Forecasting a Safer Future

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Thanks to USAID, Kazhydromet is entering a new era of flood forecasting

Didar Zhanibekuly points to the camping bed propped against his office wall, squeezed in-between bundles of maps. “It’s for spring,” he says, when they often work throughout the night. In Kazakhstan, spring time is flood season. “Floods have a huge impact on Kazakhstan,” says Didar, Director of the Department of Hydrology at Kazhydromet.

Kazhydromet, the Hydrometeorological Service of the Republic of Kazakhstan, provides round-the-clock monitoring of weather and climate in Kazakhstan. They are also responsible for warnings of possible extreme weather events that could lead to floods. 

Time and accuracy are integral. If a severe flood is forecast in time, the potential damage can be lessened by managing water flow in the country’s extensive system of reservoirs and water canals. Property and livestock can be saved and emergency services can be dispatched to rescue people in time. 

Forecasts, however, are only helpful when accurate, says Didar. For Kazhydromet, accurate forecasting has become close to impossible. 

Kazhydromet makes use of a static and outdated forecasting system that has been in place since the Soviet Union. Each February, this provides a set forecast for the coming year’s floods.  

While the forecasting system remained the same, much has changed around it. When the Soviet Union collapsed, international borders were drawn across many rivers and canals, isolating sections of the once-integrated system into separate countries. Much of the water infrastructure in Kazakhstan was privatized, taking management responsibility out of government hands. Furthermore, the climate that the system functions within is also changing significantly. 

“We cannot accurately project when to expect flood peaks,” says Didar. As a result, there is not enough time anymore to warn people of impending danger. The consequences have been dire.

For example, in the spring of 2017, areas of northern and central Kazakhstan were hit by intense floods. Thousands had to flee their homes and many roads were barred as rivers burst past their banks. Emergency situations were declared across the country.

In fact, an estimated 3,000 people are adversely affected by floods in Kazakhstan each year, losing livestock and suffering damage to their homes. Roads, schools, and other public buildings are often badly affected. “It has become clear that Kazhydromet needed a new and more accurate forecasting system,” says Didar. 

With financial support from the USAID-funded Smart Waters program, Kazhydromet bought the MIKE II HYDRO River software. With this internationally renowned model, the time and location of areas affected by floods can be calculated with far greater accuracy. USAID also supported training sessions for the Kazhydromet staff to enable them to use the new software as efficiently as possible. 

The benefits of using the model will be vast and far reaching. On average, flood damage costs Kazakhstan about $15 million annually. With more time to prepare for floods, and more knowledge on precisely what to prepare for, the impact of floods in Kazakhstan will be substantially reduced thanks to the MIKE II model. 

With the training completed, large amounts of historic data still needs to be fed into the model. The full benefits of more accurate flood forecasting will be felt across Kazakhstan from the spring of 2021.