The number of weather, climate and water related disasters increased five-fold between 1970 and 2019. During this 50-year period, 11 000 disasters were reported as resulting from hydrometeorological events. These caused over 2 million deaths and US$ 3.64 trillion in losses. However, over that period there was a three-fold decrease in deaths from the first decade to the last – this thanks to improved early warning systems (EWSs). Unfortunately, the economic losses associated with weather, climate, and water extremes increased by a factor of seven.
Over the coming decades, scientists project with a high degree of confidence that the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, heavy precipitation and drought, as well as more frequent high-intensity tropical cyclones, will increase as a result of climate change (IPCC 2012, 2014, 2021). This is even more alarming given it is the most vulnerable– women, children, people with disabilities, minorities, the poor, etc. – that suffer a disproportionate share of disaster impacts and are most at risk in the climate crisis. About nine in ten deaths associated with hydrometeorological events in the 1970 to 2019 period occurred in developing countries. It is estimated a third of people globally – mostly in developing countries – are still not covered by EWSs.
The Global Multi-Hazard Alert System (GMAS) Framework, an initiative of the WMO in which many partner agencies have engaged, aims to enhance Member alerting capabilities to close the EWS coverage gaps. Moreover, the Framework aims to strengthen connections between EWSs and decision-making processes – and trust in and collaboration among the people behind the systems and processes – across a range of time and spatial scales. The Framework will support disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response – that is, action to save lives and livelihoods – and thus protect development gains in regions repeatedly battered by high-impact events.
The vision of GMAS, as articulated by the Executive Counsel in 2017, is “to be recognized globally by decision makers as a resource of authoritative warnings and information related to high-impact weather, water, ocean and climate events”. Two years later, in 2019, the World Meteorological Congress (Cg-18) approved the development of a GMAS Framework Implementation Strategy and Plan. WMO established the Expert Team on GMAS to realize this vision.
"The GMAS Framework will leverage existing WMO arrangements and capacity development mechanisms to accelerate support to countries to enhance their alerting capabilities to meet the growing demands for this authoritative information in a changing climate." – Fred Branski, Chair, Expert Team on GMAS
WMO steps-up its support to Members to enhance alerting capabilities
Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and many developing countries face specific challenges with EWSs, which warrant immediate attention in view of their higher vulnerability and risk levels that, often greatly exceed their capacity to respond to and recover from disasters. In these countries, disasters often undo years of progress and reverse development trajectories.
WMO launched a “Fast-Track” initiative in early 2021 to support Members, initially in Africa where 33 of the 46 United Nations designated LDCs are found, in developing and strengthening their Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (MHEWS). This initiative is providing immediate support to Members and enabling learning to inform the forward trajectory and development of the GMAS Framework Strategy and Implementation Plan.
The “Fast-Track” initiative is focusing initially on the implementation of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) as a key building block for the success of GMAS. Since 2006, WMO has recognized CAP as the key standard for all-hazards, all-media public warning and alerting from authoritative sources, however, uptake of the standard in National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) has remained relatively low (see Communicating for Life Saving Action: Enhancing messaging in Early Warning Systems in this issue).
The “Fast-Track” initiative has engaged experts to assist African countries in setting up the appropriate software components for CAP and to provide practical training in a learn-by-doing environment to agilely address obstacles as they arise in implementation. Figure 1 highlights the success of this effort, which started in 2021 when 2 African countries were issuing CAP and in February 2022 recorded 16 countries issuing CAP alerts. Given the Fast-Track’s success in Africa, WMO will work with the Regional Associations' (RAs) newly established working groups for Service or GMAS in the coming year to develop and advance GMAS “Fast Track” activities, for example, in South America and Asia.
To support Members in operationalizing CAP, WMO is collaborating with partners to create a CAP HelpDesk to support country level implementation of CAP through the provision of information, methods and tools. The CAP HelpDesk community will support the scale up of CAP by inspiring further coordination and collaboration through a community of support to scale up CAP. A scoping workshop was held by WMO, ITU and IFRC in the fall of 2021 to discuss the common technical capacity-based gaps and barriers to CAP implementation and inform CAP HelpDesk design. A directory of available software tools, training materials, step-by-step implementation guide, and a compilation of frequently asked questions will be included. Further development and building of the CAP HelpDesk will continue in 2022.
To promote the use of CAP in public alerting for hydrological hazards, the WMO is collecting and developing case studies describing the experiences of countries that have applied CAP to hydrology. It is envisioned that the case studies will cover NMHSs of different degrees of development in as many regions as possible and will highlight the benefits and challenges derived from using CAP.
|Figure 1. “Fast-Track” success in RAI|
GMAS – the path forward
To achieve the vision of the Executive Council’s vision for GMAS, the Expert Team is currently working on tasked deliverables in coordination with the WMO Regional Associations and relevant expert teams in the (SERCOM) and the two WMO Commissions. Plans for how GMAS will achieve the following are expected to be delivered for consideration to the Nineteenth Session of the World Meteorological Congress in 2023:
1. The GMAS Framework Implementation Strategy and Plan, leveraging all relevant WMO entities and capacity development activities, as well as other relevant institutions dealing with other types of hazards. The Plan includes the blueprint for a repository of warnings and defined information flows that builds on WMO standards and infrastructure, which will be used to share authoritative warning information produced by Members.
2. A roadmap for capacity development (on national, sub-regional and regional levels, including sharing of good practices) to enable Members that need to strengthen their warning systems to issue higher quality warnings more effectively and efficiently.
3. Improve availability, affordability and accessibility of Members’ MHEWSs as envisioned in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, ensuring that all citizens have access to the available authoritative warning information (sources) to anticipate, mitigate, prepare for and respond to weather, water, ocean and climate events.
