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Almost 600 million people- nearly one-third of South Asia’s population- have been affected by at least one climate-related disaster in the last decade.Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan ranked among the 20 countries most affected by climate change in the 21st century in the think tank Germanwatch’s 2021 Global Climate Risk Index. 1 in 4 people in South Asia were affected by floods in the last two decades.
8 out of the world’s 20 most populous coastal cities exposed to coastal floods are in SAR, which also has 45% of the world population inhabiting high-risk, low-elevation coastal zones. Most of these are in heavily populated delta regions exposed to flood risks also from rising tides, tropical storms, sea level rise, and their coincidental combinations. SAR is also home to the lowest lying country in the world- the densely populated island nation of the Maldives, which could be submerged in the not-too-distant future. Landlocked Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Nepal face rising temperatures, droughts, floodsand glacial melts.
A total of 799 weather/ climate-related disasters reported in SAR in the last two decades havethus affected 3 out of 5 people(1.22 billion), led to 76,350 deaths and damaged assets worth over US$144 billion.
The IPCC in its Sixth Assessment Report in August 2021 noted that the South Asia weather hazard elements are worryingly intensifying- hotter weather with longer and highly variable monsoon seasons- and cyclones, storm surge flood, drought, heat and cold waves and glacier melt events continuing to pose serious risks. Rapid economic growth, greater capital stocks, rising population and continued urbanization have enhanced exposure element in SAR, i.e., more people and assets are exposed to hazard events. The vulnerability of exposed assets in SAR is high- unplanned human settlements, unsafe building practices, and high population densities, particularly in growing urban areas, have further compounded the complex matrix of hazards, exposure, and vulnerability of the region. COVID-19 pandemic has further worsened the risk matrix by escalating inequalities and worsening poverty. These currents trends and climate change projections necessitate urgent climate action.
Effective interventions need to first address the current socio-economic realities in SAR in the decade ending 2030. Despite these weather/climate risks,rapid population growth in flood plains andcoastal settlements, in particular urban, is putting more people at risk to weatherhazards.Reducing risks through preparedness and mitigation is paramount, as migration away from these zones, though possibly the most appropriate measure, is not popular or acceptable. Establishing/enhancing multi-hazard early warning system is a more apt preparedness measure andhas proved tobe cost effective as international experience suggests that for every dollar invested in strengtheningentireearly warninginformation value chainservices, the estimated benefits isuptoUS $ 10.Further, by covering high-frequency, but low impact hazards, multi-hazard warning systems will be activated more often than a single-hazard warning system, and providing cost effectiveness,functionality and reliability for dangerous low-frequency but high-impact events.Leveraging this multi-hazardearly warning infrastructure to integrate a comprehensive weather/climate information serviceaimed at minimizing weather /climaterisks andmaximizing potential gainscould enhance cost effectiveness even more, as anNational Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER)study reveals evenone dollar invested in reaching out NMHS tailormade services to farmers and fishers yields an estimated benefits of up to US $ 50.
Lack of awareness of economic value of NMHS services has led to reduced publicinvestment in NMHS in many countries. This has affected NMHS in two ways:
There is thus a compelling rationale to invest in entire weather/climate information value chain-both up-stream and down-stream, while institutionalizing multi-stakeholder mechanism built around the centrality of the NMHSs. These investments will yield manifold benefits through adoption of a comprehensive Climate Information Service (CIS) approach to transform NMHS forecast data into tailor-made user information. CIS could guide decisions for efficient operation of climate sensitive sectors to accelerate the rate of economic growth during favourable climate/weather situation and minimize economic losses during adverse conditions.
Establishment of Impact based forecast capabilities is the first step to establish CIS in South Asia. Impact based forecast entails multi-stakeholder engagement for co-production of user relevant services. This presents an opportunity for providers and users of climate information to exchange data and value-added services, allowing for immediate feedback and decisions made in line with user needs.
Efforts to strengthen impact-based services have a regional dimension. The South Asia NMHS up-stream information value chainhas common requirements to improve their weather forecasting systems and services utilizing ensemble prediction, impact-based forecasting techniques and user-oriented advisory services. In theirefforts to modernize their systems for provision of user-oriented hydro-meteorological, climateservices, most countries face similar technical, capacity, resourceand otherchallenges. There is a growing understanding of the potential for regional collaboration to address these constraints in operationalizing technologically complex systems and strengthening capacitiesto enhance servicedelivery to meet down-streamvalue chain needs.Regional cooperation is also criticalfor countries to keep up with rapid advances in technology and data science and progress towards impact-based forecasting. This would transform data into information through tailored services for a wide range of users through fostering collaboration with weather sensitive sector user institutions, academic and research systems across countries.
First South Asia Hydromet Forum (SAHF) organized in Geneva in September 2018 by World Bank in collaboration with WMOrecognised this need to strengthen the regional approach to address common needs and the countries in South Asiaexpressed a commitment for regional collaboration through the SAHF.
Second South Asia Hydromet Forum (SAHFII) was held in Kathmandu, Nepal in November 2019, where the heads of NMHS of eight South Asia countries and Myanmar agreed to move forward with the development and roll-out of a regional approach for operational cooperation. Further, it was agreed that RIMES should support the World Bank in administering the delivery of priority activities for regional capacity building, dialogue, engagement and knowledge sharing under the WB’s Regional Program on hydromet, early warning and climate services and the SAHF.The WB designed “SAHF South Asia Regional Development in Operational Forecasting and Service Delivery” program in Dec 2020 to address technical, institutional, and capacity gaps in SAR and tasked RIMES to implement it.
The SAHF III will expand on the SAHF I & II which focused on service delivery, regional collaboration and innovation, throughadoption of a climate/ early warning information value chain approach. It envisions to evolve collaborative regional strategies to increase the use of ensemble predictions, impact-based forecasting systems and user-oriented advisory services by bringing together a wide range of user communities, stakeholder institutions that connect NMHSs with societal systems, public, academic, and private institutions.An important aspect of the forum is “learning from each other” which involves developing solutions to the meteorological and hydrological servicedeliverychallenges that are unique to the region.
The conference is planned as a cluster of online meetings across 4 daysfrom 15 to 18 November 2021, with 8 sessions of 2-2.5 hours each. Following the opening session, the experiences in South Asia highlightingchallenges and opportunities for meeting user demands for tailored services will be discussed.This session will reflect the approach forintegrating downstream weather and climate information value chain componentsseamlessly into theupstreamcomponents- Impact Based Forecasting (IBF), Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP), Observational Network (ON),Capacity Enhancement (CE). User needs will define the design and delivery of tailor-made services leading to formulation of demand-based decision support systems, supported via customized NWP products drawing data from robust observation networks and communication systems.
The last two sessions will focus on regional hydromet requirements and initiatives as well as strategies for coordinating efforts in the region.The conference will also feature special sessions focusing on proven best practices in SAR and beyond, and emerging innovative initiatives such as the Global Weather Enterprise (GWE), Asia Regional Resilience to a Changing Climate (ARRCC) with participation of regional UN agencies.
The Forum has had the continued support and collaboration of SAHF partners- Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the GFDRR.
The South Asia Hydromet Services Forum will bring together representatives from government development institutions and private sectors working on the supply and demand side of weather and climate services, which is considered a key element of sustainable development:
The target audience include all stakeholders in the hydromet services information value chain- sectoral/ user institutions sensitive to weather and climate, information providers, i.e., NMHSs, private sector both benefiting from such services and those supplying hardware/ software for monitoring and forecasting, policymakers/ decision-makers and elected officials, lawmakers, the general public/ communities and development partners.