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Forecasts Help Decrease Disaster Damage, says Weather Group - 2004-03-21


The World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, says the deaths and economic damage from water-related natural disasters is being reduced through better weather forecasts and warnings. The United Nations has chosen water and disasters as this year's theme for World Water Day on Monday.

The World Meteorological Organization says about three-quarters of all natural disasters are related to weather, water and climate. It says 90 percent of all people affected by floods, drought, cyclone and other weather-related phenomena live in the world's poorer countries.

These catastrophic events, it says, have an adverse impact on national economies and health.

WMO's secretary-general, Michel Garraud, says the annual cost of all natural disasters has increased enormously over the past five decades. He says it has gone from five billion Swiss francs 50 years ago to 50 billion Swiss francs today.

"However, the number of people dying from such catastrophes has a tendency to decrease," he said. "About 30 years ago, it was of the order of 100,000 people per year. And now the average is probably closer to 50-60,000 people. So, the number of people dying is decreasing. And, it is decreasing because of better warning procedures. It is decreasing because of the activities of the national, meteorological, hydrological services under the umbrella of WMO."

Scientists agree that natural hazards cannot be avoided. But they say, their impacts can be reduced through early warning systems and preventive measures.

The director of WMO's World Climate Program, Ken Davidson, says progress in weather forecasting, climate prediction and water assessments over the past few years have played a major role in lessening the serious consequences of natural disasters. He says this has largely been possible through the use of satellites and improved communications.

"There are a whole series of satellites operated by the major countries of the world," said Mr. Davidson. "And, these data are collected centrally and transmitted through something that WMO coordinates called the World Weather Watch program. So many countries in the world receive the satellite information simultaneously. And we are trying to assist countries in using this information to mitigate the effect, to use this information to get people out of harm's way, to take the actions necessary before the event occurs in order to mitigate the effects."

WMO says state-of-the-art technology has improved short-, medium- and long-term forecasts and warnings. For example, it notes five-day weather forecasts today are as good as two-day forecasts were about 20 years ago.

It says severe tropical storms now can be predicted up to three days in advance, and this has led to a dramatic decrease in lives lost.

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