Improving forecasting and warning systems in Bhutan to withstand recurrent floods

24 Mar 2020


ICIMOD resource persons and participants to the training workshop on enhancing flood forecasting and warning systems in Bhutan (Photo: Ganesh Bhattari/ICIMOD)

As an intergovernmental knowledge development and learning centre for the eight Regional Member Countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, ICIMOD is committed to building the capacity of relevant national agencies in the provisioning of flood risk information and early warning systems for building resilience and effective response. Recognizing the need for urgent solutions to managing recurrent flood risks, ICIMOD has started to roll out integrated, innovative tools and services that are calibrated and optimized for enhanced flood situational awareness. In this context, ICIMOD organized a four–day training jointly with Bhutan’s National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) at the latter’s premises in Thimphu on 17–20 February 2020.

The training focused on raising awareness of flood forecasting tools developed under the SERVIR Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) Initiative at ICIMOD towards developing capacity in using the tools to underpin operational forecasts in Bhutan. Through SERVIR–HKH, ICIMOD has designed and developed a suite of forecasting tools to inform decision making in flood preparedness and proactive response. These tools present unprecedented opportunities for an integrated end-to-end flood forecasting system, extending current instrumental lead–times into seasonal timescales.

In his opening remarks at the workshop, Karma Dupchu, Director, NCHM, acknowledged and thanked ICIMOD for the continued partnership and assistance in strengthening the NCHM’s institutional capacity for over two decades. He added, “Water scarcity is increasingly matched by over-abundance of water, as climate variability and change causes more extreme weather events. Our springs are drying up, threatening Bhutan’s water security. In-flow measurement and flood forecasting being discussed at this workshop are essential to safeguarding water resources for our own and future generations.”

During the four-day workshop, resource persons from ICIMOD and the NCHM imparted basic skills on forecast interpretation and evaluation and translating forecasts into impact-based outlook, watch, and warning for exposure assessment and verification. Dedicated hands-on sessions also focused on using the flood forecasting tools to visualize forecasts, extract forecast outputs of key land and atmospheric variables, and use forecast variables for in-house flood monitoring and prediction applications. Resource persons also introduced the Streamflow Prediction Tool – Bhutan, a customized web application that generates 10-day streamflow forecasts for river systems in Bhutan, the High Impact Weather Assessment Tool (HIWAT) for extreme weather events, and seasonal/sub–seasonal forecasting based on the South Asia Land Data Assimilation System (SALDAS).

A day-long consultation workshop with the NCHM at the end of the workshop worked towards scoping general and specific aspects of streamflow and flood forecasting requirements for NCHM and other government agencies. It also served to explore areas for new collaboration and discuss opportunities to further strengthen partnerships.

The workshop brought together participants from the NCHM, the Department of Disaster Management, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Engineering Services, the Department of Forest and Park Services, the Department of Hydropower and Power System, and other relevant line departments in Bhutan. It was organized as a follow-on event in Bhutan after participants expressed an interest in the training at the regional knowledge forum on early warning for floods and high-impact weather events organized at ICIMOD in late 2019.

ICIMOD implements the SERVIR–HKH Initiative – one of five regional hubs of the SERVIR network – in its Regional Member Countries, prioritizing activities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. A partnership of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and leading technical organizations, SERVIR develops innovative solutions to improve livelihoods and foster self-reliance in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.