Are Caribbean hydromet services ready for the upcoming hurricane season?


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View of a hurricane/ Photo: iStock

Co-authors: Michael Fedak, Guillermo Donoso, Curtis BarrettKeren Charles and Kerri Whittington Cox  

“June; too soon. July; standby. August; come it must. September; remember. October; all over”. This Caribbean nursery rhyme warns of the impending hurricane season and lets families know that it is time to start preparing for potential disasters.
But are hydrometeorological (“hydromet”) services adequately prepared?

What cars and hydromet stations have in common…

Car maintenance is a pain – and costly, everybody agrees on that. But how long would your car survive if you didn’t change the oil filter, put air into the tires or do any other kind of maintenance? And what about the cost of an oil filter change versus a damaged engine from overheating or a tire pressure check versus a potentially deadly tire blowout?

As with cars, hydrometeorological (hydromet) stations – stations where meteorological and hydrological observations of weather and river conditions are conducted to monitor the potential occurrence of heavy rainfalls, floods, tropical cyclones, and drought – need love and maintenance to function, including full batteries, some cleaning from time to time, recalibration and some other tweaks.

Without those, the stations may measure something, but who knows what. Or they may stop measuring altogether leaving hydromet agencies “blind”, not knowing what is happening in terms of rainfall, temperature, river discharge, among other data. As a result, hazards hit the population with little warning which leads to the loss of life, infrastructure damages and reduced production capacity.

With financial resources always being limited, not only in your pocket but also in governments’ budgets, maintenance is often amongst the first expenses to be cut, since consequences are not directly visible. Once they are, it’s not a maintenance issue anymore but a full-blown repair or even replacement.

And as with your car, it’s a security issue since in the case of hydromet stations the populations wellbeing and safety depends on accurate and timely hydromet data that is converted into life-saving storm warnings, weather forecasts, seasonal predictions and other products used by the communities, farmers, energy producers and other users.
Saint Lucia’s Point of Departure

Between 2014 and 2016 Saint Lucia’s hydromet service providers, the Saint Lucia Meteorological Service (SLMS) and the Water Resource Management Agency (WRMA), suffered from a reduction of the Operation & Maintenance (O&M) budgets by 92% and 51%, respectively, as part of Saint Lucia’s objective to decrease the country’s deficit and increase fiscal sustainability.

In addition, the SLMS and WRMA struggled with providing well-founded justifications to the Ministry of Finance for salvaging or increasing budgets where needed. As a result, by 2017 only about half of the rain gages were operational.
In 2016/2017, Saint Lucia, with support from the World Bank and the Water Partnership Program, developed a Road Map for Strengthening Operational Weather, Water and Climate Services focusing on three pillars:

  • Institutional strengthening
  • Enhancing of observation, infrastructure and forecasting
  • Strengthening of delivery of data products and services.

Economic analysis justified the proposed investment estimating a 1:4 cost-benefit ratio of the US$1.66 million. However, if O&M is not equipped with sufficient budget, such investments make no economic sense since benefits would decline rapidly after the conclusion of the investment in year 3 (see figure below). With a modernization and increase of equipment, an adequate increase in O&M budget is critical.

If only 50% of the required O&M budget was allocated (US$127,000 required, 50% would be US$67,000) for the investment of US$1.66 million, benefits (from enhanced flood and drought management, increased energy efficiency and reduction of vulnerability of climate sensitive economic sectors) NOT achieved due to suboptimal functioning of the system would amount to almost 17 times the amount saved from not investing in adequate O&M.
Saint Lucia’s path to proper maintenance

With these numbers at hand SLMS and WRMA needed to change their approach to budget proposals including a strong justification for additional funds.
In order to strengthen their capacity, a training on budgeting and proposal writing was carried out introducing the logical framework method (LFM). This method links investments in fuel, batteries, vehicles, spare parts and other seemingly unimportant investments to the final goal, clearly stating their ultimate relevance in not only keeping hydromet observation going but providing good forecasts, saving lives and reducing economic losses.
With tangible numbers showing how critical adequate O&M to sustaining the benefits of investments in the long run, and clearer communication of funding needs and the relation to the ultimate purpose of O&M funds, WRMA was promised a 40% increase in O&M budget for the next fiscal year.
Furthermore, the ability to prepare performance based budgets justified by using a cost benefit analysis has been received positively by budget officers who will work with the Ministry of Finance to implement a gradual increase of O&M budget to almost triple the current allocation.
And the moral of the story: Just like cars, hydromet stations need “love” and maintenance to function – as a matter of safety and cost-effectiveness.

The implementation of this activity was supported by the Global Facility for Disaster reduction and Recovery.
For more information on hydromet services in the Caribbean region, view the Value Chain brochure or visit the 360 experience




Melanie Kappes

Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank

Join the Conversation

Derrick Dunkley
June 28, 2018

This type of O&M is really important knowledge for countries like St Lucia having expertise to make optimised decisions to maximise the benefits associated with investment is also key. I hope AM principles are adopted when training experts in these countries.