Dr. Abdo Al-Makaleh: “There is no coordination between the meteorological office and the media to help avert major disasters.” [Archives:1998/04/Interview]

January 26 1998

Dr. Abdo Ahmed Al-Makaleh is the Assistant Deputy Chairman for Meteorology at the Civil Aviation and Meteorological Authority (CAMA) and the Permanent Representative of Yemen at the World Meteorological Organization. He is also a solar energy engineering specialist. Al-Makaleh, 44, has a B.Sc. in science from Baghdad University, a High Diploma in weather forecast from Britain, and an M.Sc. and a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the US. He has been working in the CAMA since 1979. Dr. Salah Haddash, the Yemen Times managing editor talked to Dr. Al-Makaleh about various aspects of the very important domain of meteorology in Yemen. Excerpts:
Q: Could you briefly tell us about the establishment of meteorological centers in Yemen? A: In the southern part of the country, meteorological centers were first established in 1935 during the British presence in Aden. During the reign of the Imam, on the other hand, there were two meteorological centers – in Taiz and Sanaa – which were primarily used for military purposes. In 1974, the meteorological department was established with stations in Sanaa, Taiz and Mareb, which have expanded to 17 stations now spread over all the governorates except Mahweet. Up to 1978, there were 65 foreign and 53 Yemeni meteorological experts. The situation has changed now – 100% of the cadre is Yemeni. We still invite a foreign expert or two for a couple of months for consultation. These centers measure all weather elements – temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind speed, solar energy, evaporation, rain fall,… etc. The Sanaa station works for 24 hours a day; while, the Taiz and Hodeida stations for 18 hours a day, and others for 12 hours only.
Q: Do you have any sort of a meteorological institute for training your staff? A: The Civil Aviation and Meteorological Institute is a mid-level academic establishment, graduating about 20 students every year. The study duration is nine months, and successful graduates go on to work in the various meteorological stations. Opportunities for higher studies are available for qualified candidates abroad. There are no meteorological studies in Yemeni universities for two reasons – there are not enough qualified university teachers in this field, and job opportunities are limited. So having a big number of meteorology graduates every year is just not possible to deal with. In the future, however, it is inevitable that higher meteorological studies will be introduced into Yemeni universities.
Q: How many people currently work in meteorology in Yemen? A: There are presently more than 250 Yemeni meteorology staff, 14 of whom are women. We are trying to open more opportunities for women, but the main obstacle is that many of our meteorological stations are situated in remote areas with 24-hour work shifts where very few Yemeni women are willing to work.
Q: What major weather phenomenon or disaster have you successfully forecast? A: Most of Yemen has a temperate climate all year round, except perhaps for the coastal areas where it is very hot in the summer and rather warm in winter. So we do not usually have weather extremes like snow storms or hurricanes like they do in Europe and North America. As far as agriculture is concerned, a long-term – several years – meteorological monitoring is required so as to help develop a national economic policy. The negative aspect is that Yemen has been the scene of many floods and torrential rains, which were successfully anticipated by our office at least 24 hours before many of them occurred. When informed about them, the media, unfortunately, did not give these matters their due importance. In fact they did not know how to deal with them, and several major phenomenon took place without the media giving prior warnings or notice to the general public so take the necessary precautions.
Q: Do you monitor air pollution at all? A: We have not been very successfull in this field, I am sorry to say. Up until very recently, Yemeni towns and cities were pollutant free. With the increase in the number of cars and industrial plants in Yemen, our atmosphere is becoming increasingly polluted. All artificially produced gases that are released into the atmosphere are considered pollutants. Air-pollution measurements taken in 1987 at two different locations in Sanaa have revealed that air pollution rises by 400% between 8 AM and 10 AM. The reasons are quite obvious. Car exhaust fumes and suspended dust particles stirred up by the cars themselves are to blame. Nowadays these suspended particles come from open cesspools, hospital waste, chemical waste, etc, which are carried by the wind to residential areas. In our current measurements of air pollution, we take an average reading of the overall number of molecules suspended in the air. This does not include specifying the type or source of these pollutants, i.e., it indicates the existence of pollution but not its kind.   Our main responsibility lies in monitoring air pollution, for which we are planning to establish special stations to monitor the levels of carbon monoxide and dioxide, ammonia gas, and other gas pollutants, for example. However, much finance and technical expertise are required for this job. Yemen has a potentially bright industrial and tourism future, provided that air and other types of pollution are eliminated or controlled as much as possible. There are no laws in Yemen to control air pollution or any sort of pollution, for that matter. The only relevant law in this matter is the Environment Protection Law which is still ‘ink on paper.’
Q: Is your office consulted when a tall building is to be built so as ascertain the possible effects of various weather elements? A: We receive several requests for such consultations every year. Buildings in general and large ones in particular are affected by the various weather and climatic changes – heat, wind, humidity, atmospheric pressure, etc. The atmospheric pressure, for instance, varies between the top and bottom of a relatively tall building. Building materials are also affected by heat, rain water, humidity, sunlight, etc. So all these factors have to be taken into consideration when erecting high-rise buildings.
Q: As a solar-energy specialist, how do you see the future of this alternative source of energy in Yemen? A: For electricity to be economically feasible, people must generally live in specified areas that are relatively near to the power generation source. These two conditions are not readily satisfied in Yemen – many people live in scattered villages on mountain tops. So to supply all these people with electric power would be uneconomical, and the state has to spend large amounts of money just to get electricity to small villages or hamlets. Therefore, solar energy is far more viable in this case, especially in remote regions. There is certainly plenty of sunshine in Yemen.
We use solar energy to operate weather observation equipment in the remote meteorological stations, including communication systems between these stations and the main office.
Q: What regions in Yemen have the most extreme climatic changes? A: Any open area that is surrounded by a large water surface such as the Island of Socotra is usually exposed to extreme climatic variations. There is also the general cycle of wind which sweeps this island.
Q: Do you employ any satellite data in your work? A: We have been using satellite data since 1982. Every three hours, we receive three types of satellite pictures of the globe: visible pictures, water vapor, and infra red. They give us an overall picture of the earth’s atmosphere. The visible pictures are of the cloud formations, expanses,  types, and altitudes. Possible rainfall is indicated by the water vapor type of pictures; while the infra red ones show the wind movements and temperature variations.
Q: What difficulties do you face in your work? A: The main problem is the lack of coordination among the various organs that have their own meteorological centers such as the Ministry of Agriculture, the Water Resources Authority, etc. There must be a unified  national meteorological network. The information we get serves all activities in Yemen. The problem is that several new projects have their own special meteorological stations which are abandoned when the project is over, so the information these stations obtain cannot be used for   long-term forecasts.
Q: What is the role of your office in aviation? A: We have National Meteorological Centers at both the Sanaa and Aden airports to do all types of meteorological activities for the purpose of assisting internal and external aviation movements. We produce special pictures for weather forecasts in the region lying along aviation routes.
Q: What about navigation? How do you assist with that? A: Unfortunately, we do not have enough financial resources to implement the plan we had since 1990 to established marine meteorological stations in Mokha and Hodeida on the Red Sea and Aden and Mukalla on the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is the same reason hindering the implementation of air-pollution control in Yemen.