Regional drought outlook system launched at SAARC regional training in Islamabad


Collective efforts needed to manage droughts in South Asia: Speakers.

Islamabad: Dr. Mohammad Faisal Director General South Asia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pakistan, formally launched the system during the opening ceremony of SAARC Regional Training on Earth Observation and Climate Data Analysis for Agriculture Draught Monitoring in South Asia.

The officials from SAARC Member States are attending a four-day training workshop jointly organized by SAARC Agriculture Center, International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) and the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD)in Islamabad. The training workshop, aimed at meteorological, agriculture and climate scientists, delves on the techniques of data development and analysis tailored for use in drought monitoring to understand drought and its implications better, and minimize the impacts of drought in the region.

In his inaugural remarks Dr. Faisal, Director General, South Asia region, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, highlighting South Asia is extremely vulnerable to a range of climate impact ranging from shrinking glaciers, water scarcity and rising sea level, changes weather patterns, shifting monsoon patterns and heat waves place considerable stress in South Asian countries whose primary employment sector remains agriculture. Especially flood and drought have not only become more regular and also more severe. Increasing severity of impact that often effect more than one country exceeds the capacity of national governments making adequate response very difficult. With SAARC South Asian states have a viable platform that can support national government responses. Dr. Faisal commended the organizers for their effort in enhancing regional capacity on the use of new technologies in combating drought and other climate change associated calamities.

Mr. Muhammad Riaz, Director General, Pakistan Meteorological Department highlighted the role of PMD in generating timely advisory on extreme climate events particularly on flood and droughts in the country. He emphasized on close engagement with focal institutions to yield best returns of our investment. He further emphasized on the use of new technologies in combating climate related calamites.

SAC’s Senior Program Specialist, Pradyumna Raj Pandey shared that the training would enable participants to understand how satellite data, weather forecast and early warning systems can help understand and manage droughts. He said, “This is the second joint training programme by SAC and ICIMOD this year. We hope that this training will foster further trainings to promote institutional capacities in generating data products related to drought”.

Speaking about the system’s capabilities, ICIMOD’s Programme Manager Dr Ghulam Rasul shared that the system provided multiple indices for droughts and seasonal weather outlooks at the national and regional levels, and baselines on crop type maps, and farming practices calendars valid at the district level. He said, “As a regional knowledge Centre, ICIMOD has been promoting the use of Earth Observation information for evidence-based decision-making through applications and information systems to provide timely and accurate information.

In his concluding remarks, Dr. Ghulam Muhammad Ali, Director General, National Agriculture Research Centre (NARC), Pakistan expressed that the scale of the climate challenges we face today and in the future is by now clearly evident. In Pakistan, we regularly see some parts of the country are in the grip of severe drought, while others are having water logging and floods. Anyone who has experienced the increasing intensity of sizzling summer temperatures in Pakistan over the past decade would find it hard to have any doubts as to whether our planet is warming. It has become routine to report about the scorching heat gripping many parts of Southern Pakistan. For achieving development faster, we must deepen our collective efforts to develop, use and apply science-technology-innovation at all levels. We need support in agriculture, food and climate change technologies. I hope that this regional training workshop will provide excellent means in achieving these goals.

Mr. M. Idrees Mahsud, Member Disaster Risk Reduction, National Disaster Management Authority highlighted the learnings of NDMA from past catastrophic events and expressed that now NDMA Pakistan has well-structured Disaster Risk Reduction plan and better preparedness. NDMA also actively engage with regional initiative to share learnings and experiences in the area of disaster management.

Drought monitoring and early warning systems can support national- and local-level planning and agro-advisory services to help local populations and governments prepare for drought and cope with its impacts on agriculture. Along with drought preparedness measures, a range of climate-resilient adaptation practices— micro irrigation systems, water harvesting and storage practices, and soil nutrient management—can be customized to local situations. Such practices can play a vital role in improving food security in the HKH region.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has developed an integrated information platform linking weather and climate data with agriculture practices in the region, in collaboration with regional partners and global technical institutions. The web-based service on the Regional Drought Monitoring and Outlook System for South Asia provides information on the in-season drought situation and outlook. The system can assist agriculture sector professionals in understanding existing agro-climatic conditions by observing indicators and crop calendars. Seasonal forecast information provided by the system helps in the identification of forthcoming droughts and planning short- and long-term mitigation measures. The system can also be utilized to assess environmental and economic impacts on the vulnerable population in the region.

Pertinently, droughts do not get much attention as they do not harm lives and property immediately in their wake. The onset of droughts is slow and creeping, but the aftermath is long-term and crippling, especially on agriculture production further affecting food security. The social and economic costs of droughts are dire. Droughts affect the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable communities the most.

In South Asian countries, drought-related interventions are limited to the monitoring of meteorological droughts. The region also lacks capacity in utilizing advanced methods for remote sensing and climate data analysis to support operational drought monitoring systems. Additionally, institutional frameworks like formal declarations on drought, compensation, and adaptation strategies do not exist in the region. Although a considerable volume of climate data has been made available by scientific communities in the past decade, the uptake of such information by decision makers at local and management levels has been sparse. Provisioning of user-oriented, accessible, timely, and policy-focused scientific information in the form of a climate service can help society cope with current climate variability and limit the economic and social damage caused by climate-related disasters.