Climate Change

World Meteorological Day: WMO to ensure global early warning systems coverage in 5 years

Early warning systems can be critical tools to reduce disaster risk and support climate adaptation, according to Guterres  

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Wednesday 23 March 2022
In 2021, extreme weather events such as Cyclone Yaas caused total damage worth $105 billion. Photo: iStock
In 2021, extreme weather events such as Cyclone Yaas caused total damage worth $105 billion. Photo: iStock In 2021, extreme weather events such as Cyclone Yaas caused total damage worth $105 billion. Photo: iStock

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) will lead an effort to ensure every person on Earth is protected by early warning systems within five years, António Guterres, United Nations secretary-general said. He was speaking on the occasion of World Meteorological Day March 23, 2022, in keeping with this year’s theme, ‘Early warning and early action’.

Guterres also announced that the WMO would present an action plan on early warning systems at the 27th Conference of Parties (CoP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November 2022, at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt.

An early warning system for floods, droughts, heatwaves or storms, is an integrated system which alerts people to hazardous weather. It also informs how governments, communities and individuals can act to minimise the possible impacts of the weather event.

“These systems allow us to monitor the real time atmospheric conditions on land and at sea and to effectively predict future weather and climate events using advanced computer numerical models,” WMO in a press statement on the occasion of World Meteorological Day.

The aim is to understand what risks the foreseeable storms could bring to an area that will be affected — which may differ if it is a city or rural area, polar, coastal or mountainous regions, the statement added.

“A comprehensive early warning system must also include lessons learned from past events, in order to continually improve responses ahead of future weather, climate, water and related environmental hazards,” WMO said.

“Today, a third of the world’s people, mainly in least developed countries (LDC) and small island developing states (SIDS), are still not covered by early warning systems. In Africa, it is even worse: 60 per cent of people lack coverage,” Guterres said.

“This is unacceptable, particularly with climate impacts sure to get even worse. Early warnings and action save lives. On this World Meteorological Day, let us recognise the value of early warnings and early action as critical tools to reduce disaster risk and support climate adaptation,” he added.

In 2021, extreme weather events caused total damage worth $105 billion, which is the fourth-highest since 1970, according to a report by Swiss Re Institute, a Switzerland-based research company.

The report had highlighted 10 climate-related disaster events, each of them costing $1.5 billion or more. The most expensive such event was Hurricane Ida that cost $65 billion. Two of these events occurred in India — Cyclone Tauktae and Cyclone Yaas.

Between 1970 and 2019, a weather, climate or water-related disaster has occurred on average every day — taking the lives of 115 people and causing $202 million in losses daily, according to a 2021 WMO report on disaster statistics.

The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is set to rise due to more and more greenhouse gases being added to the atmosphere every year, resulting in warming.

Between 1970 and 2019, the number of recorded extreme weather events increased by 50 times due to climate change and better reporting.

The number of lives lost due to these events decreased by a factor of three due to better weather prediction and associated early warning systems.

Early warning systems in India such as the India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) regular cyclone alerts, combined with brisk action taken by state and district administrations, have already saved hundreds or even thousands of lives in the past few years.

But still more needs to be done in this regard, especially in the field of district and even village-level weather prediction and early warning.

For example, in June 2020, the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, in collaboration with the disaster management department, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, launched the Integrated Flood Warning system for Mumbai, referred to as iFLOWS-MUMBAI.

A similar system was also established in Chennai in 2019. The Mumbai system was able to alert the authorities in July 2021 about heavy rains and flooding and 120 people were evacuated from affected areas.

However, 32 people were trapped and killed in a landslide. More localised and personal alerts would go a long way in further cutting down the number of casualties.

“One of the highest returns on investment is reached by improving weather, water and climate early warning services and related observing infrastructures,” Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the WMO, said in a statement.

In 2019, the Global Commission on Adaptation flagship report had found that “just 24 hours warning of a coming storm or heatwave can cut the ensuing damage by 30 per cent and spending $ 800 million on such systems in developing countries would avoid losses of $3-16 billion per year.”

“There is a need to invest $1.5 billion during the coming five years to improve the quality of the services and related infrastructures, especially in the LDC and SIDS countries,” Taalas said.

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