The importance of early warning systems in disaster risk reduction

It is not enough for an early warning system to correctly identify an incoming hazard, it must also ensure that the populations and sectors that are at risk can receive the alert, understand it, and most importantly, act on it.

Disasters, increasingly frequent and intense, have become a major issue requiring urgent action. In 2021, 432 catastrophic events took place, incrementing the average of 357 annual catastrophic events recorded in 2001-2020. Only last year, 101.8 million people were affected worldwide, and the economic losses amounted to 252.1 billion US dollars.

The impacts of a disaster are often unequally distributed, affecting disproportionately the most vulnerable. These events cause a disruption in the economy and livelihoods of people, producing dramatic socio-economic downturns that hamper short-term recovery and long-term development. On this basis, the promotion of resilience to face all kinds of shocks and stresses is considered a key element for the global development agenda.

In line with this perspective, and in accordance with its mandate, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has focused on building resilience through the promotion of employment and decent work.

In order to achieve this, the ILO works with its tripartite constituents – governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations – to develop a response to disasters that can answer immediate needs, but also deploy a long-term vision to build resilience for risk management through employment-centred measures. These include skills development, job creation through employment-intensive investments, enterprise support and business continuity management, among others.

This year, the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction focuses on early warning systems, a fundamental element to decrease the destructive impacts of a disaster. An effective early warning is capable of saving many lives and reducing damage by 30% if activated 24 hours before the event. However, today, one-third of the world’s population, mainly in the least developed countries, is still not covered by early warning systems.

The purpose of early warning systems is mitigating the risk produced by disasters, but these risks are compounded by the socio-economic vulnerability of the population exposed to the hazards. In this context, early warning systems must be inclusive and sensitive to the different sources of vulnerability. As indicated by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) , these systems must be people-centred, end-to-end, and multi-hazard.

Early warning systems play a significant role in the world of work. By disseminating timely and accurate information regarding disaster risk, they enable preparedness action as well as a rapid response from workers, employers, and national or local authorities, and can therefore prevent human and economic losses in the workplace. For instance, farmers, pastoralists, fishers, and foresters are among the most-at-risk communities to disasters. Moreover, early warning systems can also play a crucial role in decent work, as part of the occupational health and safety standards in disaster-prone countries.

Early warning systems are essential to prepare and respond effectively in the short term, corresponding to the first stages of disaster management. Moreover, the implementation of such systems can also contribute to building resilience, as enhancing preparedness strengthens the capacity to recover rapidly, and reduces vulnerability.

Makati City becomes the second Resilience Hub in Asia-Pacific

The City of Makati in the Philippines is named as the second Resilience Hub of Making Cities Resilient 2030 (MCR2030) in the Asia-Pacific region on 27 September 2022.

Makati has already been recognized as a Role Model City of the MCR 2010-2020 initiative by sharing know-how and experiences for reducing disaster risk, building urban resilience with other cities and participating in regional forums.

Under the leadership of Mayor Mar-len Abigail S. Binay, the city has adopted the principle of “Resilience is everybody’s business” at all sectors of society to manage disasters and build urban resilience in the country.

“We’re committed to continuing the journey of advocating resilience as a way of life through a Resilience Hub by collaborating with our constituents, partners and other local government units,” said Ms. Binay.

The Chief of the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Mr. Marco Toscano-Rivalta, congratulated the Mayor, the City of Makati and its people for their vision and determination to continue strengthening disaster resilience and supporting other cities along the resilience pathway.

“Disaster risk is local, and it is at the local level where leadership, partnerships and solutions make a difference. MCR2030 is a catalyst for local action, a platform for collaboration and sharing of knowledge to localize disaster risk management and the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction,” said Mr. Toscano-Rivalta.

Makati, also known as a financial hub of the country, has developed a three-year plan of the Resilience Hub, which focuses on creating and building an online knowledge portal. The portal’s objective is to enhance peer-to-peer support, and disseminate risk data, information and expertise by conducting workshops, seminars and events related to strengthening urban resilience towards disaster risk reduction.

The plan also aims to improve city-to-city cooperation by working with other local governments in the Asia Pacific Region and beyond, promote synergies between cities to learn from each other and other disaster risk reduction activities, including capacity building, disaster preparedness, response and prevention.

The city is also in the process of developing the Makati Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Academy to learn from its best practices, using case studies and knowledge bases from other cities, leveraging experiences from an international group of practitioners who already participated in the initiative.

Notably, the city has continually mainstreamed and institutionalized disaster risk reduction management across all levels of the city since signing up to the MCR campaign in 2010.

As one of the pilot cities applying MCR tools, Makati held multi-sectoral annual workshops, reviewed and reassessed the city’s progress in implementing the Ten Essentials for MCR2030 through the Local Government Self-Assessment Tool.

The city was one of the first municipalities to utilize the Disaster Resilience Scorecard for Cities, which was developed through then UNISDR’s collaboration with global technology companies such as IBM and AECOM.

