Early warning for early action

UNDP Bhutan
5 min readMar 23, 2022

Strengthening Bhutan’s capacity in climate-informed early warning system to enable farmers to make better farming decisions

Photo: Tshering Penjor, UNCDF Bhutan

Extreme weather events are increasingly becoming a norm across the world as climate change intensifies. Bhutan is no stranger to climate-induced disasters. Just last year in October, unusually intense rainfall lashed several parts of the country. The disaster struck just as farmers were preparing to reap their rice harvest. Some have harvested their paddy but were still lying in the fields when the torrential rain came.

Large swathes of rice fields were submerged under rainwater, leaving farmers with nothing or very little to harvest. More than 2500 acres of paddy ripe for harvest were damaged, causing an estimated production loss of as high as 2,264 metric tonnes. The calamity directly impacted 3,800 farming households.

Photo: Tshering Penjor, UNCDF

This devastating incident was a stark reminder of the challenges our farmers endure in in the face of climate change. Most importantly, it called for efforts to step up climate-informed early warning system to prevent such future occurrences.

Where does Bhutan stand in terms of climate-informed early warning system?

The weather forecasting and dissemination in Bhutan is a fairly recent development and therefore in its nascent stages. The National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) currently provides short-range weather forecast (up to 72 hours) and advisories on extreme events. These are disseminated through national television, NCHM’s Facebook page, website, and technical groups. But for agriculture purposes, weather forecasts of different lead times are essential. Hence, the centre is currently testing the medium-range weather forecast (3 to 10 days).

And now to promote climate-resilient agricultural practices, Bhutan is working towards strengthening its institutional capacity in forecasting and effective dissemination of climate information. The effort will particularly enable smallholder farmers to better adapt to the impacts of climate change on farming.

How UNDP is supporting

Technical, policy and investment conditions are necessary to ensure comprehensive integration of climate-informed decisions into national agricultural planning and program.

In partnership with UNDP and support from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the NCHM and Department of Agriculture are undertaking several initiatives to strengthen early warning and forecast services in the agriculture sector. The initiatives, outlined below, are targeted towards development of reliable and tailored climate information as well as platforms for dissemination. These will go a long way in minimising adverse impacts of extreme weather events on livelihoods as well as socio-economic impacts.

  1. Assessment of Agromet stations
Class A agrometeorological station in Tashicholing, Samtse: Photo: NCHM

The meteorological data is a key input in generating national hydrometeorological and climate services. As part of the project, existing agromet stations across 20 districts, which are operationally used in forecasting, were analysed. It was concluded that these stations are not sufficient to provide the required localised agromet services.

Class A agrometeorological station in Babesa, Thimphu: Photo: NCHM

2. Sensitization program on climate and weather services

An awareness program on the status of the climate and weather services are being conducted for the community and local government members across the country. The aim is to understand and gauge their level of knowledge on the existing weather and climate services. It is also to understand gaps and challenges faced by the farmers in applying climate and weather information.

Awareness program for people of Tangsibji gewog in Trongsa dzongkhag. Photo: NCHM

3. Development of centralised database system

The development of tailored climate products not only requires use of observation data but also integration of forecast data into the common system. This is critical for enabling better data processing, analysis and archival to operate in real time. Currently, inadequate infrastructure for forecasting and development of locally relevant agriculture advisories remains a constraint. Through the project, the centralised database system is being strengthened to integrate hydromet stations data into a single database system. This will result in improved processing of data and delivery of services.

Hardware component of the centralized database system supported by the project. Photo: NCHM

4. Development of tailored products

With the establishment of a centralized database system, the groundwork for the development of tailored products and services are being initiated. This year, NCHM in collaboration with technical partners from the regional centres and national stakeholders, is working to come up with a few advisories. These include cropping weather calendar, weather app, drought watch platform, initiation of medium-range forecasting, and integration of medium-range forecast information in the Agromet Decision Support System (ADSS).

The use of ICT and mobile based applications to disseminate tailored climate data generated through centralised data system will help ensure timely and effective dissemination of critical climate information to the farmers.

Timely and reliable information and knowledge of extreme events, such as incessant rainfall, flash floods, droughts, and windstorm, are central to enabling farmers to make better farming decisions, reduce crop losses and adopt the most suitable and effective coping strategies. Without early warning and advisories, disasters like the one that hit farmers last October are bound to become a common occurrence. The growing unpredictability of climate-induced disasters coupled with lack of crop insurance would leave farming communities in dire circumstances.

Contributed by Sangay Chophel, Project Technical Specialist, UNDP Bhutan and Phuntsho Wangmo, Assistant Environment Officer, National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology.

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UNDP Bhutan

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