Early warning initiative advances in a pandemic


Geneva, 11 May 2021: The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated impacts of extreme weather and climate change in vulnerable countries but also highlighted the need to build resilience against a multitude of hazards through better early warnings and risk information.

This is one of the key messages of the 2020 Annual Report of the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems Initiative (CREWS), a unique climate action programme that helps saves lives, livelihoods and assets in the world’s most vulnerable countries.

The report “Progress on Early Warning in a Pandemic” showcased achievements in improved early warnings for flash floods, tropical cyclones, sand and dust storms and drought, as well as better weather forecasts for farmers in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The report was presented by Stéphane Crouzat, France’s Climate Change Ambassador at the Wilton Park dialogue: Risk-informed Early Action Partnership: from commitment to action

“It is exciting that initiatives launched as part of the climate action agenda alongside the Paris Climate Change Agreement, in 2015, are demonstrating that they are effective vehicles for ramped-up action. CREWS is working, through its operational partners, in 9 country and 4 regional projects, covering 57 countries in total.”

The report outlines the cooperative actions taken by the World Meteorological Organization, The World Bank / Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), which are Implementing Partners of the CREWS Initiative. With the direct support of contributing Members of the CREWS Trust Fund, the partnership is an effective alliance that continually delivers on making a difference to people’s lives and livelihoods.

To date, the CREWS Trust Fund has received over US$ 66 million in project funding – with an increase of 21% in 2020 - and mobilized an additional US$ 330 million from public funds of other development partners. It needs an additional US$107 to meet funding needs for the next five years – investments which will reap dividends and support the global agenda on sustainable development, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 affected CREWS projects globally in the timing and progress of activities and the mode of their delivery. National institutions’ capacities to operate as normal were hampered, while travel restrictions affected abilities of both national and international partners to provide services.

Through this work, many millions of people in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities now have access to better early warning services.

  • In Afghanistan, a blueprint has been developed by national authorities to modernize national hydro-met operations and strengthen capacity on multi-hazard early warning services, including for flash floods and drought, for 38 million people. 3D printers are being used to build automatic weather stations in to rural communities.
  • In Burkina Faso, a daily sand and dust storm bulletin is disseminated, mitigating the impact on health, agriculture and transport in one of the world’s most affected countries. Farmers have been trained to use climate information and weather forecasts, resulting in lower production costs, higher yields and 265% income increase compared to non-pilot farmers, with money used for education, health care and enterprise.
  • In Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo, CREWS is building national capacity to deliver community-centred warning services for climate, water and weather extremes.
  • In Mali and Niger, community leaders – with a special focus on women - have been trained on climate risks and early warning on floods, thunderstorms and drought.
  • In Togo, hydro-met services and civil protection agencies have improved cooperation between them by jointly assessing the processes involved in weather and climate forecasting, flood warning.
  • In Papua New Guinea, the national meteorological and hydrological service is able to deliver timely and more accurate climate and weather information to people and better protect them from drought, floods and coastal inundations.

CREWS 2020 in numbersAcross the Caribbean, nearly 30 million people are set to benefit from 3 pilot activities, including developing an operational blueprint for hydro-met hazards and transitioning to impact-based forecasting on what the weather will DO rather than simply what it will BE. There is growing recognition that effective early warning and climate services in delivering multiple global and national goals.

Thanks to a regional-level project in the Pacific, early warning systems for hazards like flash floods have been strengthened in a disaster-prone region which is particularly vulnerable to climate change and sea-level rise. Seasonal climate outlooks have provided actionable advance information for climate sensitive sectors.

In West Africa, CREWS is strengthening capacities for sustainable regional climate early warning and piloting local warning services in Sierra Leone.

CREWS members are Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada is also supporting CREWS projects. Finland joined the initiative in 2020.

Views on CREWS

Carole Dieschbourg, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development, Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and outgoing CREWS Chair

“2020 will be remembered as a year that revealed some important truths for a young CREWS Initiative — but ones that should embolden us. COVID-19 did impact our work and timelines. It will continue to do so for some time still. The global travel ban tested our business model. Our national and regional partners, supported by our implementing partners — the World Bank/Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) — showed resilience and creativity in finding solutions to a new reality”.

Ville Skinnari, Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Finland

“We rate highly the role CREWS plays in responding to the early warning needs of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. We must ease the burden of those who would otherwise struggle to adapt and build resilience. Finland welcomes the people-centred approach of CREWS as we place high importance on gender equality, non-discrimination and disability inclusion,”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Member of Parliament, UK International Champion on Adaptation and Resilience for the COP26 Presidency

“Early warning and early action is key to minimising the impact of today’s extreme weather events and tomorrow’s climate change impacts. The UK is proud to contribute to the CREWS Initiative, which has enabled the installation of early warning systems across vulnerable small island States and least developed countries.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas

“Bridging the capacity gap among our LDC and SIDS Members to deal with climate change impact is a high WMO priority. At its heart is technical cooperation provided by countries with higher capacity for observation networks, weather and climate predictions and early warning services. The CREWS Initiative has enabled WMO to accelerate support to countries most in need, working closely with the World Bank and UNDRR,”

Mami Mizutori, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction,

In a pre-COVID world, disasters were already costing the global economy an estimated $520 billion every year and pushing millions into poverty. The plight of people vulnerable to extreme weather events is now much worse because of the pandemic. Early warnings are an essential part of disaster risk reduction, but systems need to be in place for them to be effective and actionable.”

Sameh Wahba, Global Director, Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice, World Bank

The Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) Initiative and the World Bank are working in tandem to improve the quality and accessibility of early warning systems throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and have adapted their work to reflect the new challenges in facilitating access to vital information. Despite the pandemic, our efforts to strengthen early warning resources have continued unabated and investments in this area are growing.

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