A new cross-border multi-hazard early warning system will be developed in the Western Balkans and Turkey to increase resilience to floods, landslides, droughts and heat-waves which often hit the region and to build on the lessons learnt from the devastating floods of May 2014.
Authorities from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, and Kosovo agreed to establish a region-wide approach to build resilience to disasters and climate change adaptation at the conclusion of a two-year project implemented by the United Nations in collaboration with national counterparts and suppported by the European Union.
The overall project “Building Resilience to Disasters in Western Balkans and Turkey” came to a close on 20 October. It was co-financed by the European Commission through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance and implemented by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It brought together different stakeholders from local, national and regional governments, as well as from the scientific and the private sectors.
At a concluding meeting in Ankara, Turkey, representatives of all the beneficiary countries agreed to continue cross-border cooperation and information sharing. They also fully supported work towards a regional multi-hazard early warning system, which will consist of harmonized and strengthened existing national systems.
The value of such cooperation was underlined last May when devastating floods hit several countries in the region. The economic losses of the floods have been signficant and have set back countries development gains.,The Ankara meeting highlighted several lessons learnt including better appreciation of the life-saving role of effective early warnings systems, and the necessity to increase investments in disaster prevention was also raised.
Boyan Kostic from the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia, noted: “The project proved to be highly useful. After the floods last spring, we fully appreciate that regional approach to flood management is to be fostered.”
“The collaboration and achievements of the project have been remarkable,” said head of the UNISDR Regional Office for Europe, Paola Albrito. “South East European countries are committed and aware of the challenges ahead. The engagement voiced on local action, exchange of knowledge, common data standards and the continuation of innovative insurance and reinsurance solutions sets the agenda for future collaboration.”
“Effective early warnings helped limit the loss of life from the exceptional spring floods in the Western Balkans, but it will take years for the worst-affected areas to recover from the impact,” said Dimitar Ivanov, who was responsible for the project as WMO Europe Representative. “We expect an increase in extreme precipitation events, as well as heatwaves, as a result of climate change. It is therefore vital that we do more to build cross-border disaster resilience.”
One of the achievements of the project was the so-called KMS – an information and knowledge management system. As the May floodwaters surged across national frontiers, the system provided a platform for information exchange from the local to the national and international levels, which allowed integration between different national languages.
The disaster risk management capacity in the beneficiary countries was also strengthened due to the Exchange of Experts Programme,. This resulted in the building and strengthening of a network, which has been instrumental in supporting the affected countries in terms of information management as well as facilitating the procedure for bilateral and European international assistance.
The project boosted the number of cities from the region in the UNISDR Making Cities Resilient Campaign to 100, including from Montenegro and Kosovo, project beneficiaries that are new to the Campaign.
National meteorological and hydrological services (NMHS) in the region strengthened their capacity to improve monitoring and forecasting of extreme weather. Together with partners from the region, WMO and UNISDR organized training events and procured equipment and software for meteorological and hydrological data management to help speed the integration of the beneficiaries into the wider European Meteorological Infrastructure.
The project boosted technical capacity for flood and drought risk assessment across vulnerable sectors like agriculture and water, and promote integrated flood management as well as forecasting. The South-East European Climate Outlook Forum, which prepares seasonal weather outlooks to help in disaster risk reduction, as well as agriculture, water and energy management, received support as a result of the EU funding.
As part of these efforts, Bosnia and Herzegovina in February 2014 joined MeteoAlarm, which provides comprehensive and coherent weather warnings across Europe through the www.meteoalarm.eu site. The platform enabled authorities to improve weather alerts in Bosnia and Herzegovina – as evidenced during the May floods - as well as contributing to the overview of severe weather events across Europe.