WMOs Activities in Support of the Combat against Drought

The fight against drought receives a high priority in the long-term plan of WMO, particularly under the Agricultural Meteorology Programme, the Hydrology and Water Resources Programme, and the Technical Cooperation Programme. WMO actively involves the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs), regional and subregional meteorological centers, and other bodies in the improvement of hydrological and meteorological networks for systematic observation, exchange and analysis of data for better monitoring of droughts, and use of medium- and long-range weather forecasts, and assists in the transfer of knowledge and technology. Following is a brief description of various activities undertaken by WMO in the combat against drought.


WMO has been in the forefront of research on interactions of climate, drought, and desertification from its beginnings in the mid-1970s, when it was suggested that human activities in drylands could alter surface features that would lead to an intensification of desertification processes and trends.

The "expanding Sahara" hypothesis paved the way to the description of a biogeophysical feedback mechanism (Charney et al., 1975), proven later by using the numerical climate model of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Hansen et al., 1988). Various research programs are being undertaken to study the weather and climate of arid, semiarid, subhumid and other desert-prone areas with a view to predict long-term trends in the general circulation, different rain-producing atmospheric disturbances, and meteorological droughts using statistical and dynamic methods.

Human-induced changes in dryland surface conditions and atmospheric composition can certainly have an impact on local and regional climate conditions because they directly affect the energy budget of the surface and the overlying atmospheric column. These changes to the energy balance have been simulated in many numerical modeling studies covering almost all dryland areas of the world. The outcomes of these studies underscore the need to improve our knowledge of the climate-desertification relationship and, at the same time, call for improvements in the quantity and quality of the data available for further simulations. Accordingly, the WMO World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) launched the Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment (GEWEX; www.gewex.org ) to study the atmospheric and thermodynamic processes that determine the global hydrolog-ical cycle and energy budget and their adjustments to global changes, such as an increase in greenhouse gases. Many of the fundamental issues associated with interactions of desertification and climate are receiving attention in the GEWEX objectives.

Empirical studies that had begun with the analysis of historical records received a considerable thrust from improvements in remote-sensing observation and measurement technologies. The International Satellite Land Surface Climatology Project (www.gewex.org/islscp.html) has substantially improved the amount and quality of data available for use in empirical and numerical modeling studies.

WMO is strengthening and intensifying the research on the interactions between climate and desertification. The urgent need to predict interannual climate variations is impelled by the socioeconomic upheavals that have occurred, especially in Africa, over the past few decades. Statistical forecasts of seasonal rainfall up to 3 months in advance are currently being made, but through a coordinated research effort significant improvements in reliability and lead-time could be expected (Cane and Arkin, 2000). Equipped with an improved understanding of the physical mechanisms that govern climate and with more reliable predictive models, countries would be in a far better position to predict the onset of drought and hence mitigate its devastating consequences. Strategic plans could then be developed for capitalizing on the extended predictive capabilities and for converting the forecasts to management decisions that will optimize the use of existing resources.

WMO improves climate prediction capability through the Climate Variability Project (CLIVAR; www.clivar.org) of the WCRP. The prediction of El Niño and associated impacts are becoming possible, with reasonable skill, within time spans ranging from seasons to over one year. The objectives of CLIVAR are first to describe and understand the physical processes responsible for climate variability and predictability on seasonal, interannual, decadal, and centennial time scales through the collection and analysis of observations and the development and application of models of the coupled climate system. The second objective is to extend the record of climate variability over the time scales of interest through the assembly of quality-controlled paleoclimatic and instrumental data sets. A third objective is to understand and predict the response of the climate system to increases of radiatively active gases and aerosols and to compare these predictions to the observed climate record to detect the anthropogenic modification of the natural climate signal. CLIVAR emphasizes the following research themes related to drought: (1) establishing the limits of predictability, taking a regional approach and giving special attention to global ENSO (El Niño/Southern Oscillation; chapter 3) response areas and monsoon circulation systems; (2) assessing the results of GCM (Global Circulation Model) coupled model runs to assess their ability to reproduce the patterns of spatial and temporal variability of rainfall; (3) studying drought- and flood-inducing processes; (4) investigating the predictive capability of SST (sea-surface temperature) and ocean-atmosphere coupling processes in the tropical Atlantic and Indian Oceans using the proposed observational arrays; (5) improving the understanding of tropical mid-latitude interactions and their impacts on predictability for northern and southern Africa; (6) investigating land-sea-air interaction processes using remote and in situ observations and conducting numerical modeling experiments to establish feedback processes; and (7) developing innovative, low-cost solutions to land-based observational and communication needs and to the construction of data bases, identifying centers of existing expertise, and developing assistance programs and projects to ensure the potential for a local base of ongoing research.

