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Dominique Berod “Working together and thinking differently”

Dominique Berod, responsible of the monitoring’s division for Earth System at the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has recently joined the Rivers Committee of IFGR. Below, he describes the key role played by his organisation, which has just celebrated its 70th anniversary, within the UN network on water and for the 190 member countries. Above all, he explains the reasons for forging this new partnership with IFGR.



What role does the WMO play in the UN bodies devoted to water?

The WMO is one of the oldest international organisation’s agencies. Historically, it was founded at the end of the 19th century, and it has existed for 70 years as a UN agency. It was established due to the need to exchange information and meteorological data between countries, for practical reasons, such as the organisation of navigation. Today, the WMO covers a much wider domain. Its three main activities are meteorology, hydrology and climatology.

There are 33 bodies within the UN active in the domain of water: for example, the FAO focuses on water for its use in agriculture; UNESCO focuses on it from a scientific angle; UNICEF deals with access to water for populations, and so on. All these organisations are active in the general field of water management, in terms of quantity and quality.

As for the WMO, for its part, intervenes upstream in the field of operational hydrology. It takes a technical, engineering approach to developing water information systems and hydrological models to help member countries set up very concrete programs, such as warning systems for floods or tsunamis…

Lastly, all these UN bodies collaborate to help achieve Goal no. 6 of the 2030 road map of the Sustainable Development Goals drafted by the UN: clean water accessible for all. UN-Water facilitates good relations and synergies between these different agencies.


Your organisation has just defined a new strategy for the next 10 years to assist counties to adapt to the impacts of climate change and extreme phenomena. In what way are the data of the hydrological services vital for better water management and the good health of rivers?

The data are vital to understand and quantify phenomena that are complex and interconnected, such as the currents in the Pacific, for example, that have impacts on the evolution of weather in other parts of the world. However, in certain countries, these data are not accessible or are invoiced which restricts their access.

Another example: rivers have as a natural limit the watershed, which often does not correspond with political boundaries. Yet, it is often opportune to share the resources between countries situated upstream and downstream of rivers, and to do that, it’s necessary to measure what has to be shared. Once again, access to data is essential in this case. In fact, the data represent a large number of challenges, techniques, political and often commercial. The operator of a hydropower plant may be reluctant to share its data since they belong to its operational strategy.

Our first level of intervention is of course technical support to countries.

Second, and at least as important, is policy data: in order to provide vital services such as hydrometeorological forecasts and climate outlooks, WMO aims to provide global access to data. We believe that the data itself should be available to any user at very little cost, with data producers being able to set up a fee-based system for products that add value to the basic data. More broadly, the WMO would like to see the data essential for the safeguard of the population be opened to sharing as a priority, such as wind speed, atmospheric pressure, certain satellite data, for meteorological elements. For rivers, water flow and height, for example, are essential data that should also be accessible. There are already many countries that have adopted such an open data policy, and our world would benefit from more widespread sharing.

Sharing data is therefore just as essential as producing them! How do you implement this international cooperation, especially regarding rivers?

Our third area of action involves the communication of good practices and advocacy that demonstrates the benefits of cooperation with other member countries. The WMO does not intend to dictate to countries what they should do, but to provide them with the best tools to achieve their objectives. It is important to share good practices and to make the issues well understood so that, on their own, countries will engage in projects in good cooperation. This applies as much to the adoption and implementation of tools and services – hydrological measurement network, forecasting tools – as to their use and data sharing. Such projects must be co-constructed. If people are motivated, if they understand, they will invest and maintain the tools, because they will see these projects as valuable. A well-understood project will take time. A little or misunderstood project will only survive as long as its promoters are in place and there is a good chance that the results will be lost at the first equipment failure.

We have an engineering role, but it is also our job to bring people together. Otherwise, the technology won’t be around for long.

As far as the rivers more specifically are concerned, in most of the large watersheds, the Amazon, Congo, Niger or the Danube among others, basin organizations coordinate activities. An important task of the WMO is to support these actors in organizing the monitoring of the hydrological cycle. This is part of the first part of WMO’s missions mentioned above: to support WMO member countries and their partners in the planning, implementation and operation of effective and sustainable networks of measuring stations, using technical and innovative solutions to provide reliable and sustainable measuring instruments and to ensure the interoperability of the systems deployed in the different areas.

Finally, we measure the water of rivers in a basin, but we should also account for “virtual water” at the global level, that which is extracted and used to produce goods that will be exported outside the country where they are produced : Flowers in Kenya, clothing in Bangladesh… This is a personal position based on ethical principles, but it seems to me that we should be able to know the water footprint of a product, just as we measure its carbon footprint… We would then realize that products whose manufacture consumes a large amount of water are manufactured in countries with the least water (in terms of quantity or quality), and exported to countries that do not have a water shortage problem, and should call for global responsibility.

In 2021, the WMO and IFGR began a partnership with the signature of a memorandum of understanding for the next 4 years. What synergy do you think the two structures can generate?

The partnership with IFGR will allow us to get closer to users, to answer the question: what do you need? This approach allows us to return to basics, to start a dialogue that allows us to act upstream, by better understanding the needs in the field.

IFGR proposes a unified approach to rivers, a living organism that moves; not only the water that flows or an infrastructure that can be used for such and such a purpose. It invites us to reflect in other ways.

This collaboration permits building greater trust between the different partners, and better dialogue between different communities. A lot is said about conflicts over water, but in reality, there are more peace treaties thanks to water than wars caused by it.

As for the WMO, it will help to create spaces to build solutions. This rapprochement can therefore participate in solving what appears conflictual, when different uses, hydroelectricity, navigation, ecosystem and leisure, appear to be in competition. With relations based on trust and dialogue, it is possible to find solutions where, with a little compromise on both sides, everyone can win.

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