Learning from the Kyrgyz Republic’s efforts to strengthen its weather forecasting service
Natural disasters have a real cost on Central Asia, causing some $10 billion in losses and affecting almost three million people every year. Much of these impacts are caused by extreme weather events such as storms, floods, mudflows, landslides, avalanches, droughts, and extreme temperatures, which are expected to become even more frequent and devastating due to climate change. For a mountainous country like the Kyrgyz Republic, managing these risks is critical for the resilience of its citizens and economy.
Weather forecasting is a crucial tool for the Kyrgyz Republic and the region in preventing the erosion of their development gains. By investing in maintaining and developing weather and water forecasting with support from the World Bank, Kyrgyz Republic has sought to better protect lives and livelihoods.
The country’s experience with modernizing its State Agency for Hydrometeorology under the Ministry of Emergency Situations (“Kyrgyzhydromet”) presents some important lessons that can help other developing economies bolster their forecasting services to build resilience and preparedness against extreme weather events. Beyond the necessary equipment and technical skills, service delivery, regional cooperation, and sustainability are key for strengthening preparedness.
The National Meteorological and Hydrological Service
Kyrgyzhydromet is responsible for monitoring and forecasting the weather, climate, and water in rivers and lakes. Supported by the World Bank’s Central Asia Hydrometeorology Modernization Project (CAHMP), Kyrgyzhydromet now follows a value chain approach, where local monitoring is combined with satellite data and global forecasts to inform national models. The results are used to forecast the weather locally and provide early warnings of events like storms and floods. While much of these processes can be automated, human expertise is required at every step.
Many of the country’s weather and river monitoring stations have been equipped with modern sensors and are now fully automated, transmitting data in regular intervals. New servers ensure data is properly stored and run the latest numerical weather prediction models. And workstations allow forecasters to interpret the plethora of available information, using their local expertise to forecast the weather and river flows more accurately over the coming hours and days across the Kyrgyz Republic.
Knowing that weather, climate, and water do not respect national boundaries, Kyrgyzhydromet cooperates with its neighbors, for example by sharing data through global standardized systems coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). This helps improve the performance of global and regional forecasting models, which subsequentially help Kyrgyzhydromet forecasters improve their national and local forecasts.
Water remains a critical and threatened resource in Central Asia, with climate change melting glaciers and shifting the amount and seasonal timing of precipitation. When more of the mountain precipitation falls as rain, it is not stored as snow for later downstream use during the warm months, which is critical for agriculture, energy, and water supply. Understanding how much water will be available where and when, as well as if there are risks of floods, is essential to the well-being and resilience of Central Asia.
As such, the World Bank and WMO are collaborating with the Kyrgyz Republic and its neighbors to develop the Central Asian Flood Early Warning System (CAFEWS). This virtual platform will use the latest technologies, including cloud computing, to improve regional monitoring and forecasting of snowmelt, river flow, extreme weather, floods, and landslides. This will enable stakeholders in the Kyrgyz Republic and all of Central Asia to better prepare for potential disasters, manage water resources, and optimize agricultural and energy production.
Despite these significant advances, more still needs to be done. This includes:
- Understanding user needs: Without strong service delivery that understands and meets user demand, even the best technologies and skills do not add much value. A 2020 survey showed that while users are generally satisfied with Kyrgyzhydromet’s services, there is significant opportunity to reach more people with better products through modern information and communication technologies. Users would also find forecasts of potential impacts rather than just weather measurements more useful (so-called “impact-based forecasting”).
- Strengthening capacity: To help better meet user needs, forecasts can be made even more localized, accurate, and earlier, particularly through the installation of weather radars and upper air stations (weather balloons). The meteorological and hydrological monitoring network, including for snow and glaciers, also needs to be further expanded and automated.
- Reliable resourcing: Operating and maintaining modern hydrometeorological systems requires significant human and financial resources. Any investment to upgrade monitoring and forecasting systems should therefore be matched with an increased and reliable budget for Kyrgyzhydromet, which also ensures qualified experts find it rewarding to work for the agency.
A recent peer review that was financed by Central Asia Water and Energy Program and performed by MeteoSwiss under the auspices of the Alliance for Hydromet Development recognized the advances Kyrgyzhydromet has made in recent years. But it also confirmed areas where improvements could still be made, including institutional strengthening, advanced technical capacity, more active user engagement and stakeholder management, and enhanced regional collaboration.
The World Bank remains committed to supporting Kyrgyzhydromet’s modernization, which will help the Kyrgyz Republic and the wider region to be better prepared for disasters, improve agricultural production, and plan for a more resilient and sustainable future.