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2018-01-08 | Environment

World Bank helps Central Asia prepare for climate change risks


Barsem villagers walk on steep and dangerous slopes after a devastating mudflow destroyed the main roads. [World Bank Group]

Barsem villagers walk on steep and dangerous slopes after a devastating mudflow destroyed the main roads. [World Bank Group]

The World Bank

DUSHANBE -- A sense of anxiety looms large in Barsem, a small village in Tajikistan's Pamir mountains.

Just two years ago, a powerful mudflow, triggered by sudden rainfall and melting snow, devastated the village. The disaster left more than 82 families without homes, cut off the local power supply for weeks and disrupted the "Pamir Highway", an international transit route.

Such disasters are frequent across Central Asia. In Tajikistan, as much as 36% of the country's territory is under threat from landslides. Kyrgyzstan is prone to avalanches -- between 1990 and 2009, the country saw more than 330.

In these remote areas, the threat of mountain hazards is exacerbated by poverty, insufficient infrastructure and poor resources.

The region is also expected to see an increase in extreme weather events in the coming decades.

By the end of the century, temperatures in the Central Asia region will rise as much as 6 degrees Celsius. This warming up could lead to the disappearance of more than one-third of glaciers from Central Asian mountains by 2050, putting nearby communities at greater risk and rolling back hard-won development gains.

Anticipating disaster shocks, fostering resilience

To help countries adapt to a riskier future, the World Bank's Central Asia Hydrometeorology Modernisation Project (CAHMP) has been bolstering weather forecasting capabilities and early warning efforts in the region. First approved in 2011, the project is set to wrap up this June.

These efforts are particularly important for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, two of the most disaster-prone countries in the region. Both have mountains covering more than 90% of their geography.

Funded by the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the $28 million investment has focused on strengthening hydrometeorological services and generating further climate-related risk information that the region is lacking.

The project has provided cutting-edge technical equipment -- such as modern workstations, automated observation networks, access to satellite data and numerical weather prediction -- alongside specialised training for participating agencies.

Because of these improvements, the forecast accuracy in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has increased by 20-30%.

With access to more-accurate risk information, countries can better anticipate extreme weather events and take timely action, such as organising evacuations for at-risk communities, putting in place protective measures and minimising potential losses.

In the long term, decision-makers can also better plan significant infrastructure investment projects, something particularly salient in Central Asia, where aging infrastructure is gradually deteriorating from insufficient maintenance and repeated exposure to natural hazards.

Better climate information will also benefit the agriculture sector, which is frequently exposed to extreme weather.

For farmers, accurate predictions of the growing season, rainfall patterns and potential hail or other storms can help boost productivity and increase incomes. This is especially the case for countries like Tajikistan, where more than 60% of the population depends solely on agriculture as a source of livelihood.

Both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have made tremendous strides in reducing poverty -- from 75-80% of their populations a few decades ago to below 35-40% today.

Yet the challenges of a changing climate threaten to push mountain communities -- like Barsem -- back into poverty, without critical investments in resilience.

[The World Bank Group authorises the use of this material subject to the terms and conditions on its website, http://www.worldbank.org/terms.]

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