By WMO Secretariat1
Natural hazards involving weather, climate and water are a major source of death, injury and physical destruction. Over the past decade (2005-2014), 3 253 hydrometeorological hazards were reported around the world, resulting in 283 035 deaths and economic losses amounting to US$ 983 million.2
At the same time, and thanks in good part to the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005−2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters (HFA), the past decade also saw many lives saved and much property protected from damage in countries around the world through improved early warnings and greater climate resilience. National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) have played a major role in this success story by providing forecasts and early warning services for weather, climate and water-related hazards such as tropical cyclones, storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, cold waves and wildfires. They have also become more effective in communicating risk to the public and coordinating their actions with emergency, medical and other relevant national agencies, a cornerstone of the Hyogo framework.
While significant progress has been achieved, many gaps and challenges remain. These challenges will increase as populations rise, megacities expand and increased vulnerability heighten exposure to extreme weather events. To respond to the rising expectations for greater security, NMHSs will need to build greater institutional and operational capacities, attract more human and financial resources, and strengthen their cooperation with other national and regional partners.
The future environment for reducing disaster risk will be shaped by three critical United Nations-led negotiations that will conclude this year:
- The new post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR), which will succeed the HFA, is to be adopted at the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR-III) in Sendai, Japan, in March;
- The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be adopted by governments at the UN General Assembly in New York, in September; and
- A new agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to be adopted in Paris in December.
These concurrent processes provide the international community with a unique opportunity to ensure coherence and alignment across policies, practices and partnerships in programme implementation for disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change. Together they will affect, for the WMO, how user-oriented weather, climate and water services are delivered over the coming decade and beyond to meet the evolving needs of governments, decision-makers and the public.
WMO Contributions to post-2015 framework
In Sendai, the world’s governments will build on the accomplishments of the HFA by adopting the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction. This new framework is expected to take a broader, people-centred approach to disaster risk reduction. It is likely to call for focused actions in the following priority areas: (1) understanding of disaster risk; (2) strengthening of governance and institutions to manage disaster risk; (3) investing in economic, social, cultural and environmental resilience; and (4) enhancing preparedness for effective response and “building back better” recovery and reconstruction.
The WMO community broadly agrees on what is required to further strengthen its contribution to disaster risk reduction. NMHSs will have a key part to play in implementing the new Framework. Together, they can contribute through a series of practical actions:
- By ensuring better access to global risk information: Current and historical data, together with predictions and forward-looking analyses, are essential for monitoring hazard-related trends, quantifying disaster risk, identifying best practices and setting priorities. The WMO community will continue to significantly improve the quality and availability of essential weather and climate observations, data and predictions, which are distributed to all countries via the WMO Information System (WIS) and the WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS). Many other WMO activities, such as the World Weather Watch, the World Climate Programme and the WMO-led GFCS, will also contribute to the provision of improved risk information in the coming years.
WMO will also work on improving access to other types of risk data. For example, together with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), WMO will assist countries to implement multi-hazard early warning systems and to gather information on national hazard-risk standards related to exposure and vulnerability. In addition, recognizing that data about disaster risks and losses tend to be incomplete and difficult to compare from country to country, WMO will work with partners to periodically review and publish materials such as the recent Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2012).
- By implementing multi-hazard early warning systems: While early warning systems and services have dramatically reduced mortality in many parts of the world, there is room for improvement. In particular, the adoption of multi-hazard early warning systems can provide integrated and seamless services for simultaneously reducing disaster risk from different types of hazards, from short-term weather to longer-term climate timeframes. These systems engage all relevant actors and address all major hazards, including storms, floods, droughts, heatwaves and other extremes.
As part of the move from single-hazard to multi-hazard early warning systems, NMHSs are making a shift to impact-based forecasts and risk-informed warnings. They are moving from a focus on providing an understanding of hydrometeorological hazards to offering an understanding of the likely impacts of these hazards. This trend will accelerate as lessons are learned and user feedback from around the world is received.
An effective early warning system consists of four components: risk identification, continuous monitoring, timely information delivery and citizen response. Because hazards vary across territories and communities, early warning systems should be tailored to reflect local contexts and needs. The development and enhancement of climate information and multi-hazard early warning systems can inform, and thereby improve prevention, preparedness and early action and response. In addition to early warning systems, every country needs a “24/7 operational interactive platform” for coordinating action by various agencies and communities, building climate resilience and delivering warnings as well as actionable response information about hazards.
