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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Flood forecasting proves tough task
By Navin Singh Khadka
BBC Nepali service

Flooded shop in Dhaka
Bangladesh is one of the countries worst hit by monsoons
Almost every year it is easy to predict that monsoon floods in South Asia will cause a tragedy. Predicting where the floods will be is a far harder art.

In the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, there has been a fledgling effort on regional flood forecasting over the past few years.

But the effort has a long way to go before it can begin to prevent both human and material losses.

The concept is to exchange hydrological and meteorological information at a regional level to enable countries in the region to alert people in advance about possible floods.

For that to happen, key players will have to play active roles.

Poor population

Officials from Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan have held several meetings coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development to discuss forecasting.

Satellite image of the Brahmaputra
More satellite images - like this of the Brahmaputra - are needed

These are the countries that host the world's most flood prone river basins like the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna and Indus.

This is also the region where a huge proportion of the world's poor live.

"There exist immense possibilities for regional cooperation in flood forecasting and warning," says Dulal C Goswami, environmental science faculty member at Gauhati University in Assam.

The north-eastern Indian state is every year struck by floods from the Brahmaputra river that flows down from China.

Last year, nearly 2,000 people died and 42m others were affected by flooding in Bangladesh, Nepal and India.

We need to rely on India because we do not have the required technology
Suresh Acharya,
Nepal hydrologist

This year, monsoons claimed more than 1,000 lives in India's Maharashtra state alone.

According to the Chinese ministry of civil affairs, 134m people there have been affected by floods.

The World Meteorological Organisation and International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development have initiated a pilot project under which hydrological and meteorological data are collected and posted on a web site.

Most governments believe it will give them real-time data on rainfall and water level rises.

Low-lying Bangladesh in particular is keen to get data from upstream countries.

Last year, more than 600 people died because of floods there.

Bangladesh, and Nepal, would both like access to India's regional satellite data.

"India has assured us that it would pass on to us such data which it receives through its satellite," says Keshab Prasad Sharma, senior hydrologist at Nepal's department of hydrology and meteorology.

"We need to rely on India because we do not have the required technology."

'Working well'

But, many experts say bilateral cooperation has not produced the desired results. If it had, the death toll and property loss from flooding would not have risen.

Maharashtra state floods
More than 1,000 died in recent floods in Maharashtra state

Salim Bhuiyan, chief of the flood forecasting centre of the Bangladesh Water Development Board, says: "Under the bilateral agreement, we should have been receiving the hydrological and meteorological data from India regularly, but we get them only when the water level crosses the danger level."

Dulal Goswami says forecasting has undoubtedly been less effective because of an absence of sharing between countries across the region.

Indian officials, for their part, believe bilateral dealings with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan have been working well.

ML Goel, commissioner for eastern rivers at India's ministry of water resources, says India will "take a decision appropriately" on a more regional approach to flood forecasting.

He says it is the World Meteorological Organisation's responsibility to provide regional data regarding the pattern of rainfall.

Many experts believe there is great sensitivity in India about hydrological information - even between states.

Officials at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development have not lost hope on regional co-operation.

They look to the success of a the Mekong River Commission involving Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

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