In 2017, the city established a resilience roadmap called the Makati Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan, using the now adapted Disaster Resilience Scorecard. Makati used Disaster Resilience Scorecard for Cities - Public Health System Resilience Addendum to enhance the city’s disaster risk reduction management.

UNISDR Report: Words into Action guideline: Man-made/technological hazards

The UNISDR has issues a report that takes a practical approach in addressing man-made and technological hazards, and builds upon previous analyses and recommendations relating to such hazards in the context of DRR.
The number and magnitude of man-made disasters worldwide have risen since the 1970s and continue to grow in both frequency and impact on human wellbeing and economies, particularly in low and middle-income countries.
Several major technological accidents and the increased number of new hazardous substances and materials have highlighted the need to tackle these hazards within the overall frame of inclusive disaster risk management. Paragraph 15 of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 leaves no doubt about the need to address hazards comprehensively as it applies to the risk of small-scale and large-scale, frequent and infrequent, sudden and slow-onset disasters, caused by both natural and man-made hazards as well as related environmental, technological and biological hazards and risks. It aims to guide the management of disaster risk at all levels as well as within and across all sectors.
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) is the focal point of the United Nations system for disaster risk reduction and the custodian of the Sendai Framework, supporting countries and societies in its implementation, monitoring and review of progress.
In accordance with the Sendai Framework, this guide seeks to address man-made hazards by strengthening national and local disaster management plans to include these hazards and by raising awareness of their risks and impacts. Furthermore, it will be a valuable tool to support training and capacity building.
This guide provides a set of evidence-based, practical activities for implementation for chemical, industrial and transport accidents, and nuclear and radiological hazards under the Sendai Framework’s four priorities for action. The guide highlights the existing diversity of thematic frameworks, institutional and legal mechanisms at global and regional levels that are related to and used for addressing man-made hazards. It also draws attention to existing collaborations within the disaster risk reduction community and key partners.
The Guide builds on the outcomes of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Expert Working Group on Indicators and Terminology for the Sendai Framework, and the work on hazard classification and terminology related to man-made hazards.
Full guide is available here >>

ITU to advance AI capabilities to contend with natural disasters

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies – has launched a new Focus Group to contend with the increasing prevalence and severity of natural disasters with the help of artificial intelligence (AI).
In close collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the ITU Focus Group on 'AI for natural disaster management' will support global efforts to improve our understanding and modelling of natural hazards and disasters. It will distill emerging best practices to develop a roadmap for international action in AI for natural disaster management.
"With new data and new insight come new powers of prediction able to save countless numbers of lives," said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. "This new Focus Group is the latest ITU initiative to ensure that AI fulfils its extraordinary potential to accelerate the innovation required to address the greatest challenges facing humanity."
Clashes with nature impacted 1.5 billion people from 2005 to 2015, with 700,000 lives lost, 1.4 million injured, and 23 million left homeless, according to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 developed by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
AI can advance data collection and handling, improve hazard modelling by extracting complex patterns from a growing volume of geospatial data, and support effective emergency communications. The new Focus Group will analyze relevant use cases of AI to deliver technical reports and accompanying educational materials addressing these three key dimensions of natural disaster management. Its study of emergency communications will consider both technical as well as sociological and demographical aspects of these communications to ensure that they speak to all people at risk.
"This Focus Group looks to AI to help address one of the most pressing issues of our time," noted the Chair of the Focus Group, Monique Kuglitsch, Innovation Manager at ITU member Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute. “We will build on the collective expertise of the communities convened by ITU, WMO and UNEP to develop guidance of value to all stakeholders in natural disaster management. We are calling for the participation of all stakeholders to ensure that we achieve this."
Muralee Thummarukudy, Operations Manager for Crisis Management at UNEP explained: "AI applications can provide efficient science-driven management strategies to support four phases of disaster management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. By promoting the use and sharing of environmental data and predictive analytics, UNEP is committed to accelerating digital transformation together with ITU and WMO to improve disaster resilience, response and recovery efforts."
The Focus Group's work will pay particular attention to the needs of vulnerable and resource-constrained regions. It will make special effort to support the participation of the countries shown to be most acutely impacted by natural disasters, notably small island developing states (SIDS) and low-income countries.
The proposal to launch the new Focus Group was inspired by discussions at an AI for Good webinar on International Disaster Risk Reduction Day, 13 October 2020, organized by ITU and UNDRR.
"WMO looks forward to a fruitful collaboration with ITU and UNEP and the many prestigious universities and partners committed to this exciting initiative. AI is growing in importance to WMO activities and will help all countries to achieve major advances in disaster management that will leave no one behind," said Jürg Luterbacher, Chief Scientist & Director of Science and Innovation at WMO. "The WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Programme assists countries in protecting lives, livelihoods and property from natural hazards, and it is strengthening meteorological support to humanitarian operations for disaster preparedness through the development of a WMO Coordination Mechanism and Global Multi-Hazard Alert System. Complementary to the Focus Group, we aim to advance knowledge transfer, communication and education – all with a focus on regions where resources are limited."