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[GENEVA] An international information system designed to improve and expand the exchange of data on weather, climate and water will help boost food security around the world, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The UN agency, which launched the system last month (31 January), said it would improve access to meteorological observations and products for stakeholders including the research and disaster risk reduction sectors.

David Thomas, chief of the WMO's information and telecommunication system division, told SciDev.Net that the system could bolster food security because crop yield and agriculture depend on variations in the weather, seasons and climate.

The WMO can provide many useful services to decision-makers, he said.

"For instance, seasonal predictions and climate outlooks are powerful tools for knowing what crops or agriculture will be more likely to be productive, while routine weather forecasts and mid-range outlooks can have strong impacts on harvesting."

The system is based on the Global Telecommunication System of the agency's World Weather Watch, which has been the backbone of meteorological information exchange for 40 years and is used for weather forecasts, tropical cyclone warnings and tsunami alerts.

Thomas said that expanding the system will allow developers, farmers and researchers to identify information that will improve their decision-making.

Developing countries will be able to use their national meteorological or hydrological services and have free access to other information from the WMO's global information system centres in real time over the Internet.

WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud said the system would reduce the costs of information exchange and take advantage of advances in communications technology.

"It will allow users outside the meteorological community to have free access to this information for the first time," he stated in a press release.

This exchange of data could also be used for water management and health purposes, the WMO said.

The World Meteorological Congress, which governs the WMO, has already approved several global information system centres for members to use.

Lidia Brito, head of UNESCO's science policy division, told SciDev.Net that the initiative is important for developing countries.

"It's great news that the system will be open to users outside the meteorological community," she said. "Sometimes people don't even know that such data systems are available, and any information that publicises the wealth of scientific information on offer will greatly benefit both developing and developed countries."