Central Asia is an area vulnerable to weather impacts and climate change. Its mountainous regions are often affected by rainfall-induced landslides, avalanches and river flooding. Finland’s support has been used to improve weather and air quality monitoring in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Economic growth has sparked interest in the environment even in Central Asia as the levels of air pollution increase with the founding of new power and production plants and the growing vehicle fleet.
A particular characteristic of the region is its glaciers, which are a vital source of fresh water and a buffer against drought. In the future, Central Asia will be even more dependent on the glaciers as a fresh water source.
Demand for water is increasing in the region, and droughts are becoming more common with climate change.
People in Central Asia are concerned about what is happening to their glaciers. Global warming has accelerated the melting of glaciers, while environmental problems may influence the glacial ecosystems in ways unknown. The melting of glaciers and possible ruptures of ice dams in the glacial lakes are increasing the risk of flooding.
There is great demand in the region, therefore, for high-quality weather, climate and air quality data and for services harnessing that data. These services are provided by the local hydrometeorological institutes specialising in water and climate sciences.
The Finnish Meteorological Institute has been supporting the reforming of hydrometeorological institutes in Central Asia since 2009 through development cooperation. The cooperation projects funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have improved the institutes’ operations and thereby the countries’ abilities to prepare for environmental problems and natural disasters.
Two of the most recent projects by the Finnish Meteorological Institute were carried out in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 2014–2017. They provided training for harnessing climate data, operating modern meteorological instruments and improving the weather forecast processes. It was important to establish modern piloting stations for air quality monitoring in both countries.
“We have learned a lot in the project. We are now able to monitor in real time the air quality in the city of Dushanbe,” says Bibizaynab Gozieva, head of the air quality laboratory in Tajikistan.
The projects have helped the staff take a major leap to using modern methods instead of practices dating back to the Soviet Union. As a result, they are able to provide more accurate, near real-time weather and air quality services. Stakeholder seminars on climate change have also been organised to uplift the institutes’ profiles.
Small projects alone cannot work wonders. Finland is not the only donor interested in improving the institutes, and several development projects are under way, including a major regional modernisation project funded by the World Bank.
The institutes in the target countries have benefitted greatly from the projects’ synergies. Even civil society organisations have contributed by providing information at the grassroots level about how climate change affects people’s daily living and by advising people to observe their environment and instructing them on how to act in emergencies.
In its projects the Finnish Meteorological Institute has aimed to support interaction between different parties in order to harness the weather and air quality observations into higher quality services that better respond to people’s needs.
A common challenge for technology-oriented development projects is to produce sustainable results. National financing is scarce, and public institutes have only small budgets to maintain their instruments. Moreover, the people who have been trained in the development projects are in high demand in the private sector, where also salaries are higher.
The greatest achievement of the projects is, therefore, that the institutes’ state-funded budgets have nearly doubled in the past three years.
The projects have also brought together experts from different countries on purpose, because an active network of peers will support the institutes’ work in the future. Trust in one’s own competence and the pooling of resources motivate the employees to continue their work and seek career development options in their own organisations.
The future of the hydrometeorological institutes in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan looks now better than in decades. Sustainability will continue to be a challenge, depending on the Governments’ willingness to fund the institutes’ operations in future. The institutes will also need long-term external support – from Finland for example – to get prepared for the challenges of climate change and economic development.
Finland has supported the meteorological cooperation project in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with EUR 1.1 million in 2014–2017.
The author works as Head of the International Projects group in the Finnish Meteorological Institute.