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Early weather forecasts key to saving lives in drought - U.N.

By Umberto Bacchi

ROME, June 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With droughts
set to become more frequent due to global warming, delivering
timely, long-term weather forecasts to farmers in the developing
world will be key to limiting damage and saving lives, the head
of the U.N. food agency said on Monday.

Droughts have killed more than 11 million people worldwide
since 1900 and now affect double the land area than in 1970,
according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Developing countries are the most exposed, with their
agricultural sectors shouldering 80 percent of all damage caused
by drought, FAO says.

Better access to reliable weather data and early warning
systems could help farmers in rural areas get ready to endure
long spells of no rain, said FAO director-general Jose Graziano
da Silva.

"Most of the times poor rural communities in developing
countries don't even know that a drought is about to strike," he
told a conference at the FAO headquarters in Rome.

Measures such as planting resistant crops and building water
reservoirs can greatly reduce the impact of droughts, but
international responses too often focus on emergency relief,
said Graziano da Silva.

"People die because they are not prepared to face the
impacts of the drought - because their livelihoods are not
resilient enough," he said.

In Rome, FAO and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
signed an accord to increase cooperation in the face of climate
change, improving agro-meteorological services to help small
farmers prepare for droughts.

WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas said weather forecast
accuracy had greatly increased in recent years thanks
developments in satellite, computing and scientific research.

"Weather forecasts are not anymore a joke, they are
something you can very much rely on," he told the conference.

Know-how related to long-term forecasts and prediction of
major climate events like El Nino had to be shared between rich
and poor countries, he added.

The last El Nino, a warming of ocean surface temperatures in
the eastern and central Pacific that typically occurs every few
years, subsided in 2016 and was linked to crop damage, fires and
flash floods.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ros
Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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