Hydromet services – public-sector domain or private-sector business?

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An increasing number of private companies are entering the weather, climate, and hydrological (hydromet) services market – including household names such as Google and IBM. This trend poses an important question: what is the future role of the public sector in providing hydromet services and how will it accommodate the growing role of the private sector? 

Private companies are providing an ever-growing array of hydromet services : weather and wave forecasts and advisories for cargo ships to optimize marine routes; seasonal forecasts for the cosmetics industry to adjust stocks of seasonal products; specialized forecasts for coffee and tea plantations or sports events and concerts; services to assist drone launches; new visualization tools; satellite information – the list goes on. 

However, what may not be obvious is that these private services often rely on data provided by national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHS) funded and managed by the public sector. Take, for example, the daily weather forecasts accessible on our smartphones. While these services most often reach the end-user via a private provider, they are based on information from a global NHMS network that collects, digitalizes, and analyzes a wealth of hydromet data. In fact, these public services have collectively formed the backbone of the global hydromet system, creating fertile ground for the flourishing weather services industry. 

While the range of services that can be provided by the private sector is growing, there is one area which is ultimately the responsibility of the government and therefore should be provided by the public sector - the provision of risk information and early warnings. A top priority of government is to protect citizens and assets from hazards. Because of their public good characteristics, risk information and early warnings should be provided in a non-discriminatory way without additional fees.  Basically, the safety of life and property is the primary raison d'être of the national provider of weather and climate services, and the cost of providing such services should be borne by the government. 

At the same time, warning and alerting systems could be enhanced by a coordinated response from both public and private service providers to ensure that each part of society receives actionable information. Across many countries, private companies already provide data to supplement national networks and support the dissemination of early warning information, but competition between public and private sectors should be avoided at all costs as it is, in principle, counterproductive. 

The role of the private sector in enhancing the hydromet value chain can be very diverse. For example, it can optimize and integrate services into specialized business processes and address the specific user needs by pioneering innovations and technological advancement together with the academic sector. Private companies can play an important role in overall hydromet service development and job creation. 

So, what makes the public and private engagement in hydromet services successful, and why does it work in some countries and not in others?

A recent publication released by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), The Power of Partnership: Public and Private Engagement in Hydromet Services, explores the “vitals” for successful public and private engagement. These include open data policies enabling private sector participation with a clear division of roles and responsibilities between sectors, as well as non-restrictive country legislation and legal frameworks

In hydromet services, as in many other sectors, open data policies (or well managed data access) lead to improved decisions and higher efficiencies in operations, as well as growth in user demand for data, products, and value-added services. Moving from closed to open data allows others to re-use the data to provide new, non-public services at the national levels and beyond, maximizing socio-economic benefits. 

Defining the role of the NMHS and administration of data-access policies is pivotal for the successful interaction between the public and private sectors. If there is no clear distinction, the development of the value chain and of a vibrant and purposeful cooperation between the public and private sectors could be hindered. 

To make sure these roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, countries should consider creating a stable institutional environment that will be non-restrictive for private sector development. Many meteorological laws -- or the absence of such laws, which is often the case -- reinforce the monopoly of the public sector in the creation and dissemination of data and services instead of maximizing socio-economic benefits through vibrant public private engagement. 

The report explores the different methods of building engagement and trust between sectors, as well as other critical factors needed for strong public-private engagement, and the importance of building public sector capacity according to their roles and responsibilities. 

As the need for hydromet services grows and hydromet services continue to undergo significant changes globally, it is no longer adequate to view the roles of the public and private sectors as mutually exclusive.  Instead, we must acknowledge that the two are fundamentally intertwined, and work to further strengthen public and private engagement to address these needs going forward. 


Anna-Maria Bogdanova

Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank

Makoto Suwa

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank

Guillermo A. Siercke

Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank

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