Closing the early warnings gap

 Patricia Danzi, Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis
Patricia Danzi, Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

As governments and experts came together at the United Nations in New York for the high-level meeting on the Midterm Review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Secretary-General’s call for all people to be covered by multi-hazard early warning systems by 2027 was in sharp focus. 

Improved early warnings have resulted in lower mortality rates during disasters in countries with effective systems, but the number of affected people is increasing.

While the Midterm Review Report observes that 125 countries now have national strategies for disaster risk reduction, it also notes that half of the world’s countries still do not have multi-hazard early warning systems.

A Risk Reduction Hub side event, 'Early Warnings for All - Closing the gap and scaling up good practices',  explored how the world can address this disparity and scale up implementation of early warning systems. 

The least developed countries bear the heaviest burden

Selwin Hart, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Action and Just Transition, reminded the participants of what is at stake. 

“The reality is that, at just this 1.1°C of warming, we are witnessing, we are seeing unprecedented impacts. And the impacts are being borne most heavily in those countries and communities that have contributed least to the climate crisis,” he said. 

"This is the unfortunate paradox of the climate crisis: those that have contributed the least are paying the heaviest price."  
– Selwin Hart 

“Over the course of the last fifty years, around 70% of climate-related deaths were in the least developed countries, and 91% in the developing world.” 

“If you are living in one of the global hotspots for the climate crisis – namely Africa, South or Central America, South Asia, or in a small island developing state – you are fifteen times more likely to die from a climate-related disaster.” 

Smart investment

Early warning systems require major investments, but the benefits are clear. 

Director-General Patricia Danzi of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation noted that all countries have a contribution to make – in terms of experience, expertise and finance – and that Switzerland is committed to playing its part. 

“We are ready to invest,” she said, but these investments need to be strategic. 

"Prevention is cheaper in the long run: we just have to lift our commitments and work together.”        
– Patricia Danzi 

“We have to coordinate, we have to be efficient and we have to use our resources as carefully as possible – because in today’s world we have to do better with less public money.” 

Cédric Bourillet, Director General of Risk Prevention at the French Ministry for Ecological Transition, agreed that a coordinated, global approach is needed in funding early warning systems.  

“Together we need to find the means for all territories to benefit from the technological and financial means to train teams, to put in place technical mechanisms, and make it possible for every person, whatever their context, to receive the information they need, in time,” he said. 

Early warnings alone aren’t enough – we need early action 

Investments in early warning systems need to be paired with capacity to act on the warning. 

“Early warning systems will never work until we invest in early action,” said African Union Commission Technical Coordinator Gatkuoth Kai. 

Early actions must be resourced, and mechanisms to release funding – such as anticipatory action programmes – are required to render them useful. 

“In Africa, every country has a national disaster fund, but that fund can only be accessed after a disaster. It is just a matter of changing our mindset to ensure that when an early warning is issued perhaps thirty per cent of that fund could be used for anticipatory actions,” Mr Kai noted. 

This will involve a political process of changing the laws – and donors changing their approach. 

“It is important that there is an awareness that early warning systems save lives"   
– Cédric Bourillet

Gwendolyn Pang, Secretary General of the Philippine Red Cross, stressed that local engagement is also a crucial component of the early warning – early action paradigm:

“We have to put safety in the hands of people. We cannot be there for them when a disaster will strike,” she said. 

“Early warning alone is not enough. We must support them with early action mechanisms.”

Melaura Agbeko, from the Tobago Emergency Management Agency, urged for greater inclusion of those most at risk in early actions, saying that vulnerability studies must be gender responsive and take those with special needs into account.

“More support is needed to ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable are heard,” she said. 

Local ownership and empowerment 

Natural hazards are global, moving across borders and regions, but early warning systems need to trigger action at a local level. This requires community engagement and local capacity. 

“The combination of our local networks and global tools ensure that early warning and early action systems are people centred and, not only that, but also people designed,” Ms Pang said. 

Joining via video link, WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas explained how the WMO is building local capacity in technical skills, such as forecasting, through the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative. 

In Africa, the Africa Multi-hazard Early Warning and Action System (AMHEWAS) is making progress since the African Union Commission drew up a roadmap for early warning systems in 2020, with support from the Italian Government and UNDRR, Gatkuoth Kai said. 

“We would like to support our member states – 55 of them – to ensure that by 2030 we have 55 national situation rooms connected to five regional disaster operation centres and connected to the continental situation room,” he said.

“To achieve this goal, risk knowledge is key. We need to ensure there are interoperable situation rooms across the board, and that will make information exchange quite quick between the continental early warning systems down to local level.” 

A holistic approach 

Letizia Fischioni, Focal Point for Disaster Risk Reduction at the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, described Italy’s support for the African Union Commission’s implementation of the African early warning system roadmap since its endorsement in 2018.

“We are very proud of this project,” she said. “It also allows the triggers for early actions, and cross boundary risk management.”

"The gamechanger is connecting early warnings to early actions, and even better with anticipatory action… and involving all the stakeholders from the beginning"        
– Letizia Fischioni

“The project is implemented together with our colleagues of the African Union Commission and with regional authorities from the African continent, with supervision from UNDRR.”

From the outset Italy has worked hand-in-hand with the African Union Commission, which has taken the leadership role.

“This is a very important driver of the success of the project,” Ms Fischioni said.

To date the project has seen the establishment of two continental and two regional interlinked situation rooms, providing continuous surveillance and early warnings of imminent hazards.

An important element is the enhanced capacity to quickly implement coordinated early actions to mitigate disaster impacts: “The situation room of the African Union Commission, after receiving early warnings, convenes anticipatory action meetings with the countries for which the highest levels of risk is forecast.”

Ms Fischioni reiterated Italy’s commitment to continue to support and further expand the implementation of the road map in Africa, in partnership with African institutions.

Practical guidance 

UNDRR Director Paola Albrito announced the launch for public review of the latest in UNDRR’s Words into Action series, providing practical guidance on setting up multi-hazard early warning systems

This publication explains how such systems work; what the requirements are in terms of financing and governance; the connections between early warning systems and early action and anticipatory action; and how impacts can be measured and economic benefits assessed. 

These guidelines, Ms Albrito explained, contribute to operationalizing the Secretary-General’s call for Early Warnings For All.

As with other publications in the Words into Action Series, part of the development process is opening them up for public review and commentary. 

“These documents are live documents. We want to ensure that new experiences and ways forward are being captured,” she said. 

The time is now! 

"We’ve heard that prevention is cheaper, but we know that prevention requires longer term thinking than the duration of national plans or election cycles."        
– Rosemary Kalapurakal 

The event moderator, Rosemary Kalapurakal of the UN Development Coordination Office, stressed the urgency of putting early warning systems in place, and getting it right. 

“We can’t say we don’t know how to do it. We can’t say we don’t have the energy. We can’t say we don’t have the money to do it – not when we can invest so much in warfare. We can’t say we don’t have the global frameworks. We can’t say we don’t have leadership, at all levels. And we can’t say we have a choice,” she said. 

“We desperately need long-term thinking and solutions for sustainable development.” 

Patricia Danzi noted that this would require coordinated efforts, but that bringing together those with expertise and influence was a good start: 

“We have the expertise in the room, we have the expertise in the different agencies around the table, and we have the mechanisms in place to do all that, if we coordinate well,” she said.  
“We do not have a choice: the impacts of hazards are bigger and come faster, and we cannot do it in sequence – we have to do it in parallel.”


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