Global Climate Change and Dryland Climate

Many scientists and policy-makers believe that climate changes in drylands over the next century will be driven in part by the continued build-up of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Increases in the global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, various halocarbons and other greenhouse gases are well documented, and the upward trends for many of these trace gas concentrations are expected to continue well into the next century. Concern about climate has reached communities in all parts of the globe. As communities have adapted to their local climate, they are sensitive to its variations, and many are threatened by climate change.

The WMO/UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments have shown that the observed increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases may lead to global warming, sea-level rise, and space-time changes in the normal patterns of hydrometeorological parameters. Based on evidence from climate models, together with observations from instrumental and other available records, the IPCC (2001) Third Assessment Report concluded that "there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities." Human activities will continue to change atmospheric composition throughout the 21st century. By 2100, the concentration of CO2 is expected to increase from the present figure of 370 ppm to 540-970 ppm. Over the period from 1990 to 2100, it is projected that the average global air temperature will increase by 1.4 to 5.8°C, and global mean sea-level will rise by 9 to 88 cm. It is reported in the IPCC (2001) assessments that recent regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases, have already affected many physical and biological systems.

As the earth warms, models project that arid and semiarid land areas in southern Africa, the Middle East, southern Europe, and Australia will become even more water stressed than they are today, causing a decrease in agricultural production in many tropical and subtropical areas. Indeed, the year 2000 was the 22nd consecutive year with a global mean surface temperature above the 1961-91 normal temperature and was the 7th warmest year in the past 140 years, despite the persistent cooling influence of the 1997-98 La Niña event.

The predicted increase in temperature would most probably have the effect of increasing potential evapotranspiration rates in the drylands, and in the absence of any large increases in precipitation, many drylands are predicted to become even more arid in the next century. Desertification is more likely to become irreversible if the environment becomes drier and the soil becomes further degraded through erosion and compaction.

Based on experimental research, crop yield responses to climate change vary widely, depending on species and cultivars, soil properties, pests and pathogens, the direct effects of carbon dioxide on plants, and the interactions between carbon dioxide, air temperature, water stress, mineral nutrition, air quality, and adaptive responses. Those countries with the least resources have the least capacity to adapt to climate change and are the most vulnerable. For example, the adaptive capacity of societies in Africa is low due to lack of economic resources and technology, and vulnerability is high as a result of heavy reliance on rainfed agriculture, frequent droughts and floods, and poverty. Grain yields are projected to decrease, diminishing food security, particularly in small food—importing countries. Desertification would be exacerbated by reductions in average annual rainfall, runoff, and soil moisture. Significant extinctions of plants and animal species are projected and would impact rural livelihood.

Early Warning Systems for Drought

At a global level, the World Weather Watch (www.wmo.ch/web/www/ www.html) and Hydrology and Water Resources programs, which are coordinated by WMO, provide a solid operational framework on which to build improved warning capacity. The Global Observing System, the analytical capability of the Global Data Processing System, and the ability to disseminate warnings through the Global Telecommunications Systems form the basis of early warning for meteorological- and hydrological-related phenomena. The provision of meteorological and hydrological support to early warning is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of services supplied by NMHS, and it contributes to all four phases of early warning systems: mitigation or prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. The application of climatological and hydrological knowledge to assess risk and to plan land use contributes to disaster mitigation. The classical role of providing forecast and warnings of severe weather, extreme temperatures, and droughts or floods contributes to preparedness. Updated warnings, forecasts, observations, and consultation with emergency and relief agencies contribute to the response phase. Finally, special forecast and other advice assist recovery operations.

Over the last several decades, major advances have been made in weather forecasting, that is, up to about a week for mid-latitudes, but the understanding of El Niño represents the first major breakthrough in the prediction of the longer term climate.

