As climate change and demographic change boost the number of people exposed to floods, heatwaves and other hazards, improved early warning systems and greater coordination of disaster management activities will be needed to manage risks and protect lives and property, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
As a key contribution to the World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR), WMO has announced plans to support Governments and other stakeholders in developing effective multi-hazard early warning systems that provide a coordinated platform for managing multiple risks.
Together with its partners, WMO is establishing an International Network for Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems. The IN-MHEWS will advise on the best-available scientific, technological, and social knowledge and techniques for delivering early warnings and building climate resilience.
It will also provide support in applying the lessons of the Hyogo Framework for Action, strengthening inter-agency coordination, adopting the most up-to-date communications techniques, identifying the most appropriate and cost-effective technologies and systems, and engaging the public and local decision-makers in building climate resilience.
“As urban areas evolve into megacities, people crowd into exposed areas such as flood plains, and climate change increases the frequency and intensity of several types of extreme weather event, the risks to human life and socio-economic assets have become greater than ever,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
“Fortunately we have the knowledge and tools we need to prepare for and reduce these risks. Effective disaster response requires political leadership to ensure investments in preparedness and prevention combined with weather forecasts, warnings, media reports, emergency response, health facilities, and recovery plans,” said Mr Jarraud. “If one link in this chain is broken, lives can be lost.”
In a parallel effort, concerned that people can find it difficult to interpret the danger posed by a “100 km/hr wind speed” or a “3m sea-surge,” WMO is also working with its Members to develop “impact-based warnings” that describe a predicted event’s physical impacts and recommend specific precautionary actions.
Multi-hazard early warning systems provide a single, cost-effective channel for addressing all types of hazard. They can deliver alerts on cyclones, storms surges, and temperature extremes, as well as on the resulting impacts such as floods, diseases and physical damage. This is important because different hazards can influence one another or occur simultaneously. For example, tropical cyclones cause wind damage but can also lead to storm surges and coastal inundation. Earthquakes combined with heavy rain and saturated soils can result in more landslides.
One of the world’s first multi-hazards early warning systems has been established in Shanghai, a megacity of over 23 million people. This system delivers alerts on tropical cyclones, storms surges, and extreme temperatures, as well as on floods, diseases, physical damage and other resulting impacts.
State-of-the-art early warning systems should also be integrated with national development planning and investment for climate resilience and preparedness. This more sophisticated, full-spectrum approach to disaster risk reduction, which relies on building partnerships among different agencies and sectors, can greatly reduce the damage caused by hydro-meteorological hazards.
For example, in 1999 the Odisha cyclone struck the east coast of India, killing some 10,000 people and causing USD 2 billion of damage. The same coast was struck again in October 2013 by extremely powerful Cyclone Phailin, which destroyed tens of thousands of homes but caused only a few dozen casualties. This was because the State governments of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh had made major improvements in disaster risk preparedness. They established evacuation protocols, identified potential shelters and evacuation routes, strengthened coastal defenses, and provided community education. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) was able to accurately predict the track, intensity and landfall of Phailin four to five days in advance. These coordinated, multi-agency efforts made it possible to evacuate nearly one million people in one of India’s poorest areas into secure shelters.
Better weather and climate science
Early warning systems will continue to benefit from advances in weather and climate prediction. Weather forecasts have been improving by about a day every seven to eight years, so that today’s five-day weather forecasts are as good as the two-day forecasts of around 25 years ago. Not so long ago tropical cyclones struck with little warning; now, thanks to advances in weather and climate science, computing power, and satellites and other observation instruments, tropical cyclone tracks are often predicted with impressive accuracy several days ahead. While three-day forecasts of cyclone tracks were of limited skill for some storm basins as recently as the 1990s, skillful five-day forecasts are now the global standard.
Scientific advances have also made it possible to start building on today’s weather services to provide longer range climate services. 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. By enhancing resilience, such strategic, long-term decisions will further contribute to the effectiveness of early warning systems.
To ensure that all countries can benefit from climate services, the international community, with leadership from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), has established the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS). The GFCS draws on knowledge and experiences from around the world to promote operational climate services at the community, country and regional levels. The International Network for Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems will also contribute to this effort. As climate services continue to develop and mature over the next few years, they will become a central component of disaster risk reduction under the post-2015 Framework.
Weather, Climate and Water
- The WMO International Symposium on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems and Service Delivery takes place in Tohoku University’s International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS), Sendai, on Monday 16 March.
- The Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes 1970-2012 is a joint publication of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) of the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium.