The top global forum on preventing and mitigating disaster impacts opened its biennial session on 23 May in the Mexican resort of Cancun with calls for more unified and concerted action against interlocking natural hazards that disrupt the lives of millions of people every year.
Climate change, sea level rise, water stress, population growth and rapid urbanization have dramatically increased vulnerability levels. The impacts of natural disasters force an estimated 26 million people into poverty every year and roll back socio-economic development. Improved early warning systems and concerted efforts to reduce the risk of disasters are therefore more important than ever before.
“Natural hazards recognize no national boundaries or frontiers or orders of the government and they hit vulnerable populations hardest,” Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto told the opening ceremony of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.
“The experience of the more than 6,000 participants of 180 countries who are participating in this forum will allow us to improve international cooperation and reduce the loss of human life, and economic and infrastructure loss linked to disasters,” he said.
The Global Platform held a a special session devoted to the outcome of the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference organized by the World Meteorological Organization, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and UNESCO.
WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas told the special session that climate change and rising temperatures were accompanied by more intense and extreme weather events. He cited recent floods in Peru, Colombia and Canada as examples.
“All of these events undermine sustainable development,” he said. “We need national hazard centers to address meteorological, hydrological, oceanic, air quality, seismic and volcanic risk all together,” he said.
“We need scientists, operational players, government authorities, public-private partnerships, those who communicate with the general public, and local commuties,” said Mr Taalas in his summary of the outcomes of the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference.
“It means jumping out of the comfort zones of our own expertise and thinking out of the box. We need an active dialogue with our customers. By working together we can learn together,” he said.
Early warning is truly about survival, about saving lives and the means to sustain those lives. This is why as an international community we have the responsibility to improve multi-hazard early warning systems so that they reach everyone, when they need the information, and in a way they can take the right action,” said Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Mexico has won acclaim for its disaster risk reduction, including the successful mobilization against Category 5 Hurricane Patricia in 2015 and the other natural hazards that it faces. Cancun is just 3 meters above sea level and only 400 meters away from the beach and so exposed to the impacts of climate change, more extreme weather and rising sea levels.
Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative
WMO, UNISDR and other partners including the World Bank organized the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference. It brought together 450 experts from meteorological, hydrological, marine, geophysical, disaster and health services, the IT and communications sector, academia, development agencies and community organizations.
Developing country participants were supported by funding from the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative. CREWS aims to mobilize more than US$100 million by 2020 to strengthen risk information and early warning systems in 80 least developed countries and small island developing states, and to leverage financing to protect populations exposed to extreme climate events.
WMO, UNISDR, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) are implementing the CREWS initiative, which is being financed by France, with support from Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Japan and Canada.
“People-centered, multi-hazard, early warning systems save lives, and are an effective way to reduce risk and build climate resilience,” said Laura Tuck, Vice President of Sustainable Development, World Bank Group.
“We have evidence that improved weather forecasting and early warning could increase productivity globally by $30 billion a year; save $13 billion a year in reduced asset losses and save another US$ 22 billion per year in avoided losses to well-being, representing a significant reduction of the poverty impacts of disasters,” said Ms Tuck.
A CREWS project in Mali aims to improve hydro-meteorological, early warning and response systems and services. Another project in Burkina Faso will improve the performance of weather observations and climate outlooks, establish flood early warning systems and improve forecast products for the agriculture sector. Projects are in the pipeline for other parts of Africa as well as the Caribbean and Pacific.
The outcomes of the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference will support countries achieve the Sendai Framework's Seventh Global Target, namely to substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information to the people by 2030. WMO is working towards a global hazard alert system based on best practices by Members.
Key messages from Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference
Risk Informed Early Warning Systems
- Risk information is the first mile of an early warning system. It identifies the main threats and the most vulnerable groups.
- Risk information is needed for impact based warnings and communication tools to those at risk
- Risk information needs to be people-centred and downsized to community level.
- Climate change is increasing the risk of extreme weather
Hazard monitoring, forecasting and warnings
- The Conference heard examples that all countries – including developing ones - can successfully develop and implement early warning systems when all sectors work together (meteorology, hydrology, health, IT etc).
- There is a need to shift from forecasting what the weather will be to what the weather will do. This entails introducing impact based hazard alerts at global level.
- Many disasters have a cascading effect (earthquake leads to tsunami which leads to flooding and economic, health, food security and nuclear crises etc)
Bringing the message to communities at risk
- It is important to take advantage of new technologies, such as mobile cellular networks and the Internet, as well as older technologies, such as radio.
- There is a need to forge public-private partnerships to work closely with mobile-cellular, satellite and other operators to develop communication tools and strategies in the case of disasters.
- There is a need to break out of current silos and for everyone to work together on more people-centred messaging
- By developing standardized communications such as the Common Alerting Protocol, it is possible to disseminate harmonized alerts and reach more people.
Enabling early action
- More efforts need to be made to “operationalise science” (including social science) to make the science understandable and actionable, linking it with traditional knowledge and cultural backgrounds, to enhance the response to events that cannot be avoided
- To ensure that “early action” is truly early action based on a forecast in advance, and not following the disaster, efforts need to be taken to establish new institutional and financial mechanisms, and bring the right actors (including donors) on board
- Early action should be incentivized through improving the availability of funding for no-regret response actions, for example, through forecast-based funds
- We cannot assume information and warnings are enough, we must work with communities to support their preparedness, so that they understand and know exactly what to do upon receipt of early warnings
Investing in and sustaining early warning systems
- Early warning programmes in countries remain fragmented. The burden of managing multiple portfolio with many partners rest on the national institutions.
- Space for improvement exits in increasing the effectiveness of investments in early warning systems. Initiatives such as CREWS and others can contribute to addressing the current resource gap in Least Developed Countries and Small Island developing States.