Hydromet and Early Warning Services in Afghanistan: A Road Map


Country Context

Hydrological and meteorological (hydromet) data collection and analysis in Afghanistan started in the late 1940s and mid-1950s, respectively. The hydrometric network expanded rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, reaching a peak of 150 in 1980, and the meteorological network had a similar trajectory. Two decades of war, however, brought instability and insecurity that reduced public resources, capacities, collaboration, and coordination.

The institutional framework governing weather, climate and hydrological (hydromet) services as well as early warning (EW) and disaster risk management (DRM) services did not escape these setbacks. In 1996, Taliban forces sacked the meteorology office, ruining equipment and destroying over 100 years of weather records. Hydroelectric production nearly ceased as turbines were destroyed, floodgates blown open, and transmission lines brought down. The civil war and its aftermath led to the degradation of traditional observation networks, prevalence of outdated and inefficient technologies, and lack of modern instruments and information and communication technology (ICT).

The absence of forecasts and weather information reversed years of development gains in farming and civil aviation operations. In 1998, an Ariana Afghan Airlines flight in route from Kandahar to Kabul in bad weather crashed into a mountaintop, killing 45 people. From 1998 to 2004, a major drought forced nearly 1 million Afghans from their farms and herds into metropolitan areas, impacting half the agriculture land, killing 3 million livestock, and seriously depleting groundwater resources in Kabul and the Kabul Water Basin.

Today, the country is in the process of rebuilding and reorganizing its institutions to bet- ter meet the needs of and deliver services to the Afghan people. The existing regulatory, operational, and institutional framework governing hydromet, EW, and DRM provides a basis for developing and implementing effective and efficient products and services. Two main and interrelated challenges, however, are hindering progress in this area in Afghanistan.

First, Afghanistan needs to develop a comprehensive and inclusive national strategy/plan for DRM, hydromet, and EW services to better understand and appreciate these functions and to clearly delineate existing and future roles and responsibilities. Second, institutional communication and coordination needs to be (reestablished and) solidified along the entire hydromet, EW, and DRM value chain. Coordination of observation networks, forecasting, and EW services is essential to avoid duplication, to build economies of scale, and to ensure an effective supply chain in the production and delivery of services. In terms of observation, insufficient coordination among agencies could lead to two or more stations from different agencies installed, in proximity, to observe the same parameters leading to a significant waste of scarce resources. Similarly, the absence of proper coordination in terms of hydromet products would inevitably lead to having several but incomplete versions of the same products due to gaps in data/information inputs as well as capacity requirements. It is important to note that if two separate agencies issue simultaneous and uncoordinated products, this will create confusion for the users, with potential to lead to endangering safety of life in case of severe weather-related hazards.

Strategically, the stability of Afghanistan, including that of the government and economy, can be an enabling and at the same time a limiting factor in the pace of AMD’s development. A key factor affecting stability is, of course, the security in the country which can restrict the implementation of development plans. Very little can be done within any program designed to develop the capacity of AMD, WRD-MEW, and their key stakeholders to prevent the short-term risk. However, as part of a holistic development picture, the program itself can contribute to stability through improved protection of life against hydrometeorological hazards and thus increase trust of the Afghan population that government is doing all it can to protect citizens, particularly through improved food and water security, as well as improving economic prosperity in important sectors such as aviation and land transport.