POZNAN, Poland, December 6, 2008 – Climate change is an economic as well as an environmental issue, and countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union should invest more in weather forecasting to reduce its impact on their citizens. As climate variability increases in the coming decades, better weather forecasting will become even more critical to aid farmers seeking to plant crops at the right time, better protect people from losses due to natural disasters, and help pilots who need predictable weather patterns for safe flying, a new World Bank study finds.
Released today, Weather and Climate Services in Europe and Central Asia: A Regional Review, suggests that forecasting improvements in Europe and Central Asia can play a critical role in improving the economy and mitigating disasters in the region. According to the report, weather services in many countries in Europe and Central Asia have been chronically underfunded and in a state of decay since the early 1990s, so potential gains from forecasting are missed. Improving weather monitoring systems can help mitigate damaging economic impacts of weather disasters, support increased productivity of agriculture, conserve energy, and promote safe aviation and transport by road and rail.
“The current lack of capacity and technical equipment has resulted in a ‘black hole’ of weather information in some countries,” said Vladimir Tsirkunov, Senior Environmental Engineer for Europe and Central Asia and the team leader of the study. “The result is that it is impossible to effectively track and predict weather patterns developing in these areas. It is a serious problem because it has a spillover effect on neighboring countries and their economies −now and in the future.”
Farmers are among those hardest hit by shortcomings in forecasting services, according to the report. Agriculture is particularly important in Central Asian and Caucasus economies, and as a result, farmers in those countries have likely been disproportionately affected by deteriorating capacity.
“Weather systems are taken for granted in OECD countries,” said Lucy Hancock, the lead author of the report. “But the bottom line is that a country like Tajikistan, for example, has to re-sow an average of 70,000 hectares each year because initial sowings are washed or blown away. Better forecasts could reduce those losses. Helping farmers to anticipate the kind of weather they will have will help increase yields while decreasing wasted resources. It will also help with other aspects of farming like fertilizing and pest and disease control.”
The deteriorating capacity in Central Asian countries is in stark contrast to the modernization underway in Russia, where a US$133 million World Bank investment in the Russian Hydromet Modernization Project is expected to generate a return of roughly 400 – 800 percent over the period of project implementation. A few years ago, the link between weakening forecast capacity and increasing vulnerability in Russia was evident when hazardous and unexpected weather phenomena increased from 6 percent at the beginning of the 1990s to 23 percent a decade later. With this challenge in mind, the Russian Government and the World Bank targeted weather services for investment in order to reduce their vulnerability. An economic assessment has indicated that the planned investment is likely to achieve a reduction of 8.5 percent in weather-related economic losses as a result of forecasting improvements.
The new Weather and Climate Services report says that investment in forecasting infrastructure and capacity building benefits the surrounding countries as well. Poor capacity in any one of the Central Asian and Caucasus countries affects the ability of all the other countries in those sub-regions to monitor weather systems as they approach. Countries in South East Europe face a similar challenge due to weak information sharing.
“Poor capacity is a serious problem,” said Tsirkunov. “In the case of disaster mitigation, forecasting severe weather saves lives – allowing emergency management teams to be put in place, mitigation measures prepared, and giving citizens time to get out of dangerous areas. A flood warning helps to significantly reduce damage with as little as one hour of lead time. But the research shows that very often there is little lead time at all.”
The study was coordinated and the development of its conclusions discussed with the hydromet directors concerned, representatives of the World Meteorological Organization, European Union (EU) and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) stakeholders, regional associations of hydromet directors, and other global stakeholders.