Using 3D technology to bring early warnings to rural communities in Afghanistan CREWS Impact Feature, March 2020

One barrier to expanding early warning systems in developing countries is the high cost of required technical equipment. In fact, the cost of a standard weather station can run US$ 50,000 to US$ 100,000. In response, WMO is supporting an innovative initiative using three-dimensional (3D) printing technology to locally produce components for the construction of weather stations in Afghanistan, and for a fraction of the cost – just US$ 200 to US$ 400.

Afghanistan is a country that regularly faces both severe drought and severe flooding, while it counts agriculture as the main livelihood of most of its population. In 2018, the country experienced a drought so severe, that it affected nearly 15 million people who rely on farming, livestock or agriculture-related labour opportunities across 20 provinces. More than two million people faced severe food insecure.


lives lost in Afghanistan due to weather, climate and water related events from 1980 to 2015.


lives lost due to flash floods and floods alone in Afghanistan from 1980 to 2015.

US$ 396 million

in economic losses in Afghanistan due to weather, climate and water related events from 1980 to 2015.

“The application of 3D printing technology will play a highly effective role in the field of Hydro-Met for Afghanistan. Low-cost production, easy transportation and installation, reliable operation, and convenient maintenance are all the factors making it superior to other options.”

Soma Popalzai, Head of Research Department at Afghanistan Meteorological Department, Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority

The 3D-Printed Automatic Weather Station (3D-PAWS) initiative was developed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the US National Weather Service International Activities Office with support from the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). The initiative builds capacity to reduce hydrometeorology-related risk in developing countries, observe and communicate weather and climate information to rural communities, and to develop observation networks and applications to reduce weather-related risks.

WMO is providing technical support to the project through funding provided by the Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems (CREWS) Trust Fund. WMO is a CREWS Implementing Partner, along with the World Bank/GFDRR and UNDRR.

Cost-effective and sustainable

With an initial overall investment of US$ 5,000, for the necessary tools and 3D printers, a very high-quality 3D-PAWS surface weather station can be manufactured in approximately one week for between US$ 200 to US$ 400 each.

One unique aspect of the 3D-PAWS design is that all the housings, connectors and wire harnesses are created using a 3D printer. For each station, about 100 components are 3D-printed. Other components include some locally sourced materials, microsensor technology and a low-cost single board computers.

It can be assembled at the local meteorological office or in other related agencies and components can be "re-printed" locally, ensuring the sustainability of the weather station.

By building on the existing work of partners, the WMO support has also enabled the updating of the tools and software currently used for forecasting, creation of an automatic forecast generator mapbase, and training in forecast analysis, remote sensing and GIS. With the new technology and capacities in place, critical seasonal forecast early warning services are now able to be launched.

3D-PAWS sensors currently measure pressure, temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, precipitation, and visible, infrared and ultraviolet light. The system uses a Raspberry Pi single-board computer for data acquisition, data processing, and communications.

The reliable and convenient process of building weather stations by 3D-PAWS enables the Afghanistan Meteorological Department to build Advanced Warning Systems with low cost; and to install, operate and maintain the stations with ease and without technical limitations. This will highly ensure the sustainability of the stations. The end product will be a change from a scattered NHMS to a nationwide surface observation network.

3D-PAWS observations are used for a variety of hydro-met applications:

  • Regional weather forecasting - Can be assimilated into regional numerical weather prediction systems such as the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF: www.wrf-model.org) model to improve mesoscale weather forecasts.
  • Early alert and regional decision support systems - Real-time monitoring of precipitation in ungauged or minimally gauged river basins can provide input to flash flood guidance and early warning decision support systems.
  • Agricultural monitoring - Water resource management tools can improve reservoir operation for fresh water supplies and the generation of hydroelectric power.
  • Health monitoring - Monitor conditions leading to outbreaks of diseases such as meningitis and malaria.

These innovative and cost-effective weather stations provide the Afghanistan Meteorological Department with a new ability to issue early warning alerts for natural hazards. With this expanded early warning capacity in place, thousands of lives and livelihoods will be saved, while millions of dollars in economic losses will be avoided.

Photos: UNEP, World Bank/Abbas Farzami, Soma Popalzai, WMO/Fatih Kaya (x3), World Bank/Abbas Farzami, UN/Fardin Waez, World Bank, Rumi Consultancy, FAO/Giulio Napolitano, World Bank/Rumi Consultancy, UNEP/Anssi Kullberg, World Bank/Sofie Tesson.

Made possible through the generous support of these CREWS Members:

The Government of Canada also provides support for CREWS projects directly to WMO.

CREWS Implementing Partners:

CREWS also partners with and/or contributes to:

© 2020 Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS)