Hazards in waiting: Half the world still without early warning systems, flags UN report

Africa, South America, Arab countries, the Caribbean reported low coverage, UNDRR-WMO report finds
Hazards in waiting: Half the world still without early warning systems, flags UN report
Half the countries in the world have no early warning systems to help prepare against natural disasters, according to a new survey. The survey found low coverage of multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWS) in Africa, South America and countries in the Arab and Caribbean regions.

The United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) released the report October 13, 2022 on the occasion of International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction.

The analysis was made with data from the Sendai Framework Monitor (SFM), an online tool where member countries report their progress on the targets outlined in The Sendai Framework (2015-2030). The framework is a global blueprint for disaster risk reduction and prevention. 

Of the seven targets in the framework, Target G aims to “substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030”. The framework also has 38 indicators to measure progress on risks and losses. 

The number of countries that have MHEWS vary from region to region. However, on average, at least 40 per cent of countries in every region reported that they operate a MHEWS.

Specifically, less than 50 per cent of Least Developing Countries (LDC) and only 33 per cent of Small Island Developing Countries (SIDS) were equipped with MHEWS. 

The report titled the Global Status of Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems — Target G recommended: 

Special assistance is needed for LDC, SIDS and Africa. More investments are needed throughout the MHEWS value cycle, with emphasis on reaching the 'last mile'.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas told the media that the international weather monitoring organisation is spearheading a UN initiative on Early Warnings for All in the next five years. 

One limitation of the survey highlighted by the authors of the report was that several countries may have a working MHEWS, but they may not have officially reported it to SFM. They urged these governments to scale up reporting for better analysis.

Evaluation

There are four items on the UNDRR checklist to ensure that an early warning system is up to the mark: 

  1. Risk knowledge;
  2. Technical monitoring and warning service; 
  3. Communication and dissemination of warnings; 
  4. Community response capability

Considerable progress has been made in all four areas, but “to advance the MHEWS across all the countries, considerable investments are still needed in all its interrelated elements”, the report noted.

Most of the WMO member countries, for instance, reported not having evaluated their  MHEWS performance. Only a third of WMO members said they have conducted a systematic evaluation. 

It is crucial to rate the effectiveness of the system, according to the report. “National capacities in assessing MHEWS effectiveness, especially in LDCs and SIDS, need to be enhanced".

To that end, the UNDRR launched an open-access platform called the Risk Information Exchange to connect countries with global and regional initiatives by aggregating disaster risk information.

Internet Access

The Common Alerting Protocol is a standard process for disseminating alerts on impending disasters. Around 48 per cent of countries said they followed the protocol, which involves emergency messaging on internet, broadcast and cellular services, according to the findings of the survey.

A third of the world’s population still does not have a stable internet connection, another study showed. In Africa, 18 per cent of the population lacks access to mobile broadband networks.

Among the people living in least developed and landlocked developing countries, 17 per cent lack access to mobile internet, the report said. This prevented community outreach for early warning systems. 

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