Climate Information and Prediction Services

Prediction on seasonal and longer time scales, as a basis for warning, is a developing community service. WMO believes that the progress being made in climate research, where appropriate, should be translated into forms that will elevate the socioeconomic well-being of humanity. In 1995 WMO Twelfth Meteorological Congress (WMO, 1995) endorsed the Climate Information and Prediction Services (CLIPS) project to build on research achievements to improve economic and social decisions. WMO has been coordinating or has organized research liaison between the various interested groups through the co-sponsorship of workshops, seminars, and conferences, and through the organization of special training events on El Niño.

In collaboration with partner institutions, WMO has organized several Regional Climate Outlook Fora (RCOF; www.wmo.ch/web/wcp/clips 2001/html/index.html) in many parts of the world. The forums have enabled researchers from various advanced climate prediction centers and regional operational climate centers and experts from NMHSs, to develop consensus or consolidated climate outlook guidance products, together with guidance on interpretation, for dissemination to users. The RCOF proved to be a very effective capacity-building mechanism for the NMHSs in terms of the transfer of knowledge of the current state of development and limitations of seasonal climate prediction science. The forums were therefore used to enhance the regional and climate outlooks and associated impact projections during El Niño events.

Some examples to illustrate the use of El Niño predictions to provide early warnings include: (1) the case of Peru, where the El Niño information has been used for sustainable agricultural production through the alternation of crops (e.g., rice and cotton) during dry years; and (2) in Brazil, agricultural production was enhanced when El Niño information was used in making specific agricultural decisions in 1992 and 1987 when the El Niño event took place.

An important component of the CLIPS project is in the area of training and technology transfer. The objective is to ensure that NMHS have access to the regional and global climate monitoring products (www.wmo.ch/web /wcp/clips2001/html/index.html) that are routinely generated in support of WRCP and that NMHS staff has the necessary training to provide services to aid community decision-making. The CLIPS project is closely linked to the WMO Agricultural Meteorology and Hydrology and Water Resources programs to build on existing linkages with community managers in the land and water resource areas.

Agrometeorological Applications

Major meteorological events such as extended droughts have made highlevel government planners in many countries aware of the importance of timely and practical agrometeorological information. Drought monitoring, forecasting, and control have been receiving a high priority in many agencies. The purpose of the Agricultural Meteorology Programme (AGMP) of WMO is to support food and agricultural production and activities. The program assists members by providing meteorological and related services to the agricultural community to help develop sustainable and economically viable agricultural systems, improve production and quality, reduce losses and risks, decrease costs, increase efficiency in the use of water, labor, and energy, and conserve natural resources and decrease pollution by agricultural chemicals or other agents that contribute to the degradation of the environment.

AGMP accords a high priority to implementing activities that combat desertification and to instituting preparedness, management, response, and remedial action against the adverse effects of drought. Since the 1970s, the Commission for Agricultural Meteorology (CAgM; www.wmo.ch/web/ wcp/agm/CAgM/CAgMmenu.htm) of WMO has been active in addressing the issue of agricultural drought and made recommendations regarding the role of agrometeorology to help solve drought problems in drought-stricken areas, particularly in Africa. The commission appointed a number of working groups and rapporteurs with expertise relating to drought such as meteorological aspects of drought processes, indices for assessment of droughts, drought probability maps, operational use of agrometeorology for crop and pasture production in drought-prone areas, agrometeorolog-ical inputs and measures to alleviate the effects of droughts, assessment of the economic impacts of droughts, and so on. Based on the activities of these working groups and rapporteurs, a number of reports were published and distributed by WMO (www.wmo.ch/web/wcp/agm/CAgM/CAgM menu.htm).

In view of the importance of providing a better understanding of the interactions among climate, drought, and desertification, WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) co-sponsored a study on this subject, and the results were published in Interactions of Desertification and Climate (Williams and Balling, 1996). This book helped clarify some of the key issues in the debate on the contributions of climate and anthropogenic activities to desertification. In seeking to understand and quantify the interaction between desertification and climate, this study included a comprehensive analysis of human impact on surface and atmospheric conditions in drylands, the impact of human activities on climate, the impact of climate on soils and vegetation, the impact of climate on the hydrological cycle, human land use in drylands and the influence of climate, linkages between interannual climatic variations in drylands and the global climate system, and future climate changes in drylands and mitigation. Finally, some rehabilitation strategies to combat desertification were recommended as well as an urgent need to establish accurate baseline data relating to dryland degradation using consistent and uniform methods and criteria.