4. Enhance the authoritative voice of the NMHSs of WMO Members in issuing official early warnings for weather, water, ocean, climate and space weather events so that decision-makers and those at risk receive authorative information to prepare for and respond to hazardous events.
5. Improve the visibility of NMHSs in their governments and with development agencies, as well as that of WMO, as key contributors to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
6. Enhance cooperation in disaster risk management and MHEWSs at the national, regional and global levels, including cross-border and interregional collaboration, and create a community of practice to share warning information and to promote harmonization.
7. An investment framework for development agencies to support MHEWS capacity development projects for Members.
The GMAS Framework transformation map in Figure 2 provides initial actions for the GMAS Framework Strategy and Implementation Plan to support countries. The GMAS Framework will leverage existing components of the WMO observation and modelling infrastructure as well as its science and innovation and capacity support activities to enhance alerting capabilities in Members - no new standalone alerting system will be established.
The GMAS Expert Team is currently interrogating the various elements of the EWS value cycle to identify gaps and opportunities for transformation as well as entry points to accelerate alerting capacities in Members. The EWS value cycle includes several elements (Golding, 2019; Vogel, 2019; WMO, 2018):
- vulnerability/coping capacities/exposure of systems/people to hazards.
- the decision context, decision maker’s level of trust in authoritative sources of information, and due consideration of any additional trusted sources of information to inform decision-making.
- member alerting capacity.
- monitoring, forecasting, trust in downscaling of the physical attributes of hydrometeorological hazards.
- calculating and communicating forecast reliability.
- quantifying and communicating the anticipated primary and tertiary impacts of hazardous events.
- behaviour change as a result of warning dissemination.
- assessment of benefits and/or unintended outcomes behaviour change.
- post assessment and learning to refine MHEWS design.
AI-DRR: Artificial intelligence for Disaster Risk Reduction
ECMWF: European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts
GDPFS: Global Data-Processing and Forecasting System
GPC: Global Producing Centres
IBF: Impact-based forecast
M&E: Monitoring and evaluation
MHEWS: Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems
NMHSs: National Meteorological and Hydrological Services
RAI: Regional Association for Africa
RAIII: Regional Association for South America
RSMC: Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres
RTC: Regional Training Centres
SWIC: Severe Weather Information Centre
WWIS: World Weather Information Service
WMO components and strategic partnerships to bridge gaps are being mapped and leveraged to enable transformational change in alerting capabilities and the EWS value cycle. Regional arrangements between NMHSs and Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres (RSMC) within the Global Data-Processing and Forecasting System (GDPFS) will be leveraged to scale capacity support to Members. Moreover, it is envisioned the new Centre of Excellence for Climate and Disaster Resilience (CoE) will also play a role in supporting the alerting capacities of Members, including through collaborative development of training material and resources.
The initial approach of the GMAS Expert Team also proposes the use of other existing tools – such as the WMO Severe Weather Information Centre and the Register of WMO Members Alerting Authorities – to create a repository of authoritative warnings and information related to high-impact weather, water, ocean and climate events Arrangements with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and NAVAREA Coordinators through the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) World-wide Navigational Warning Service Sub- Committee (WWNWS-SC) to acquire historical ocean alerts broadcasted via the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) into the central GMAS Framework repository will also be explored.
WMO remains committed to supporting Members through the GMAS Framework by enabling multi-hazard, all-media emergency alerting to ensure citizens have access to information and the ability to act. The need is pressing: MHEWS are critical for managing systemic disaster risk and enabling climate change adaptation.
The ultimate success of the GMAS Framework would be to have warnings from all Members produced, aggregated, available and connected to decision making processes. Efforts will be made to link the resulting socioeconomic benefits – decreases in the loss of lives and livelihoods that set back development – to the monitoring mechanisms for the Sendai Framework, the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the SDGs.
GMAS Framework – moving to a more agile results-based approach
Are we on track to deliver on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 by ensuring there are fewer people killed and affected by disasters, and lower economic losses? Are national adaptation efforts guided by the Paris Agreement, specifically on early warning systems, building resilience? Are alerts and services supporting decision making processes to safeguard advances in the Sustainable Development Goals?
Currently, the effectiveness of MHEWS is self-assessed by reporting countries by using metrics such as level of application of disaster risk knowledge, detection, monitoring, analysis and forecasting of hazards and possible consequences, dissemination and communication of warnings and associated information on likelihood and impact. However, are our efforts effective?
The WMO and UNDRR partnership is shifting the monitoring and evaluation paradigm. Through a joint initiative supported by CREWS, the agencies are considering how countries can better assess and monitor the effectiveness of their national EWS. A set of custom indicators were developed for countries to choose from in the Sendai Framework Monitor, so that they can measure, on a voluntary basis, the effectiveness of their MHEWS as per their own individual contexts. In addition to this, the proposed custom indicators could facilitate the measurement of other hazard EWS effectiveness, notably for those related to geo-hazards and biological hazards EWSs, among others; therefore, securing coherence and a holistic reporting to Sendai Framework Monitor. A basic set of indicators have now been developed and reviewed by an expert working group composed of government hydrometeorological and DRR experts. A learning package is being developed to pilot the indicators in in the sub-regions of West Africa and the Pacific in addition to a learning lab at the Global Platform Disaster Risk Reduction 2022 to collect feedback and refine the elements.
By Fred Branski, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, USA); Armstrong Cheng, Hong Kong Observatory (HKO, Hong Kong SAR China); Rahul Sengupta, Animesh Kumar and Sandra Amlang, United Nations Oﬃce for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRRR), and Erica Allis, Samuel Muchemi, Adanna Robertson-Quimby, Cyrille Honoré, Johan Stander, Hwirin Kim, Misaeli Mavoa Funaki and Anne-Claire Fontan, WMO Secretariat
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