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Pakistan floods could have been minimized: US team

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 31, 2011
Last year's disastrous floods in Pakistan could have been minimized if European weather monitors had shared their data and it had been properly processed, US researchers said Monday.

Catastrophic monsoon rains that swept through the country in July and August killed thousands, affected 20 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land, experts have said.

"This disaster could have been minimized and even the flooding could have been minimized," said lead author Peter Webster, a professor of earth and atmospheric science at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

"If we were working with Pakistan, they would have known eight to 10 days in advance that the floods were coming."

Using data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), Webster and colleagues found the floods could have been predicted if the data "had been processed and fed into a hydrological model, which takes terrain into account."

Webster's research has been accepted for publication in a future edition of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the American Geophysical Union said in a statement.

But the London-based ECMWF, which includes 33 participating European countries, defended itself saying it "does not give out weather forecasts and weather warnings to the general public or media."

"ECMWF provides numerical forecasts to its member and co-operating states and they are responsible to prepare forecasts for the public and advise the authorities in their own countries," ECMWF scientist Anna Ghelli was quoted as saying by the AGU.

The AGU said the information did not reach the Pakistani people because of a "lack of a cooperating agreement between the forecasting center and Pakistan."

"The major result of the study is that the heavy rainfall pulses throughout July and early August were predictable with a high probability six-eight days in advance," said an early release version of the paper.

"If these forecasts had been available to the regions of northern Pakistan, government institutions and water resource managers could have anticipated rapid filling of dams, releasing water ahead of the deluges. A high probability of flooding could have been anticipated."

Pakistan's own meteorological agency also did not forecast the flooding, the AGU said, of the research funded by the National Science Foundation.

Webster said he spent five years working with Bangladesh on a flood-forecasting technique and helped organize a cooperating agreement between the ECMWF, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center and the Bangladesh government.

Subsequent flood warnings have helped save lives and up to one year's salary per farm. The entire startup cost for a similar system in Pakistan would be a few million dollars, and about 100,000 dollars per year to operate, Webster said.

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