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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cash Shortage Imperils New Weather Service

Cash Shortage Imperils New Weather Service

After almost two decades in isolation, Cambodia's National Meteorological Station

(CNMS) has rejoined the international weather information-gathering community but

a severe shortage of funds is threatening to end its short-lived return.

"During the last two months, everything has become the burden of the Lutheran

World Service(LWS) which has been supplying CNMS with fuel for generators, transport

and other things necessary just to keep things running," said Andrew Duncan,

a LWS meteorological advisor.

Duncan said the CNMS started providing its meteorological contribution to the world

in October, 1992, but lacks the funds to replace its exhausted instrument stocks,

and that unless additional revenue can be secured in the very near future, its important

upper air program will have to be terminated.

Duncan said the bureau is desperately short of radiosondes, which are attached to

balloons and launched into the sky from where they send back up to 103 different

types of information on the profile of the atmosphere including the maximum and minimum

temperatures, probability of the rainfall, cloud height, jet stream, wind shield,

wind speed, wind direction, pressure and height.

A radiosonde is now released every day to meet the mounting meteorological needs

of different organizations and projects, he said.

However, the Pochentong National Meteorological Station (PNMS), the country's main

weather bureau, has only 20 of the units left.

The radiosondes used in Cambodia were manufactured in the former Soviet Union and

are not re-usable once released because they burst at an altitude of 30,000 meters.

Access to nearly all technical and material supplies used in the meteorological field

have been cut off since the end of the cold war, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The countries that once formed the USSR also provided Cambodia with meteorological

experts as part of a barter arrangement under which technical aid was provided in

exchange for raw materials. Now, however, they are only willing to do deals in hard

currency.

Th Limthong, acting director of the Department of Hydrology recently appealed for

help from the World Meteorological Organization to help find a way to fund the acquisition

of 600 radiosondes, which would be enough to cover the next 18 months.

At the moment, PNMS is netting a monthly revenue of U.S. $1,500 from UNTAC in exchange

for meteorological data which is used for UNTAC's aircraft operations.

Duncan said this money is shared amongst the staff in Phnom Penh and those in the

provinces, because the government is no longer able to support the department.

"We have to work 24 hours a day and seven days a week, so we must provide salaries

to the employees so that they can come to work," he said.

Meteorological information is important for nearly all fields of society including

agriculture, communication, construction, medical services, and aviation.

The Cambodian meteorological service came to a halt when the Khmer Rouge took over

the country in 1975; but was resumed when the Vietnamese-installed Phnom Penh regime

came to power. However, it was only operating on a national level using the old equipment

left from the pre-war period and other equipment donated by the former Soviet Union.

"With such obsolete, inadequate instruments, we've been working like it was

20 years ago", complained a PNMS staff member who requested anonymity. "We

are very far behind the others," he added.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has donated some modern instruments, but to

replace all the old Soviet equipment would cost millions of dollars.

Cambodia's National Meteorological Service was set up in 1907 and became a member

of WMO in 1955.

Duncan said the return of Cambodia to the WMO had "fixed a hole in the world's

meteorological chart."

At the moment, the PNMS works with five different bodies, namely the Meteorological

Institute, telecommunications, weather forecast, climatological and hydrological

sections. In addition to the PNMS, Cambodia has nine other meteorological stations

in Battambang, Siem Reap, Pursat, Kratie, Kompong Som, Kampot, Kompong Cham, Svay

Rieng and Stung Treng which are currently performing three or six hourly observations

which are transmitted to the PNMC, from where the observations are relayed to the

World Meteorological Center (WMC) in Melbourne for inclusion in the Global Telecommunications

System (GTS).

Duncan said nine of the 10 stations in Cambodia have been rehabilitated during the

last 10 months with funds and equipment provided by a number of organizations, including

the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (AIDAB), Australian Direct

Aid Program (DAP), Mekong Secretariat, United Nations Development Program (UNDP),

LWS , Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and British Overseas Development Administration

(ODA).

Concerning the future work of the Meteorological Department, Duncan said the department

is planning to provide an hourly weather update for the press and radio along with

the presentation of weather charts by PNMS staff on television. But that this will

not be able to take place unless there is support from outside.

"We need to have sponsors and more capital equipment to keep us going,"

said the meteorological advisor.

In the future, any companies or organizations that have provided donated funds to

PNMS can have their logos printed on the meteorological lists to be published, broadcast

or presented in the press, on the radio or television, which Duncan said is the best

way for the Meteorological Department to survive.

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