In Focus interview: Abdulla Al-Mannai, Director of the Department of Meteorology and PR of Qatar

Our MD, Tom, spoke with Abdulla Al-Mannai, Director of the Qatar Meteorological Department and Permanent Representative to the WMO about training, capacity building and public-private partnerships.

Where are you with your procurement and what types of equipment do you have? I imagine it’s quite high-end.

The Qatar Meteorological Department (QMD) is under the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) and we very much appreciate the role of meteorology. Our procurement has been fairly easy. We see that the development of the QMD actually benefits the QCAA and the aviation industry. We have been lucky to secure most of the funds that we ask for. As you said, the equipment we have is fairly high-end and since 2005 we have been able to build our network of meteorological observation stations from an almost negligible 5 stations to over 38+. The majority of these are now automatic but we still appreciate the benefit of manned stations in certain places.

There is a place for manned stations, automation works some of the time but you need manned stations to fall back on.

Exactly. We do couple automatic with manned stations if there is any doubt we also have temporary, mobile weather stations and we simply calibrate the devices. The QMD since 2008 has been looking at meteorology in a different way and developing to be on par with other meteorological offices around the world to become self-sustaining.

How do you train your staff? There is often an issue with training and some are not trained to the standard meteorological level that they need to be to be able to do the monitoring and forecasting.

Again, we’ve been lucky. We housed the old Qatar Civil Aviation College that belonged to the Gulf States up to 1998 and it was used to train in the discipline of meteorological in conjunction with the WMO. I’m actually a product of that college and graduated in 1995 before it closed. It went on to become the Qatar Aviation College afterwards, under the Civil Aviation Authority and Ministry of Education. In 2007, we attended the WMO congress and the college was able to become an RTC (Regional Training Centre) and in 2012 it was recognised as one of three RTCs that were compliant with everything and therefore one of the best in the world.

We also give students, after working for a couple of years in the met office, the option to continue their studies at Reading University and other institutions and many have successfully achieved a master qualification. We do encourage our forecasters to pursue further study but it’s always their personal choice whether to continue or not.

One of the problems I’ve seen is that often the price paid for a meteorologist to work in oil and gas is a lot higher than a met department so people will often wait until they’re educated and move into industry. How do you get around that?

I actually have not had a meteorologist leave for oil and gas in the 28 years I’ve worked at the met office. In Qatar, we try and make everything comfortable for our forecasters however it’s always a personal choice if they would prefer to move into the private sector. We have developed the department is such a way that we can compete with the private sector in Qatar and we are able to provide forecasting services to the oil and gas industry, so they approach us before they approach anyone else.

You’re in a privileged position but it’s clearly self-made due to the direction that you’ve given the meteorological service. There are a lot of other countries where they don’t have the finance to make sure that their forecasters are comfortable. Would you have advice for other met services that don’t have those kind of resources?

We have to be pragmatic with the development of the world in terms of sustaining a non-profit department in a government. It is a fact that meteorology is not profitable. It only provides a service and one should not think of it as a service that makes a profit. Other countries, for instance in Africa, have been developing their department with the cooperation from the World Bank and other met offices around the world to create a system to make it easier to sustain themselves and work in a way to be better equipped to handle future development. The best way is to educate the younger generation to combat the lack of interest in meteorology in the future.

In terms of commercialisation of departments, the UK met office has been working on the WISER project in Africa for quite some time and it is trying to commercialise met offices so that they have money coming in to further develop the department. I suppose it depends on where in the world you are and how strong a position you are in to keep your staff and further develop the department.

Of course. The interests of the private sector have benefited us as meteorological departments. For example, their development has helped speed up forecasting capabilities and injected better computing power for numerical modelling. In the meteorological world, if the department is able to commercialise and get back 20% of spending, then you are a successful commercial weather office.

What is your relationship with the WMO? How does the WMO work with you to ensure that the met office works in the way it should and how do you interact with the WMO?

We have a very good relationship. They have assisted us very generously by sending us experts and assisted us to set up the Gulf Marine Centre for the region in Qatar. We were able to have a few successful meetings, endorsed by the WMO, and from my stint as the regional president, we were blessed to have an understanding from them. Under the new leadership of the secretary general, it’s been quite an interesting move.

They have been increasingly trying to involve the private sector more and from the work my company does, there are a lot of manufacturers out there who could assist departments to understand more about what is out there. As we all know, weather issues are going to increase due to the challenges associated with climate change and there are more companies springing up that want to address these issues and I believe that the funding opportunities are going to increase dramatically. I think traditionally, hydro-meteorology has been left in the back room but people are starting to realise that hydro-meteorological departments are at the epicentre of everything because if you can understand the weather and forecast against it other sectors will benefit.

Yes, absolutely. We are in a better position but financially-challenged meteorological offices need to set up their observational networks. The private sector should provide a cheaper alternative for financially-challenged offices. This way we can understand more to the benefit of everyone.

In a lot of cases, these departments do actually have some of the top end equipment. The biggest question is where and who can they get their funding. You can have some of the cheaper equipment but we both know that the lifespan is a lot shorter and the calibration needs to happen more often. I feel it is the role of the WMO, World Bank etc. to be able to say how can we get the best equipment to these countries and how can we finance it.

The problem of finance will always exist and international organisations do play a role however some countries are just in different positions. Inevitably, these countries will have to be well equipped and maintain a quality observation network to meet the challenges of climate change.

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