Ill-equipped: Funding crunch cripples work of weather authority

Current budget only covers staff salaries and maintenance work

Sehrish Wasif May 04, 2015

ISLAMABAD: Predicting the weather is tricky business. But in Pakistan the task is so much harder as there are never quite enough funds to buy the latest tools to aid the weathermen.

In recent years, the Pakistan meteorological department hasn’t been able to purchase the kind of equipment it needs to make accurate forecasts about the emerging weather patterns associated with climate change. A severe resource crunch, coupled with government apathy, is faulted for this.

The department is also suffering in other ways: the top post of director general has been vacant for the last nine months. It is currently functioning under the Aviation Division.

A whopping 85% of the meteorological department’s annual budget of Rs900 million is spent on the salaries of its 2,500-strong staff working in 100 stations across the country, a senior department official told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity. The remaining 15 per cent is allocated for repair and maintenance, according to the official.

At the end of the year, he said, the meteorological department was left with no money to purchase the latest equipment for improving its weather forecasting mechanism.

Like many countries across the globe, Pakistan is also under the influence of climate change but it lacks new technology to forecast the changing weather patterns and its impact on crops and people, said the official.

The meteorological department has not been able to escape the tyranny of load-shedding. Its shoestring budget does not allow it to even purchase fuel to run generators for its weather radars which normally run on electricity, said the official.

The official said that the department faces immense problems in communicating with its other stations when there is a power outage. “During extreme weather conditions we share weather updates through phone or via cellphone texting,” he said.

He also highlighted the shortage of weather radars installed in the country saying that there is a dire need to increase the number from 7 to 20 and the number of automatic weather stations from 40 to 150.

Every district should have its dedicated meteorological stations and separate web page to update weather conditions of their own specific region.

“At present, at least 50 metrological stations are required in most of the agriculture plains in provinces like Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and 25 in AJ&K and Gilgit Baltistan,” he said.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Pervaiz Amir, former member of the prime minister's task force on climate change said: “As compared to other countries, PMD is lagging far behind in terms of technology and experts.”

Hazrat Mir, chief meteorologist at the meteorological department, is upbeat about the future. According to him, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has extended financial funding worth Rs2.5 billion to install a weather radar system in Islamabad and Rs1.5 billion to install one in Karachi as well. This year, he said, the World Bank is expected to give the department between $30 and $40 million to establish automatic weather stations in Lahore, Gwadar, Sialkot and other cities.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2015. 


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