These platforms should link together the activities of NMHSs, disaster risk reduction and management agencies, and emergency management groups. By drawing on advanced technologies such as satellite and mobile communication services, and reaching out to the public via multiple communications channels, including social media, it is possible for operational services to greatly improve responsiveness. WMO, through NMHSs, will help to build national capacity by strengthening the provision of knowledge products, demonstration projects, training and forums for sharing lessons learned, etc.
Another improvement involves an increased focus on the “last mile.” NMHSs will enhance their work with disaster management agencies, media intermediaries, etc. to ensure that effective warnings reach people in remote places and difficult terrains.
- Strengthen operational disaster risk-reduction services: The HFA has promoted a paradigm shift from a reliance on post-disaster response to a proactive risk-reduction approach. This approach requires meteorological, hydrological and climate services to support science-based risk management decisions, these in turn require investments in multi-hazard early warning systems. Through its cross-cutting programme on disaster risk reduction services, WMO is developing an organization-wide coordination framework to support risk analysis, early warning systems, planning for different economic sectors and risk transfer financing at the international, regional and national levels. Through this coordinated approach, and working with its partners, WMO can address the information needs and requirements of the disaster risk management community in an effective and timely fashion.
WMO Costal Inundation Forecasting Demonstration Project (CIFDP)
Coastal inundation is an increasing threat to the lives and livelihoods of people living in low-lying, highly populated coastal areas. The management of such risk represents a great challenge to scientists and policy-makers in the areas of meteorology, hydrology, oceanography, emergency management and coastal planning. The WMO Coastal Inundation Forecasting Demonstration Project (CIFDP) was established in 2009 to facilitate the development of efficient warning systems to protect communities from coastal inundation in disaster-prone countries. It aims to build improved operational forecasts and warnings capability for coastal inundation that can be sustained by the national agencies, including the NMHSs of WMO Members. Training and technology transfer are critical capacity development components of this project.
The focus of CIFDP is on reducing vulnerability by improving operational forecasts and warning capability on probable risk and impacts of coastal inundation, caused by single or multiple hazards, including storm surge, astronomical tides, waves, riverine flooding and sea surface elevation anomalies.
CIFDP is implemented through a series of sub-projects, based on users’ requirements and operated/maintained by national operational agencies with the responsibility for coastal inundation warnings. At present, four CIFDP sub-projects are being implemented in Bangladesh, Fiji, Indonesia and the Caribbean region. Upon completion of national sub-projects of CIFDP, countries will implement an operational system for integrated coastal inundation forecasting and warning, providing objective basis for coastal disaster (flooding) management; contributing to saving lives, reducing loss of livelihood and property, and enhancing resilience and sustainability in coastal communities.
CIFDP improves the forecast of coastal inundation caused by high water from any source, builds capacity in an NMHS, using an operational and sustainable model, and exemplefies what multi-hazards early warning systems can, and will, be. It draws the best of WMO, the host nation, and regional and other partners to reduce vulnerabilities and save lives.
WMO is expanding on scientific advances to increase the availability and accuracy of user-friendly climate services to help countries and communities, especially the most vulnerable, adapt to climate variability and climate change through the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS). The GFCS is being implemented by governments with support from WMO and its partners within and outside the United Nations system. It targets disaster risk reduction as one of its top priorities. Weather and climate services will need to provide increasingly long-term forecasts to inform long-term investments and strategic planning for climate resilience. For instance, for managing coastal zones, which face many natural hazards, climate services can support the development of new building codes and the retrofitting of infrastructure to withstand more frequent and severe hazards.
- Build climate resilience through climate services: Emergency response must be further complemented by efforts to build climate resilience and disaster prevention. This means looking beyond the next flood or storm to understand long-term climate vulnerabilities. It means helping society to prepare for and adapt to future weather extremes and other climate impacts. The emergence of climate services provides opportunities to increase the lead times of certain hazard warnings. For instance, seasonal climate outlooks help governments and the farming community to manage excessive or insufficient rainfall. Sophisticated climate services combine climate predictions with information from key sectors such as health and urban planning to inform decisions on disaster risk reduction and other priorities. For example, scenarios of future sea-level rise and storm patterns combined with population trends can shape long-term investments in coastal development.
