The Afghanistan Meteorological Department (AMD) has reconnected with the world in a move which will help to improve the country’s hydrometeorological hazard early warning systems, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
On 15 February 2017 meteorological department observers uploaded surface synoptic observation data to the WMO Global Telecommunications System (GTS), making Afghanistan’s data visible and accessible to the international community for the first time in 30 years. This will enable the Afghanistan Meteorological Department to upload in-situ meteorological data to the GTS on a regular basis.
“One of the benefits of this will be better predictions of hazards such as severe weather and flash flooding for Afghanistan and the South Asian region,” said Paul Pilon, Chief of WMO’s Hydrological Forecasting and Water Resources Division.
This milestone is the result of a concerted effort between WMO and the U.S. Agency for International Development/Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA).
Afghanistan’s development has been hampered through years of insecurity. It is extremely exposed to hydrometeorological hazards, which claimed the lives of nearly 15,000 from 1980 to 2015. Of these, 4,615 were due to flash floods and floods, according to the International Disaster Database, Centre for research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), which have cost the country an estimated USD 396 million in economic losses. Associated landslides and avalanches are also a major problem. The landlocked nation is also vulnerable to seasonal climate variability and long-term climate change.
To reduce the socio-economic impact of hydrometeorological hazards on vulnerable communities, in 2013, USAID/OFDA pledged financial support for the WMO-implemented project, Strengthening Early Warning Systems in Afghanistan. Since then, WMO has been working closely with the Afghanistan Meteorological Department on building its institutional capacity to produce severe weather forecasts and early warnings.
This involved, inter alia, building the infrastructure needed for the meteorological department to be able to access and exchange data and products through the GTS. Local and wide area networks, back-up power sources and security systems were installed; IT equipment with ample computing power was procured; the building was renovated; and a forecasting room was constructed.
WMO has also facilitated training to improve hydrometeorological services in the long-term. A rigorous competency assessment helped WMO determine capacity levels and services gaps.
In 2016, 21 meteorological department staff received quality management training and observer training to prepare them for reporting surface synoptic observations on the GTS.
In 2017, training activities are scheduled for weather forecasting, satellite meteorology, hydrometeorology, maintenance and calibration, meteorological data processing and visualization software, and the South Asia Flash Flood Guidance System.
Afghan meteorological department weather forecasters are receiving weather forecasting and satellite meteorology training from 6 March to 14 April 2017 at the Turkish State Meteorological Service (TSMS) – Regional Training Centre in Ankara, Turkey. In keeping with WMO’s drive to promote gender equality, three of the participants are female weather forecasters who are knowledgeable about hydrometeorology, passionate about making a difference and excited about the possibilities opened up by this project.
“Afghanistan has changed. Women can show what we can do for our country. I’m happy that we have this chance,” said Farzana Hashimi.
Soma Popalzai added, “This gives us the chance to prove that women can also work hard.”
“I’m looking forward to using what we’ve learned to do our work according to international standards,” said Ms Laila Amin. “After this, we will be ready to sit in front of our new computers and connect with the world.”
The project’s strong focus on strengthening infrastructure and capacity building is meant to ensure long-term sustainability. But developing the Afghan Meteorological Department to provide full meteorological and aviation services is a long process and it is critical for the international community to remain invested in this project.
“This is just the first phase,” said Ms. Amini. “We want to have an active meteorology center in Afghanistan. We don’t want to fall behind.”