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World Water and Climate Atlas

The World Water and Climate Atlas for Agriculture, a new global database intended to serve as high-tech tool for farmers, agronomist, engineers, conservationist, meteorologist, researchers and government policy makers has been created with the collaboration of scientists at International Irrigation Management Institute (IIMI) based in Sri Lanka and Utah State University in Logan . The atlas is available in CD-ROM version as well on the World-Wide-Web.

The Atlas enables users for the first time to zoom in on any region of the globe and extract critical data for areas as small as 2.25 square kilometres and it is designed to demonstrate climatic cycles quickly. Critical data such as precipitation and probability of precipitation, maximum and minimum temperature, and average temperatures of any region in the world can be obtained from this atlas. If, for instance, the user asks for rainfall details over 12 months, he can literally watch the colour-coded progressions of mansoon over the Indian landmass in a rapid succession of electronic images. Earlier, this information was unavailable to farmers who were mostly at the mercy of the weather gods. Not surprisingly, therefore, the World Bank experts are lauding the atlas for its “user-friendly programs that agronomists can use to assist even the poorest farmers”.

The Atlas integrates the available agricultural climate data into one computer program and represents the most comprehensive quality controlled climatic dataset in existence” says Ismail Serageldin, Chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) of which IIMI is one of the 16 centres. The ‘virtual’ atlas also includes temperature and rainfall data collected from 56,000 weather stations around the world for 30 years. And it offers a new feature called ‘evapotranspiration’, which enables irrigators to eltimate the total water expenditure of an area by combing what plants use with what it lost through evaporation.

“All of this data is converted into maps that clearly delineate climatic conditions, no matter how remote an area of land may be” says Mr. Serageldin. “The Atlas will help identify the agro-climatic conditions appropriate for specific crops”.

“The atlas will show, for instance, where rice or potatoes, or any crop, could be grown where they are not now being grown. It will also show what more valuable or more nutritious flood crops, farmers might grow on their land.”

Prof. Donald T. Jensen, Director of the Utah State University in Logan Utah, and Andy Keller, Ph. D. of IIMI created the atlas from data received from 56,000 weather stations around the world. The atlas covers the 21961 to 1990 period, in order to conform to World Meterological Organisation (WMO) specifications for a “normal period” of climatic examination.

The atlas will assume even greater importance in all coming years as water, especiallyfor agriculture becomes scarcer,” says David Seckler, Director General of IIMI, based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. “Some 70 per cent of all water used each year goes for irrigation, which produces 30 to 40 per cent of world food crops on just 17 per cent of all arabled land.”

Agronomists and researchers can use the long term climatic data in the atlas to assess the potential for plant adaptation to climatic conditions. “The atlas will show, for instance, where rice or potatoes, or any crop, could be grown where they are not now being grown,” says Dr. Seckler. “It will also show what more valuable or more nutritious food crops, famers might grown on their land.”

This is the data base the votaries of the Pani Panchayat movement in Maharashtra have been demanding for years: they contend that growers of water-hungry crops, such as sugercane in traditionally arid regions, should not be subsidised but ought to be made to pay more for hogging scarce community resources. A shift towards more equitable water sharing policies now becomes possible with the insights provided by the atlas.