Dr D S PAI, head, climate prediction division at IMD and co-ordinator of SASCOF-12, spoke to ANJALI MARAR on India’s strategic role in the region and the importance of co-operating with neighbouring countries in adapting to climate change. Some excerpts:
What is SASCOF? What is the purpose of such a forum?
SASCOF was established in 2010 as a platform where meteorologists from South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives — along with Myanmar, could discuss some of the common weather and climate related matters. With the climate change becoming more prominent, be it deficient monsoon or extreme weather events that are more often experienced now, to plan better adaptation strategies, the need for such a collaboration was felt. Since all these South Asian countries — except for Afghanistan, which is located in extreme northwest — experience common weather and climatological characteristics, like Southwest monsoon, such a platform was needed to plan risk management and adaptation for minimising the impacts of climate variability. Before this forum was recognised, most of these countries were not involved in undertaking climate predictions, whereas India has a really long history of making these predictions. To some extent, Pakistan had some facilities as the two countries were united till partition. Also, all these countries have economies driven by agriculture and hence it is important to have weather forecasts, for monsoon in particular. With agriculture in these countries being extensively labour driven, any variation in the monsoon systems can have adverse effects on the country’s overall economy. India has hosted six editions so far. Since 2015, the forum issues Climate Outlook even for the Northeast monsoon.
How significant is India’s role in this region in carrying out weather services?
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) encourages co-operation and establishment of Regional Climate Outlook Forums in every region that share similar weather and climate. So, for the South Asian region, we have SASCOF. Since other countries in this region do not have capabilities or infrastructure like High Performance Computing (HPC) for carrying out Long Range Forecast (LRF) or extended range forecasts, India, with its advanced capabilities and expertise, is leading the forum. We help neighbouring countries with weather services and share all kinds of forecasts. So, using India’s extended and seasonal forecasts, the neighbouring countries can manage to know and plan in advance. WMO has recognised Pune office of IMD as the Regional Climate Centre (RCC). Under this, IMD issues a four-monthly forecast with details of temperature and rainfall for the entire region. These countries can use this information. Besides this, India also extends all kinds of support to them, be it in the form of software or tools required for weather predictions, providing training to meteorologists, providing country-specific forecasts or inviting meteorologists to work in India in order to improve their skills, among other activities. In the process, we are helping each of these countries learn and develop their own capacities.
What specific demands, if any, do South Asian countries have from India regarding weather services?
IMD is aware of countries, their weather and climate patterns. All weather products that India uses, we share the same with these SAARC countries. Suppose a country demands certain specific parameter, we take into consideration their boundaries and issue country average or we supply maps for the country. Even the day-to-day forecast issued for India covers entire South Asia. The other eight countries too can make use of these daily forecasts. For instance, India is helping Bhutan with seasonal and extended range predictions and we share computed data for their use. Since weather products are based globally, we do receive requests for guidance apart from climate services. For example, if a cyclone originates in the Arabian Sea and is found to be heading towards the middle-east, IMD issues warning to the respective gulf countries likely to be affected.
What are the challenges regarding weather and climate before the region?
Well, weather challenges will keep coming. Every year is unique and different from the previous one. With climate change becoming pronounced, predictions are getting complex and extreme events have increased. Accordingly, the forecasting systems too need to evolve. The forecasts are improving over time but with high uncertainties in the atmospheric conditions, for instance, in the absence of La Nina (excess cooling of the Pacific Ocean) or an El Nino (excess warming of the Pacific Ocean), it becomes tougher for meteorologists to make accurate predictions. Since these are two of the most prominent sources of predictability, their absence make other parameters more important, at the time of issuing seasonal forecasts. We now need to strengthen all kinds of predictions — short range, extended range, seasonal to long range forecasts — and use them in a combined manner. Ultimately, it is up to the end users to decide and use all these predictions appropriately. Power and water resource management are some of the key sectors that are affected largely due to weather changes.
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