped in the same loop: a drought develops, people become concerned, they suffer, the rains resume, memories fade – repeat. It is time to break this cycle.
Sarapiquí is a quiet rural canton of about 2 000 km² in Heredia province in north central Costa Rica. This rain forest covered canton is part of the National Parks and Conservation Areas. The majority of inhabitants (57 147 people) are farmers and devoted ecologists. The beauty and splendor of the rain forests and Sarapiquí River attract many adventure tourists.
Sarapiquí is exposed to both hydrometeorological and geological hazards. The fluvial system, a group of rivers and streams flowing down from the highlands, is fed by rainfall throughout the year, but the heaviest precipitation occurs between November and January. The Sarapiquí River and several of its tributaries recurrently overflow, affecting communities, crops and livestock. A lack of settlement planning and infrastructure construction in flood-prone zones, along with the rapid deterioration of watersheds, has increased the risks of loss of life and property in the area. In addition, the 2009 Cinchona earthquake caused a series of landslides in neighboring Sarapiquí that modified drainage patterns. The accumulation of sediments and obstructive materials changed the behavior of the river and raised the riverbed level, creating new risk areas for flash floods, floods and mudslides.
WMO – through its Disaster Risk Reduction Programme, Regional Office IV (North and Central America) in Costa Rica and its Hydrology and Water Resource Programme – collaborated with the World Bank Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction (GFDRR) to address the risk issues with the National Meteorological Institute (IMN), the National Commission of Risk Prevention and Emergency Response (CNE) and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE). Thus, the “Costa Rica Early Warning System (EWS) for Hydrometeorological Hazards Project,” funded by the World Bank GFDRR, was launched early in 2012 and will be completed by June 2013.
The project will develop an effective framework for an operational early warning system at the Pilot Site of the Sarapiquí river basin. It aims to:
- Evaluate and improve flood monitoring and forecasting capacities;
- Bolster cooperation between IMN, ICE and CNE at the local level to reinforce emergency preparedness and response;
- Strengthen the engagement of the community, local authorities and national agencies;
- Integrate the Costa Rica policy instruments for disaster risk management and related legal frameworks with existing emergency preparedness and response standard;
- Develop a feedback mechanism aimed at improving the preparedness and response mechanisms; and
- Provide IMN, ICE and CNE with the necessary tools to optimize information gathering for EWS related decision-making.
The project has led to unprecedented coordination and cooperation among the three national agencies, IMN, ICE and CNE, at national level and with over 50 Sarapiqui River basin communities. A simulation exercise on 28 February drew over 800 participants – some 500 volunteered to participate in an evacuation exercise coordinated by CNE, the police, the Red Cross and local authorities.
© Gerardo Quirós Cuadra
As one of the WMO DRR Programme model cooperation projects, the project will be highlighted at the fourth Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (19 – 23 May). The Government of Costa Rica aims to expand the project to other communities at risk. Furthermore, preliminary discussions are underway between WMO and the World Bank GFDRR to expand this model cooperation framework to other countries in Central America.
Planet Solar – the largest solar catamaran ever built, containing state-of-the-art composite and solar energy storage technology – set off at the end of March from La Ciotat, France, on its very first mission to conduct a unique three-month scientific expedition. Operating with zero carbon emissions, the boat will collect data along the relatively unexplored Gulf Stream, documenting the behaviour of the ocean-atmosphere interface and the current’s role as a climate regulator. The Deepwater Project is led by Professor Martin Beniston, Director of the Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of Geneva.
The Gulf Stream is one of the significant regulators of climate, but the dense saline and cold waters that activate deep-water currents remain relatively unexplored. Any disruption affecting zones of deep-water formation could have vast repercussions for the global climate. Therefore, the Deepwater Project intends to identify and document even subtle changes in the behavior of the ocean-atmosphere interface along the course of the Gulf Stream.
The exhaust fumes of regular ships can significantly contaminate measurements, thus the MS Tûranor Planet Solar is an ideal platform for scientific experiments. The unique measurements the expedition will provide have never been collected at such a scale.
The data could be used to improve climate models, especially concerning small-scale processes. Moreover, it is expected that the exploration of the Gulf Stream by a solar-power vessel, combined with the results that emerge, will help to raise public awareness of the reality and complexity of climatic change, especially about how it is affecting our oceans.
The potential impacts of the Deepwater Project are threefold. Firstly, the expedition will have a scientific impact in providing new climate-related data to expand the existing knowledge base. Secondly, the voyage of MS Tûranor Planet Solar will build credibility in the use of renewable energy technologies for mobility. Thirdly, the project should capture the public interest and raise awareness about climate change and its direct and indirect effects on populations worldwide.
The Stakeholders Workshop for WMO Coastal Inundation Forecasting Demonstration Project, held in Fiji from 18 to 21 February, was the kick-off of the national sub-project: CIFDP in Fiji (CIFDP-F). WMO will implement the project in collaboration with Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS). The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has sponsored Phase One of CIFDP-F.
The principal activities and outcomes of the implementation will include: 1) identifying national and regional requirements; 2) developing and transferring technology; 3) building the communication platform; and 4) conducting specialized training programs. It is expected that the best practices identified in the implementation and in developing the Coastal Inundation Forecasting system will also benefit neighbouring countries and contribute to the development of their coastal inundation forecasting. The stakeholders workshop would identify the “gaps” and “requirements” to be addressed in the implementation.
