With all aspects of life increasingly sensitive to the weather and more activities reducing the margins for risk, meteorological and hydrological services are vital for sustainable social and economic development and to mitigate the impact of natural disasters and hazards, the head of the United Nations meteorological agency said today.
"This situation calls for new and more sophisticated types of meteorological and hydrological services in almost every sector of the economy such as health, transport, urban development, food security, management of water, energy and other resources, tourism and leisure," World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a message for World Meteorological Day.
"Better services will be required from WMO and the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) to anticipate, avert and minimize the impacts of extreme events, desertification and other threats to human safety and security and to the global environment, including climate change, ozone depletion and increased pollution," he added.
In the area of human health, for instance, WMO will further facilitate research on the impact of the depletion of the protective ozone level that can increase the incidence of skin cancer, the conditions that favour the development and spread of certain diseases, the potential impact of climate change on health, and stress due to heat or extreme cold.
"Today, the pace of change is faster than ever before. Thanks to their spectacular achievements, especially in recent decades, much more is now expected from the sciences of meteorology and hydrology," Mr. Jarraud said. "Virtually every human activity is influenced by weather, climate and water and an increasing number of activities are taking place with a reduced margin to accommodate risks."
It is estimated that, over the 10-year period of 1992 to 2001, 90 per cent of all natural disasters were of hydro-meteorological origin, killing 622,000 people, affecting 2 billion more, devastating arable land and spreading disease. The total volume of economic losses over the same period is estimated at about $450 billion, accounting for some 65 per cent of the damage arising from all natural disasters.
No country is spared the adverse impacts of natural disasters, but the weakest suffer most, Mr. Jarraud said. A single storm can leave them struggling for years. It is also projected that climate change is likely to cause an increase in several types of natural disasters. A major objective for WMO and the NMHSs is therefore to work towards a major reduction of the fatality rate associated with natural disasters of meteorological, hydrological and climatic origin through the use of radars, satellites and other techniques that can provide early warnings that mitigate their effects.