Afghanistan

Press briefing by Rabah Lekhal (FAO) on the establishment of agro-meteorological monitoring in Afghanistan 23 Feb 2003

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Kabul 23 February 2003: "While the beginning of 2003 has been a good period so far in terms of rains and snow, we cannot not yet say that the drought in Afghanistan is over", Rabah Lekhal, an agro-meteorologist from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told journalists at a press conference held at UNAMA today. "But we can say that if the rain continues, the year will be good if the same pattern holds", Mr. Lekhal added.
According to the FAO expert, from May to December 2002, Afghanistan experienced a drought with just a little bit of rainfall throughout the country in places like Faizabad and Heart, which were the wettest areas. Kabul was very dry while an in-between situation prevailed in the Jalalabad region. But starting January 2003, the meteorological situation changed. "We started to record rainfall and towards the end of February we had very heavy rains as well as snow in the southern and central regions", he added, drawing attention to the fact that there was very good countrywide distribution of snow and rainfall.

Mr Lekhal said the total accumulated rainfall in various locations from the first 10 days of December 2002 to 20 February 2003 ranged from 70-130 mm. Darul Aman received 78.2 mm; Kiriz Mir -130 mm; Kabul - 93.3 mm; Kunjak in Logar 78 .3 mm and; Jabul Sarah - 75.4 mm. Regarding the snow -- 14 cm fell in Logar; 7 cm in Darul Aman; 120 cm in the Salang Tunnel; 19 cm in Kabul. All the remaining regions where it snowed saw about 18 cm.

Addressing his particular area of expertise, Mr Lekhal said he is in charge of monitoring crops using agro-meteorological tools. The first is a network with almost 34 rain gauge points for recording rainfall. "At first we will install up to 65 points over the country where we can measure both snow and rain and finally we will increase these points up to 300." Another tool used is a water balance model to get a satisfactory water equivalent index. "We will run the water balance in the same points where we have rainfall", he confirmed. In addition, satellite pictures are being used to monitor crops and grazing in the pastures as well as to estimate rainfall in the near future for every 2.5 km each 10 days.

"We are monitoring essentially wheat, maize and barley", said the FAO expert. A water balance model will be run for all crops. "To date, the situation vis-à-vis those crops has improved due to the last rains and particularly in light of the fact that we are now at the beginning of the vegetative stage", he said.

Mr Lekhal outlined how the agro-meteorological component will be applied in Afghanistan. In presenting a report, he confirmed that three hundred rain gauges will be installed all over the country. Fifty stations around Afghanistan will also provide one combined fortnightly monitoring. Crops stages and yields will be observed and compared to the previous year.

Regarding capacity building, FAO is working closely with the Agric-Research Department and the Meteorological Department. "One person from each department works with us while the locations of the various projects were selected by both departments", he added. "The FAO just finished training two people on the installation of the gauges. We expect to organize three training courses -- one on computer application and use; another on use of agro-meteorological software and a third one on satellite picture analysis."

Responding to a question on whether the drought in Afghanistan was over, the FAO expert said: "Although the beginning of 2003 is a good period so far, we cannot say whether the drought is over or not. We need statistical analysis which has not been done. Indeed we have to gather all information as all data collection stopped in 1992". Between 1993 and 1999, there was no data recorded at all on Afghanistan. "The only way is to rely on the meteorological memory of the rain", he concluded.

The agro-meteorology is a component of the FAO Food Security Surveillance system, which is funded by USA.