A number of capacity-building activities are also undertaken by AGMP regarding agricultural droughts. Some of the recent activities include:

• WMO/UNSO Training Seminar/Workshop on Drought Preparedness and Management, Banjul, Gambia (September 1995)

• Workshop/Training Seminar on Drought Preparedness and Management for Northern African Countries, Casablanca, Morocco (June 1996)

• Workshop on Drought and Desertification, Bet Dagan, Israel (May 1997)

• Roving Seminar on Agrometeorology related to Extreme Events, Pune, India (April-May 1997)

• Roving Seminars on the Application of Climatic Data for Drought Preparedness and Management of Sustainable Agriculture, Accra, Ghana (November 1999), Beijing, China (May 2001)

• International Workshop co-sponsored by UNDP/UNSO and WMO on Coping with Drought in sub-Saharan Africa: Best Use of Climate Information, Kadoma, Zimbabwe (October 1999)

• Expert Group Meeting on Wind Erosion in Africa, Cairo Egypt (April 1997)

• Expert Group Meeting on Early Warning Systems for Drought Preparedness and Drought Management, Lisbon, Portugal (September 2000).

Proceedings of some of these workshops were published (Sivakumar et al., 1998; UNDP/UNSO and WMO, 2000; Wilhite et al., 2000; WMO, 1997, 1998, 2000; WMO and UNDP/UNSO, 1997).

World Hydrological Cycle Observing System

The World Hydrological Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS) was developed to improve understanding of the status of water resources at a global scale, which is critical to monitoring agricultural droughts. Composed of regional systems implemented by cooperating nations, WHYCOS will complement national efforts to provide information required for wise water resource management. Modeled on WMO's World Weather Watch and using the same information and telecommunications technology, WHY-COS will provide a vehicle not only for disseminating high-quality information, but also for promoting international collaboration. It will build the capacity of National Hydrological Services so that they are ready to face the demands of the 21st century. It will provide a means for the international community to monitor water resources more accurately at the global level and to understand the global hydrological cycle.

Support to Regional Institutions

In 1972, the worsening drought situation in the Sahelian Zone prompted WMO to appoint a consultant to conduct a survey in the area, followed by a group mission of experts, supported by UNDP, to study and recommend further action to strengthen the Meteorological, Agrometeorological and Hydrometeorological Services in the countries concerned. Recommendations of this group led to the formation of the Regional Centre for Agricultural Meteorology and Hydrology (AGRHYMET) in Niamey, Niger.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, droughts caused widespread famine and economic hardships in many countries in eastern and southern Africa. At the request of 24 countries in these regions, in 1989 WMO established two Drought Monitoring Centres (DMCs) in Nairobi, Kenya (chapter 18), and Harare, Zimbabwe, with support from UNDP. WMO, along with the Economic Commission for Africa, sponsored the establishment of the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) in Niamey, Niger, in 1993. ACMAD is the focal point in fostering regional cooperation among the 53 African countries with the rest of the world in climate and environmental concerns with regard to sustainable social and economic development. The center coordinates the activities of the NMHSs of these countries in applying meteorological and hydrological information to important social and economic sectors, such as food production, water resource management, cash crops, pest control, and health. In addition, ACMAD provides operational products such as forecasts and early warnings to extreme climatic occurrences like drought and floods and assists in reducing their adverse impacts in Africa.

Given the importance of the interactions between climate and desertification, WMO has accorded a major priority to this area, and its action plan to combat desertification was first adopted in 1978 at the 30th session of the executive council of WMO and has gone through several revisions.

Priority areas for attention include enhanced observing systems at national, regional, and international levels; promoting the mitigation of the effects of drought and desertification through effective early warning systems; supporting and strengthening the capabilities of members and regional institutions and improved applications of meteorological and hydrological data.

WMO and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction

The Inter-Agency Task Force for Disaster Reduction (IATF) is one of the most important new institutional arrangements established under the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). According to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 54/219, the IATF is "the main forum within the United Nations for continued and concerted emphasis on natural disaster reduction." WMO chairs the Working Group I on "climate and disasters" of IATF and selected drought as the major topic to improve synergy between the four ISDR working groups. A number of meetings have already been held to develop a common strategy to address the drought issues.

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