South Asia to get new drought monitoring tool

by Amantha Perera | @AmanthaP | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 12 September 2014 11:30 GMT

A new water pumping station in the Unnichchi tank in Sri Lanka's eastern Batticaloa District was established in 2010 as part of a new water distribution system. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Amantha Perera

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Better and faster information should help farmers and other water users prepare for extreme weather, experts say

STOCKHOLM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – South Asia is set to get a new drought monitoring tool next year, which policymakers hope will help a region increasingly buffeted by extreme weather.

The tool, which will incorporate satellite photos of vegetation and forests, meteorological data, details of ground moisture measurements and crop-yield data, should be available for use by next April, the experts developing it said.

The new tool is being developed by the Global Water Partnership, the International Water Management Institute and the World Meteorological Organization with help from the governments of Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Farmers and reservoir managers will be key recipients of the new data reports, which will be updated every eight days, said Frederik Pischke, a programme officer on international climate and hydrology for the Global Water Partnership.

“The most important thing is to get the message to the ground level, to the level of farmers, households and water managers who are the final water users, so that they know well in advance what to expect and can adapt,” Pischke said.

Developers are exploring the possibility of using mobile phones, media and groups such as farmer organisations to get out the information, which will be as close to real-time updating as possible.

South Asia already has a regional climate group that meets before the annual monsoon in April. That annual meeting of weather experts from all eight South Asian countries as well as World Meteorological Organization specialists  has taken place since 2010 and has predicted the levels of monsoon rains fairly accurately, said Pischke.

However, he said that the major snag has been getting monsoon updates to farmers and other people who could benefit in a timely manner. “The success of the new South Asia Drought Monitoring System will depend on how quickly and how effectively we get the updated data to the end users,” he said.

DROUGHT IN SRI LANKA

Even as India and Pakistan battle disastrous flooding, Sri Lanka is currently struggling with a severe drought. According to a report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 1.8m Sri Lankans in 15 of the country’s 25 districts are affected by the drought that is into its 11th month.

As a result, the country’s rice harvest is expected to fall by 17 percent, and there are fears that over 700,000 people could suffer food insecurity, the report said.

The report also said that in the last decade Sri Lanka incurred losses of $1 billion as a result of flooding, with nine million people affected.

Officials in Sri Lanka said that the lack of data and sharing of information was hampering effective preventive measures against extreme weather.

“We need a mechanism to share information fast and also to be in a position to coordinate actions across various sectors like power and agriculture,” said Indra Ediriweera, assistant general manager of Sri Lanka Water Board.

A similar situation exists in Nepal, where officials say erratic monsoon rains have left the country’s hydropower supply unpredictable. “If have advanced warning, we can adjust our usage” of power and water, said Krishna Chandra Paudel, Secretary for Science, Technology and Environment in the Nepal government.

Pischke said that the new drought monitor was expected to provide just that, comparing current readings to historical data to create thresholds for declaring a drought.

The weather expert said water users could then make adjustments, including adopting drought-resistant crops, changing water release timetables at reservoirs or capturing water during heavy rainfall for use in dryer periods.

Amantha Perera is a freelance writer based in Sri Lanka. He can be followed on Twitter at @AmanthaP 

(Editing by Laurie Goering; laurie.goering@thomsonreuters.com)

 

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