A weather expert has identified increased investment in data collection as key to helping communities survive water disasters like flood and drought. 

Dr Thomas Graziano says population growth, economic development, ageing water infrastructure and climate change are stressing water supplies and management across the world and good information handling processes are needed to keep people safe. 

“There is a real need for enhanced, improved and better information on water to inform all manner of decisions relating to water,” Dr Graziano said. 

Extreme weather events including flooding continue to cause destruction to life and property all over the world on a daily basis. 

In Ghana, hundreds of lives are lost every year between April and August during the rainy season with the worst of such disasters in recent memory happening in June 2015 when more than 200 people died one night in the “flood and fire disaster.” 

Across sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated more than 2 million people were affected by floods in 2018 with a lot of them being forced to relocate from their homes either permanently or temporarily, as well as lives being lost.

In America, it is estimated that between 1980 and 2013, damages to the tune of $260 billion was caused as a result of flooding and related disasters. 

Dr Thomas Graziano who is Director of the Office of Water Prediction, National Weather Service, at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States says beyond physically visible measures, adequate data is important to minimize destruction in times of extreme weather events. 

“Observation of the rivers and streams is important. Investments in observations and data services. You have to be able to observe what’s happening in the rivers and streams…. It is also about communicating messages and ensuring the messages are actionable. We have to focus on the social science aspect of the problem and effectively communicate the decisions,” he told Joy News in an interview. 

Dr Graziano was speaking when about 15 journalists from different parts of the world visited his office in Washington DC for a discussion on “creating a more secure water future” at the invitation of the Foreign Press Centers. 

He expressed concern socio-economic risks of flooding and drought continue to escalate, noting “in the last decade, we have seen a higher frequency of significant rainfall events and associated flooding.” 

“Over the last decade, there has been a significant upsurge of floods; and in the last decade, more flooding has been seen than ever before,” he noted. 

Dr Graziano identified climate change as a major driver of this escalation.

“Population growth, economic development is stressing water supply and increasing vulnerability. You can say that about other locations around the globe too.

“A changing climate is impacting water availability and uncertainty… Increase in sea level, where we place water intake, where we place major infrastructure, are all driven by climate change,” the weather expert noted. 

His organization, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) works to improve modelling and prediction when it comes to water disasters like flooding. 

NOAA also works on enhancing water-related observation and accelerating research and development in water issues. They use satellites to forecast the impact of extreme weather events like flooding. 

He says there are always multiple agencies involved in efforts to deal with water-related disasters and collaborative use of data is always crucial to reducing impact. 

“Emergency managers are always looking for information at the street level… so they can mitigate the impact of the flood,” Dr Graziano said. 

Jeff Walker addressing some journalists

Jeff Walker who is Executive Administrator of the Texas Water Development Board is also convinced efficient data is a crucial element in keeping communities safe in times of extreme weather events.

 “Data is important when the water rises… It could happen very fast. People sleep and wake up and the water level has risen extremely high,” Mr Walker told the journalists who visited his office in Austin, Texas. 

His organization works to provide leadership, information and education on conservation and responsible development of water for the more than 28 million people in the Texas State in the USA.

 The board also provides information to various towns and cities on how to properly manage groundwater, surface water, and all other forms of water bodies in the most efficient way. 

He says their work uses a lot of data to model the possible impact of flooding and other disasters. 

“We have something called base level engineering. We take lateral data and run base-level models. If it rains here, the water levels could reach this point…Then (communities) can take that and figure out; what you need to put in place to prevent a place from flooding,” Mr Walker noted. 

“We have a website with data flow and rainfall…. There are gauges all over the state looking at what is this river doing right now, what is it projected to do? How much is it raining upstream,” he said.