In initiating CIFDP-F, the WMO CIFDP Steering Group conducted a survey with national stakeholders on their requirements and studied the national capacity for an effective and durable Coastal Inundation Warning and Mitigation System. The survey results and discussions at the Stakeholders Workshop identified end-users needs and engagement in Fiji as well as the current status of national capacity to design a Coastal Inundation Forecasting system.
FMS was mandated to provide both meteorological and hydrological flood forecasting and warnings in 2012. Thus, the CIFDP-F will improve the weather-related warnings produced and delivered by FMS to the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) by putting the appropriate framework in place.
Fiji has a very people-centred approach to the provision of warnings and the development of warning services. Building on the existing framework and practice, CIFDP-F will provide improved warnings for coastal inundation that will be of immediate use for village communities.
One of the key results from the Stakeholders Workshop was the identification of key technical elements to be considered in the implementation of CIFDP-F. (For more information, the full summary of the Workshop is available here.)
Through the Workshop, the national stakeholders of Fiji agreed on a Definitive National Agreement to work together for the implementation CIFDP-F. The technical development activities of CIFDP-F are to be carried out through Phases Two to Four over a three-year period and will focus on the user and technical requirements identified in the Workshop.
The WMO Regional Training Center (RTC) of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) will conduct an eleven-month Hydrologists Training Course from July 2013 to June 2014. The Course will provide general knowledge on operational hydrology with a particular focus on hydrological forecasting. The theoretical segment will cover nine months, from July 2013 to April 2014, and the practical, on-the-job training the last two months.
The course addresses the urgent need of the agency for professional hydrologists to man the River Flood Forecasting and Warning Centres being constructed near 13 river basins located in various parts of the country. The Centres will provide flood forecasting and warning services to flood prone areas to minimize, if not prevent, loss of lives and damage to properties.
Four participants from RA V will be invited to the forthcoming Hydrologists Training Course. Applicants are required to have either completed PAGASA’s Meteorologists Training Course or to be graduates with a bachelor of science degree in engineering or another applied science.
Participants who successfully complete the course will be qualified to manage and oversee the operational activities of their respective national Flood Forecasting and Warning Centres. They will be able to issue flood bulletins and advisories, network and collaborate with disaster risk reduction and management agencies, conduct lectures, and a lot more. It is also expected that they will have acquired skills in rainfall-runoff modelling, hydrologic surveying (cross-sectioning and discharge measurement), flood hazard and risk mapping, database management and conducting post-flood investigation. They should also have gained knowledge in numerical weather prediction for rainfall forecasting and be at least familiar with the application of remote sensing data and products.
An agreement between WMO and TWAS (The Academy of sciences for the developing world) will support up to ten PhD fellowships per year in the areas of weather, climate and water-related hazards. The partnership joins WMO and TWAS in a venture to build science capacity in least-developed and developing nations that are vulnerable to weather-related risks and the effects of climate variability and change.
The agreement will be in effect for the 2014 academic year with the application process beginning in spring 2013. Up to 10 fellowships per year are open to be filled by applicants from developing nations who wish to pursue full-time PhD studies. The study and research will take place in one of the countries where TWAS has PhD programme partners, namely, Brazil, China, India, Kenya, Malaysia or Pakistan. Candidates will be selected jointly by TWAS and its programme partners in these countries, while WMO will make the final selection of the candidates it will support in its areas of interest.
The Africa Climate Conference 2013 will set the continent-wide agenda on climate research for sustainable development. The agenda will link in with existing continental policy processes, partners and institutions (regional, national and sub-national) on climate research, while addressing global research needs. Organized by the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC), the Conference will be hosted by the University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, from 15 to 18 October.
The Conference will bring together decision-makers, climate researchers, scientists and practitioners from Africa and around the world to jointly: identify the state of knowledge on the African climate system; define and drive an African agenda for future climate research that will inform adaptation decisions out to the mid-to end of the 21st Century; and develop a framework to mainstream climate information into decision-making.
The Conference is expected to provide guidance for future research proposals to address critical gaps in knowledge of the African climate system. Frontier research priorities will be addressed in alignment with the critical information needs of African end-users, policy-developers and vulnerable communities in order for them to adapt to a changing climate and manage risks.
Limited funding is available to support in particular, the participation of young Africa-based scientists and researchers, especially women. Preference will be accorded to those whose abstracts have been accepted. The deadline for abstract submissions is 31 May.
The Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS), dedicated to tropical climate and weather of Singapore and the wider Southeast Asia region, was officially opened by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, on 26 March as part of the celebration of World Meteorological Day.
The Centre, which was established under the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS), aims to advance scientific understanding and prediction of the weather and climate of Singapore. It will use high-resolution computer models to simulate weather and climate over Singapore and the wider Southeast Asia region. CCRS will network with both overseas and local experts in order to incorporate the latest scientific developments and cover a broader domain of climate-related disciplines.
“There is a common misconception that climate change and environmental issues are a problem for the distant future,” said MSS Director-General Wong Chin Ling. “The reality is that preparedness must begin in the present. Our vision for CCRS is not only to support Singapore’s resilience strategy, but also to be a world leading centre in tropical climate and weather research with particular focus on the Southeast Asia region.”