Rwanda: Experts Call for Robust Early Warning Systems for Disaster Management

There is a need for strong early warning systems and capacity building to ensure fast, accurate and precise information in response to disasters, experts in disaster prevention and management have said.

The observation was made after UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, unveiled details of his $3.1 billion plan to ensure everyone on the planet is protected by early warning systems within the next five years.

With climate-related disasters displacing more people than conflict, the UN Secretary-General called for new targeted investments of $ 3.1 billion between 2023 and 2027.

Guterres announced the plan at the COP27 climate change conference, underway in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, during a meeting of government and UN leaders, financing agencies, ‘big tech’ companies and the private sector.

He told them that people who have barely even contributed to the climate crisis are the most at risk and the least protected.

‘People in Africa, South Asia, South and Central America, and the inhabitants of small island states are 15 times more likely to die from climate disasters. These disasters displace three times more people than war. And the situation is getting worse,” he said.

Jean Baptiste Nsengiyumva, a disaster and natural hazard risk manager and researcher, who is a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR-Rwanda), told The New Times that the money should be spent on developing a people-centred and comprehensive early warning system in vulnerable countries across the world including Rwanda.

“Many countries invest a lot in disaster response or post-disaster phases and invest less in disaster risk mitigation and prevention. This should change because prevention should be the first priority,” he said.

He said that due to the gap in mitigating disasters or poor preparedness, the toll of disasters is always high in many countries.

“To ensure enough preparedness, more money should be invested in strengthening early warning systems and communication. The system should be disseminating information about imminent disasters before they befall people. This will reduce the toll of disasters,” he said.

Nsengiyumva reiterated that the main gap currently in the early warning system is that people face disasters when they have no information at all before they happen.

“We are lacking a people-centred and comprehensive early warning system,” he said.

He noted that the early warning system should be strengthened to the extent that updates are given on time and reach all citizens at the same time, and that all disasters including droughts, floods, strong winds, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes among others, should have an early warning system at a one-stop centre.

“Currently the disasters are being managed by different institutions. A one-stop centre that deals with early warning systems on all these disasters should be established in Rwanda,” he said.

Nsengiyumva shared that top-down and bottom-up communication is needed so that end users of the early warning system can give feedback.

Saving vulnerable communities

Guterres, who launched the $3.1 billion plan to strengthen the early warning system at COP27, said that vulnerable communities in climate hotspots are being blindsided by cascading climate disasters without any means of prior alert.

Even though early warning systems save lives, vulnerable communities “have no way of knowing that hazardous weather is on its way,” Guterres advocated.

“Countries with limited early warning coverage have disaster mortality eight times higher than countries with high coverage,” he said.

The plan will address key gaps in understanding disaster risk, monitoring and forecasting, rapid communication, and preparedness and response.

The $3.1 billion figure represents a small fraction – roughly six per cent – of the requested $50 billion in adaptation financing, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

The UN agency and partners drew up the plan, which was supported by a joint statement signed by 50 countries.

WMO said the need for early warning systems is urgent as the number of recorded disasters has increased five-fold, driven in part by human-induced climate change and more extreme weather.

Even though this trend is expected to continue, half of all countries do not have early warning systems in place, and even fewer have regulatory frameworks to link early warnings to emergency plans.

Coverage is worst for developing countries on the front lines of climate change, namely the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Furthermore, the Global Commission on Adaptation found that spending just $800 million on these systems in developing countries would avoid losses of $3 billion to $16 billion per year.

“Such progress is only possible with modern science, sustained systematic observing networks, daily international exchange of quality data, access to high-quality early warning products, the translation of forecasts into impacts, plus advances in telecommunications,” said Petteri Taalas, the WMO Secretary-General.

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