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UN weather agency outlines ambitious programme in natural disaster mitigation

UN weather agency outlines ambitious programme in natural disaster mitigation

From enlisting the help of nuclear test ban experts to cooperating in newly launched disaster warning initiatives, the United Nations weather agency is embarking on an ambitious programme to upgrade its services with a particular focus on helping the world's least developed countries.

At its annual session which ended earlier this month, the Executive Council of the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) agreed on institutional and substantive actions aimed at increasing its "responsiveness to societal needs" through enhanced applications of forecasts and science in the areas of weather, climate and water.

The Council called on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to make its environmental observations available to support early warnings of selected natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis.

It also called for WMO's close cooperation with other international organizations in the implementation of international strategies and Plans of Action, such as the Hyogo Declaration for natural disaster reduction.

The "Hyogo Framework for Action: 2005-2015," adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, in January, calls for putting disaster risk at the centre of national policies, strengthening the capacity of disaster-prone countries to address risk, and investing heavily in disaster preparedness.

The Council said WMO is firmly committed to participate in key international endeavours, including the global survey of early warning systems requested by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his report on UN reform – "In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all."

It stressed WMO's contributions to a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean being developed jointly with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO/IOC), the UN Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) and other international and regional agencies. Scientists believe such a system would have saved tens of thousands of lives in last December's Indian Ocean tsunami.

Actions agreed at the session should help developing countries, in particular the least developed among them (LDCs), to enhance meteorology and hydrology, notably through capacity-building. For instance, the WMO Demonstration Project on Severe Weather Forecasting will be strengthened to ensure that developing countries will benefit as soon as possible in building capacity in early warning from the use of improved and specialized forecast products. It called upon its 187 Member States to provide the means to enable LDCs to provide a minimum set of products.