- Strengthen networking and partnerships: By partnering with others – academia, government departments, international and non-governmental organizations, the media, private sector and civil society – NMHSs help society as a whole to make better decisions based on complete, accurate and reliable weather, water, and climate information. These partnerships result in better data coverage, information processing and high-resolution models as well as more precise and useful specialized products. NMHSs encourage these partnerships by adopting open data policies that make real-time access to their information easy, useful and low cost.
Costa Rica – Working with Partners on Early Warning Systems
In Costa Rica, the Sarapiqui River and several of its tributaries have a long history of recurrent overflows, generally related to the intensity of the rainy season in the Northern Caribbean. Many of the communities are exposed to the river flooding. The growing population in the flood prone region is exacerbating the overall vulnerability of the community in the affected areas.
The 6.2 magnitude earthquake of 8 January 2009 in the Cinchona area had an important impact on the landscape and hydrological variability in the Sarapiqui basin. The earthquake and associated landslides increased the risk in the basin by changing the drainage patterns, there are new risk areas for flash floods, mudslides and fallen trees in the riverbed. The regular behaviour of the river was also changed by the accumulation of sediments from landslides that raised the level of the riverbed. It was necessary to identify the new risks and to support the organization of the communities in the areas of potential impact.
WMO, the National Meteorological Institute (IMN), the National Commission of Risk Prevention and Emergency Response (CNE) and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE) combined efforts to develop an early warning system for the Sarapiqui basin and to strengthen local capacities for the prevention and response of these hazards. The Costa Rica Early Warning System for Hydrometeorological Hazards Project was funded by the World Bank Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction (GFDRR).
Launched in early in 2012, the Project was completed by May 2013. It led to unprecedented coordination and cooperation among the three national agencies, IMN, ICE and CNE, at national level and with over 50 Sarapiqui River basin communities. A simulation exercise drew over 800 participants – some 500 volunteered to participate in an evacuation exercise coordinated by CNE, the police, the Red Cross and local authorities.
WMO, in collaboration with other UN agencies, governments and other major groups, such as the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is proposing the establishment of a global networking partnership to provide advisory support to government agencies on strengthening multi-hazard early warning systems and services and implementing the priorities for action of the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction. In particular, this support will focus on:
- up-scaling and accelerating implementation of multi-hazard early warning systems and services;
- measuring progress in the number of people, including vulnerable people, with access to early warning and risk information;
- facilitating the consolidation of case studies and lessons learned, the exchange of experiences among regions, countries, cities and local communities and the analysis of emerging related issues;
- building on the paradigm shift underway in national or local agencies such as National Meteorological and Hydrological Services:
- to advance from their current status as providers of forecasts and early warnings to being providers of impact-based forecasts and risk-informed warnings;
- to play a major role in all aspects of disaster risk management to better support disaster management agencies and local communities; and
- to provide better risk-based decision-support services;
- strengthening partnerships of (national) technical agencies (providing data on hydro-meteorological, geophysical and other hazards) with relevant disaster management organizations.
International cooperation and partnerships at global, regional and national levels are necessary to ensure the interoperability of multi-hazard early warning systems, the development and transfer of technologies and the exchange of knowledge and data. Also important is effective coordination and leveraging of government investments and risk financing strategies with international development, and climate-related, funding. Key areas for this are institutional and infrastructural capacity building, hazard-risk analysis and climate information systems.
Disaster Risk Preparedness in Shanghai
Shanghai, a megacity of over 23 million people, has established one of the first multi-hazard early warning systems to deliver alerts on cyclones, storms surges and temperature extremes as well as resulting impacts such as floods, diseases and physical damage. The system relies on strong political will, a legal framework, clear authority and roles, standardized operating procedures, the use of consistent and actionable warnings, and the cooperation of government agencies, communities and vulnerable sectors. Ultimately, good governance is one of the keys to successful disaster risk reduction.
1 Tang Xu, Director; Mannava V.K. Sivakumar, Consultant; and Jochen Luther, Junior Professional Officer, Disaster Risk Reduction Programme; and Michael Williams, Chief, Communications & Public Affairs Office, WMO
2 EM-DAT, database of the Centre for Research on the Epedemiology of Disasters (CRED) at the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL), www.cred.be