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Statement at the opening of the Thirteenth Session of the WMO Commission for Hydrology, Geneva, 4 November 2008

by M. Jarraud, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization


Mr President of the WMO Commission for Hydrology,

Mr Vice-president,


Distinguished Representatives of WMO Members and Partner Organizations,

Dear Colleagues and Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to address the thirteenth session of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Commission for Hydrology (CHy-XIII). On behalf of WMO and on my own behalf, I wish to welcome all delegates and observers to WMO headquarters, which is home to hydrologists just as it is to meteorologists.

I wish to take this opportunity to convey my appreciation to the president of the Commission, MrBruceStewart, as well as to the vice-president, Mr Julius Wellens-Mensah, the chairpersons, members of the CHy working groups and individual experts for their key contributions during the intersessional period since the twelfth session of the Commission, which was also held in Geneva in October 2004.

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is a special session of your Commission since it will commemorate its golden jubilee next year. Allow me to recall that, although WMO's forerunner, the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), had indeed established a short-lived Commission for Hydrology in 1946, it held only one session, in 1947, and was not incorporated into the new Organization which was born formally on 23March 1950. Hence, the only WMO reference to hydrology was in the terms of reference of its Commission for Climatology (CCl), which was mandated to be responsible for the "arrangement of climatological data in order to meet the needs of hydrology".

However, in April 1959, the Third World Meteorological Congress established the WMO Commission for Hydrological Meteorology (CHM). At the time, the chairperson of the existing Executive Committee Panel of Experts on Waters Resource Development, Mr Max Kohler (United States), was elected president of the new constituent body, which held its first session in Washington DC in 1961. This Commission subsequently became the Commission for Hydrometeorology (CHM), following a decision of Fourth Congress in 1963, and the Commission for Hydrology (CHy), by an act of Sixth Congress in1971.

This decision by Sixth Congress marked the culmination of more than a decade of efforts by hydrologists to more fully incorporate international cooperation in hydrology within the scope of WMO. Moreover, Sixth Congress recognized that the responsibilities it had mandated to CHy would have to be recorded in the fundamental documents of the Organization, and the relevant decision was adopted by Seventh Congress in 1975. I would advise any of you who have not yet done so, to read the July issue of the WMO Bulletin (Vol. 57(3)), which is entirely dedicated to the fiftieth anniversary of CHy, the historical context during its early years and your Commission’s future challenges.

Last year, Fifteenth Congress incorporated a new strategic planning process in the Organization, in particular through the introduction of results-based management (RBM). At the beginning of 2008, the WMO Secretariat aligned its structure accordingly and, for you, perhaps one of the most visible consequences of this action has been the cross-cutting establishment of the Hydrology and Water Resources Branch and the Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch under a new large department, the Climate and Water Department. This was done to increase synergies at the Secretariat level in the context of climate change adaptation, food security, sanitation and poverty alleviation, as well as other rising challenges that are becoming ever more urgent in the context of climate change.

As you are aware, every social, economic and environmental sector is sensitive to climate variability and change, and the hydrological sector is no exception. To support policy formulation and decision-making in climate change issues and to develop decision-supportive tools and capacity-building in climate-related risk management, WMO will hold with its partners the third World Climate Conference (WCC-3) in Geneva, from 31 August to 4 September 2009, under the overall theme of climate prediction and information for decision-making. I am confident that the National Hydrological Services (NHSs) and, indeed, the wider hydrological communities of WMO Members will make key contributions to this opportune event.

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since CHy is the first technical commission to meet following Fifteenth Congress, it has assumed a pioneering role in terms of holding a WMO constituent body session centred on RBM-based documentation, particularly in the form of what I am sure will be brief, yet productive, discussions and concise decisions. I am certain that other technical commissions and regional associations will be following your deliberations with considerable interest. In addition, it has been five years since Congress adopted the subtitle Weather, Climate and Water for the Organization and, over this period, increased collaboration between CHy and CCl has enabled WMO to strengthen its ties with the other United Nations system agencies, as shown, for example, by the fact that WMO has been assigned the coordination of the UN-Water Task Force on Water and Climate.

An innovative idea in preparation for your session has been the effort to open up discussions to those experts not able to participate more directly. I am referring to the online Pre-session e-Discussion (PreSed), which has afforded numerous hydrologists from all over the world the opportunity to express their views on a number of key session documents, in particular those concerning global issues that may be of interest to the entire hydrological community.

There is wide international consensus today that the water resources issue is one of sound management, thanks to the fact that, for years, the concepts of integrated and sustainable water resources management have been successfully promoted by hydrological experts. Let me therefore recall that, following the advice of your Commission, WMO was a pioneer in drawing international attention to the fact that “business as usual” would no longer be an option for the water sector. This called for a paradigm shift in the way that water resources were being managed globally, as was stressed at the International Conference on Water and the Environment (Dublin, 1992), which adopted the Dublin Principles regarding freshwater as a resource with economic value and the need for a participatory approach in its management. These concepts provided a basis for the integrated development and management of water resources and they are today at the core of water resources management.

While integrated water resources management has practically gained world acceptance, actions and decisions by some countries seem to indicate that management may not be possible unless the respective planners and decision-makers can be made more aware of their actual water resources, expressed in time and space, in quantity and quality, and in terms of their variability, as well as the probable impacts of climate change. In addition, water-related natural hazards will require continued monitoring, forecasting and warning, in order for countries to develop the necessary resilience and to mitigate the adverse impacts of extreme hydrometeorological events through appropriate information and preparedness mechanisms.

In this context, it will be of fundamental importance for the WMO Commission for Hydrology to continue providing the necessary technical assistance to the NHSs of WMO Members, especially in developing countries, by focusing future CHy activities on those areas where WMO contributions may be most useful, particularly in the present scenario of significantly dwindling human and financial resources.

The thematic areas that the CHy Advisory Working Group has proposed as possible priorities for the work of the Commission over the next intersessional period display a well-balanced blend of traditional issues and impending areas of concern to NHSs worldwide. In addition to the traditional areas of water resources assessment and hydrological forecasting, which continue to be at the forefront of the needs of NHSs, a key priority has been assigned to the vital issues of climate and water and the quality management framework. I have already referred to the climate change issue, which has generated growing interest among numerous decision-makers, to the point that WMO is being increasingly requested to provide assistance in the evaluation of the potential impacts of climate change on national water resources.

As for the adoption of a quality management framework, I especially welcome the approach taken by the hydrological community. I am well aware of the difficulties that will need to be resolved in approaching the question of hydrological standardization, but this is indeed an activity that should be undertaken with utmost urgency. In this respect, I am confident that the recently signed agreement between WMO and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will be useful to our work in this area.

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before concluding, I wish to recall that one of the main objectives of our Organization has traditionally been to foster increasing cooperation between professionals from both developed and developing countries. I would like to encourage you to keep this objective in mind during your deliberations and in discussions over the membership of CHy expert groups for the next intersessional period.

The Commission has much to accomplish over the next few days, but I am certain that, under the leadership of its president, a positive outcome will result. I am aware that delegates are eager to commence their task, so I do not wish to take up any more of your time. To ensure WMO Secretariat support during your deliberations, I have designated Mr Avinash C. Tyagi, Director of the Climate and Water Department, as my representative to this session.

I wish you a fruitful session and an enjoyable stay in Geneva.

Thank you.


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