As the economic and human impacts of extreme weather and climate change increase, forecasts not just of what the weather will BE, but of what the weather will DO are vital to save lives and livelihoods.
As a result, there is a paradigm shift towards impact-based forecasting, driven by the international meteorological and humanitarian community and facilitated by leaps in science and technology.
“Over the last 50 years there has been a five-fold increase in recorded weather, climate and water-related hazards, with long-lasting socio-economic consequences. The number of deaths has decreased thanks to increased availability of accurate and timely warnings. But it is still unnecessarily high, as a result of lack of understanding of potential impacts,” says Cyrille Honoré, Director, Disaster Risk Reduction and Public Services Branch at the World Meteorological Organization.
“This needs to change,” he says.
WMO has consequently expanded its Guidelines on Multi-hazard Impact-based Forecast and Warning Services, first produced in 2015 as a standard reference text.
The guidance provides practical information and case studies on how to move from weather forecasts and warnings issued by National Meteorological and Hydrological Services to the provision of impact-based forecast and warning services of multiple cascading hazards (for instance a tropical cyclone, which triggers flooding, storm surge, wind damage, impacts on infrastructure, transport and energy and on health systems).
The new edition benefits from significant research into exposure and vulnerability and incorporates extensive input from both service providers and the user community. It underlines the paramount importance of partnerships and dialogue between scientists, forecasters, disaster managers, community leaders and decision-makers.
Anticipatory Humanitarian Action
The publication also embraces the concepts of anticipatory actions – using weather and climate information to underpin humanitarian interventions such as shelter strengthening before a tropical cyclone makes landfall and using forecast-based financing to limit the impact of a drought or flood.
The new guidelines were presented by Prof. Celeste Saulo , WMO First Vice-President and Director of the Argentinian National Meteorological Service, at the 9th Global Dialogue Platform on Anticipatory Humanitarian Action, at a virtual session on 9 December entitled ‘Meeting the challenges of future crises: Protecting lives and livelihoods with anticipatory action.’
“No one can do this alone,” said Prof. Saulo. “You can have the best protection agency and the best weather service. But if these organizations cannot work together, the public will not get the best of us. Partnerships is the most important aspect,” she said.
She cited the example of Argentina’s new warning system for heatwaves and extreme temperatures. It was co-designed with input from experts at the Ministry of Health as well as the meteorological community because of the need to put the emphasis on health impacts, especially for vulnerable groups.
The guidelines include new chapters, based on recommendations from a symposium of service providers, users and funders hosted by the Met Office, the UK’s national meteorological service, in December 2019. The symposium brought together participants from over 20 National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, research institutes, and international organizations including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the World Bank, the World Food Programme and Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS).
“Bringing organisations together in the symposium provided an opportunity to share experience and expertise of impact-based forecasting and anticipatory action,” said Will Lang, Met Office Head of Civil Contingencies. “The new guidelines will help organisations around the world to develop services which can help protect lives and livelihoods.”
“Protecting communities at the frontlines of the climate crisis is a key priority for the Red Cross Red Crescent. We cannot afford to just respond to ever more disasters, so we must anticipate what’s coming our way, to reduce risks in the long term and prepare effectively when a forecast arrives,” says Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.
“Impact-based forecasting plays a critical role to enable anticipatory action, transforming complex scientific information into actionable insights that enable humanitarian interventions, such as shelter strengthening by farmers in the Philippines before a typhoon makes landfall, or distributing alpaca veterinary kits to protect the livelihoods of families in the Andean region of Peru against coldwaves,” he says.
The Global Dialogue Platform on Anticipatory Humanitarian Action brings together practitioners, scientists and government representatives from around the world to explore how anticipatory action can address the compounding and intertwined effects of climate change, rising conflicts, economic shocks and COVID-19 on the world’s most vulnerable people.
A total of 274 million people worldwide will need emergency aid and protection in 2022, a 17 per cent increase, according to the Global Humanitarian Overview released by the Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on 1 December.
“The climate crisis is hitting the world’s most vulnerable people first and worst. Protracted conflicts grind on, and instability has worsened in several parts of the world,” it said.