India to line up planes, radars against extreme weather

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 9 May 2012 13:07 GMT
Disaster chief says better warning of storms and floods will help protect people from climate hazards

NEW DELHI (AlertNet) - India plans to introduce aircraft that can fly into tropical storms, weather radars and a network of rainfall gauges to gather data that will improve its response to disasters made worse by climate change, the head of its disaster agency has said.

India is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, with a bulging population of 1.2 billion people, many living in areas vulnerable to natural hazards such as floods, cyclones, droughts and earthquakes.

Shashidhar Reddy, vice-chairman of India's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and its highest-ranking official under the prime minister, told AlertNet the South Asian nation must do more to boost the resilience of its people to disasters and minimise loss of life.

"In Asia, we have the highest vulnerability to disasters compared to other regions of the world. In India - being a large country with wide variability in agro-climatic regions and geophysical conditions -  the vulnerabilities are very challenging," Reddy said on the sidelines of a conference on managing climate and disaster risks last week.

"With climate change and the extreme events that have been forecast, it's a bigger challenge that we need to be geared up to," he said.

Efforts to collect more information through weather radars, aircraft and rainfall gauges would help, he added.

A major report by the United Nations, released in full in March, said the world needs to prepare better to deal with extreme weather and rising seas exacerbated by climate change, in order to save lives and limit rising economic losses.

The U.N. climate panel report forecast that all countries will be vulnerable to an expected increase in heat waves, more intense rains and floods, and a probable rise in the intensity of droughts.

URBANISATION RISKS

Reddy said India's cities are particularly at risk due to urbanisation, as millions of people migrate from rural areas to towns each year, meaning higher concentrations of people living in smaller spaces.

In July 2005, for example, Mumbai, the country's largest city and business capital, saw some of the worst flooding in its history. Heavy monsoon showers bringing rainfall of 944 mm in 24 hours - one of the highest daily totals recorded - killed around 1,000 people and resulted in economic losses of $2 billion.

"If we had had Doppler weather radars, we could have got a lead time of three to six hours, which is extremely critical and could make a lot of difference in terms of reducing the death toll by evacuating quickly," said the NDMA chief.

"We are now on the way to setting up a network of Doppler weather radars in the country which will be extremely useful in monitoring weather."

Getting real-time data from simple tools, such as a network of rainfall gauges, would not cost much, but would also provide critical early warning information, he added.

For cyclones, Reddy said specialised aircraft will soon be used to fly into storms, recording data that can reduce forecast errors for storm surges, intensity and landfall by about 30 percent.

"We have data from land-based observations, ocean-based observations and space-based observations, and what we found was lacking was data from the cyclone-core environment," he said.

"With the establishment of aircraft reconnaissance in the next five years, it will be a significant contribution - not just for India, but for the entire northern Indian Ocean region."

 

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