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[NEW DELHI] Countries in South Asia are to benefit from a network of weather stations that will monitor climate variations and improve preparation for the impact of global warming.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) will first set up 50 stations across Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh announced last week (20 October) at a meeting of environment ministers and officials from countries belonging to the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

A second phase will cover Afghanistan and Pakistan before a third extends the network to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

The stations, which will focus on storm surveillance, will be part of the SAARC Meteorological Research Centre (SMRC) which covers the countries concerned.

Ramesh did not specify when the weather stations would be set up, just that it will be "very soon".

He said the ministers had also agreed to hold annual South Asian workshops on climate change to discuss each country's plans for climate change mitigation, adaptation, measurement and monitoring.

At the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December, SAARC countries plan to hold an event to highlight the region's concerns about the impact of global warming.

The decision to ramp up climate change activities is the second major initiative announced recently for the region.

On 18 October, India announced it would set up a research centre and launch two of its own satellites to gather data on climate change.

Ramesh announced in Bangalore that the city would be home to the new National Institute on Climate and Environmental Sciences (NICES), which will help the country gather its own data on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change projections instead of relying on data from Western countries.

The institute will complement the Centre for Climate Change Research (CCCR), which was launched in August by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology to focus on basic climate science and modelling.

NICES will receive an initial government grant of 400 million rupees (around US$9 million) and will be a "data hub" on climate change that will help build India's local capacity, said Ramesh. He is increasingly emphasising the need for India to develop its own models and database (see Homegrown climate models 'set India's record straight').

The Indian space department will launch the two satellites in 2010 and 2011 to monitor greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.