In May 2014, devastating floods and landslides caused by unprecedented rainfall swept through the Western Balkans, particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Croatia. The damages caused by this disaster were appraised at over 2 billion Euros (€), according to the World Bank. Every year, the impacts of weather, climate and water-related hazards cause severe damages in South-East Europe, and scientists predict that the intensity and frequency of these hazards—and thus their devastating impacts—will increase due to climate change.
However, many of the losses and damages that relate to severe weather are preventable or can be mitigated by forecasts and warnings that are more specific and timely, and rapidly and clearly communicated nationally and across borders to relevant national stakeholders and those at risk. While South-East European countries have diverse geographies, economies, and cultures, they are united by common weather patterns, shared rivers and seas, and cross-border disaster risks.
In response to these challenges, 18 countries of South East Europe (SEE) are cooperating in the South-East European Multi-Hazard Early Warning Advisory System (SEE-MHEWS-A) initiative for improving transboundary data exchange and prediction to inform national forecasting and warning related to meteorological and hydrological hazards, including: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Montenegro, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey, and Ukraine. This effort has been supported by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), European Center for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECWMF) and other international development partners, supported by co-financing from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (both GFDRR Multi-Donor Trust Fund and the EU-World Bank/GFDRR Western Balkans Disaster Risk Management Programme) and USAID.
To help facilitate the establishment of SEE-MHEWS-A, GFDRR supported the development of a data sharing policy agreement in the region - Policy on the Exchange of Hydrological and Meteorological Data, Information, Forecasts and Advisories – which has so far been signed by fourteen of the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) in the region. This will allow all the countries to access a large quantity of observations that are not currently shared, and which can be used to improve meteorological and hydrological forecasting in the region. The increase in meteorological and hydrological data will improve the accuracy of the prediction of hydrometeorological hazards. Since the launch of the SEE-MHEWS-A initiative, there has been a 50% increase in regional data exchange.
To support the operationalization of the policy agreement and help establish SEE-MHEWS-A, GFDRR technical teams and government counterparts developed a pilot version of a virtual Centralized Operational Database (CODB) using an assessment of the available data and information as well as flood forecasting and early warning capacities of the NMHSs. The SEE-MHEWS-A platform including the CODB is being hosted by the European Center for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).
Early warning systems require better predictions for hazardous events, which demands setting up sophisticated numerical weather prediction models on high-performance computer systems. GFDRR supported three of the higher capacity participating NMHSs and one university in developing high resolution numerical weather prediction (NWP) models for the entire region. Cooperation on NWP is one of the most important aspects in the development of the regional advisory system. The high-resolution NWP models being deployed under the SEE-MHEWS-A initiative aims to provide accurate and timely forecasts for severe weather in an extended area around SEE, including parts of the Middle East. Furthermore, the outputs of these models will be used for other system components, particularly hydrological modelling to improve flood forecasting for critical river catchments in the region.
With GFDRR support, SEE-MHEWS-A is in quasi-operational pilot mode, providing a framework for efficient use of regional expertise and resources for the common good. The participating countries and partners have indicated their commitment to fully operationalize the system and also setting up flood forecasting models for all relevant river basins. This significant accomplishment has attracted the interest of several regions around the world as a good practice innovation. More information can be found here: https://www.see-mhews.org/
GFDRR will continue to support national governments in sharing their data to strengthen their response to increasing natural hazards.