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17.06.2019

WMO embarks on new strategy on hydrology and water resources

Water stress, water-related hazards and water quality pose increasing challenges to modern society. And yet, the capacity to monitor and manage this vital resource is fragmented and inadequate.

The World Meteorological Organization has therefore decided to give greater priority to strengthening operational hydrological services and to improve monitoring and forecasting.  This is key to tackle issues of too much, too little or too polluted water and supports operational management, planning and decision support.

The World Meteorological Congress – WMO’s top decision-making body – approved the way forward towards  new vision and strategy for hydrology and water resources after a special Hydrological Assembly, which heard calls to “count every drop because every drop counts.”

“We need to think about water as our most precious commodity on the planet,” said WMO President David Grimes (Environment and Climate Change Canada). “The impacts of climate change means that there is no time but now to organize ourselves to help decision- makers around the world address such an important issue. “

The Congress approved eight long-term ambitions that should guide the development of WMO activities relevant to water:

  • No one is surprised by a flood;
  • Everyone is prepared for drought;
  • Hydro-climate and meteorological data support the food security agenda;
  • High-quality data supports science;
  • Science provides a sound basis for operational hydrology;
  • We have a thorough knowledge of the water resources of our world;
  • Sustainable development is supported by information covering the full  hydrological cycle;
  • Water quality is known;
Congress also agreed to increase the involvement and participation of the broad hydrological community in WMO activities as part of WMO’s planned reform of its governance structures towards a more seamless earth systems approach embracing more integrated weather, climate, water, environmental and ocean services.

“We want to open the doors wider for the hydrological community in the future,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

In many countries, meteorological and weather services are separate from hydrological and water services. Cooperation between these services, and with users, is a key to provide integrated and complete information need to support water-smart decision-making.

Climate change, urbanization and pollution mean that water resources are stressed as never before. Water-related hazards like drought and flooding are becoming more serious, and a much greater proportion of annual precipitation is now falling in extreme precipitation events rather than spread more evenly throughout the year. Most rivers and fresh water bodies are trans-boundary and decisions by one country on water resource management often have implications for other countries, thus making water a potential source for both peace and conflict.

And yet, many countries lack the capacity to monitor and analyse relevant data. This means that decisions on major infrastructure projects like dams or hydroelectric plants as well as urban planning are often made on the basis of outdated or incomplete information.

For the first time, the quadrennial World Meteorological Congress therefore hosted a special three-day Hydrological Assembly, attended by 100 participants from more than 50 countries, to discuss a roadmap to ensure sustainable monitoring and decision support for the management of water resources and to support disaster risk reduction.

At a high-level panel session, the Hon M. Abdel Aty, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation of Egypt, cited the example of the Nile river basin. He underlined the key role that scientific knowledge plays in contributing to the solution of trans-boundary water management issues and pointed to the need of reinforcing international collaboration in order to share the benefits from improved water resources management.

The panel focussed on how to harness water as an instrument for peace and sustainable development.

Key points emerging from the panel discussion were:

Water is a key factor for life, environmental protection and sustainable development.
Several stressors are affecting the water cycle, its resulting water resources distribution and availability. Special emphasis was given to climate change, population growth and water quality
There is a lack of a single strong political voice for water within the UN system, and WMO should take a more proactive coordination and leadership role, focussing on its mandate in Operational Hydrology.
There is a market potential for expanding hydrological data and services. WMO could contribute to strike a balance between particular and general societal interest.
Collecting, managing and sharing data are fundamental for developing appropriate water management solutions.
Data and knowledge are of fundamental importance for informing the decision-making process, particularly in international and transboundary basins.
Water quality and quantity issues should be addressed in a holistic way.
There is need for opening a dialogue with all users to take into account their needs.
Congress approved the appointment of Jan Danhelka (Czech Republic) as chairperson and José Alberto Zuñiga Mora (Costa Rica) as vice chairperson of the Hydrological Assembly until the next session of the Hydrological Assembly is held.

During the Hydrological Assembly, WMO and the Global Water Partnership signed a Framework Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on strategic collaboration to achieve the objectives of Integrated Water Resources Management.

This builds on existing initiatives, including integrated programmes on flood and drought management. An integrated, cross-sector approach to water resource management is vital because water investments are spread across many institutions and different levels of government.

WMO has a number of additional water-related initiatives, including the Flash Flood Guidance System. Additionally, WMO is responsible for the direction of the the World Water Data Initiative, which was implemented under the leadership of the Australian Government and the World Bank. Better data is key to better management of water.

With these developments, hydrology is more prominent than ever in the WMO. Congress created new possibilities for a more effective integration of hydrology , climate science and meteorology to support its Members and to inform regional and global processes like the Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement. Water is the commodity of the 21st Century, WMO is responding the call of its Members to act on water issues now.

 

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