WMO boosts regional cooperation in Asia-Pacific

The Typhoon Committee, which symbolizes the successful cooperation between WMO and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, holds its 53rd annual session, woth participants from the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and national Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) agencies who will exchange information on achievements of the past session, review activities of the Members, as well as operational and research collaborations, with the clear focus on reducing the number of lives lost and damage to property caused by tropical cyclones and typhoons.
On top of the disruption and catastrophic impacts caused by COVID-19, the Asia-Pacific region was hit by successive hazards in 2020, including tropical cyclones, floods, droughts, sand and dust storms and heatwaves. 23 named tropical cyclones of tropical storm intensity or above formed over the western North Pacific and the South China Sea.
The strongest tropical cyclone of the season was Super Typhoon Goni (2019). It made landfall over northern Philippines on 1 November and caused catastrophic damage. A minimum pressure of 912.1 hPa was reported in Virac and a maximum gust of 198 km/h was reported in Legaspi City. 25 people died and 399 injured, and the social and economic loss was estimated to be over 17 billion Philippines Peso, according to a report from the Philippines national meteorological and hydrological service PAGASA.
Two major tropical cyclones hit the Korean Peninsula within a few days in early September, with Typhoon Maysak making landfall near Busan on 3 September, followed by Haishen on 7 September. Maysak brought 1037 mm of rainfall over two days to a site on Jeju Island, and wind gusts on the island up to 165.6 km/h, with high waves of more than 8 m. The damage costs of Mayask and Haishen reaches over 200 million USD, with a possible recovery cost of 548 million USD, according to a report submitted to the Typhoon Committee by the Korea Meteorological Administration. Both tropical cyclones led to significant flooding on the Korean Peninsula and in western Japan, and 41 lives were lost when a ship sank off western Japan during the passage of Maysak.
Sustainable Development
Although countries across the region have committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 — to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ – this will remain a challenge if their populations remain susceptible to disasters that threaten to reverse hard-won progress towards the SDGs.
Building on the success of the Typhoon Committee, WMO continues to work with countries in the region, often in partnership with other United Nations entities, to build greater resilience to natural disasters that wreak a heavy economic and human toll.
In particular, WMO and UNESCAP in 2020 focused on implementing collaborative activities under their Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). These activities highlight the synergistic benefits that are derived from both organisations’ work on building resilience to climate and disaster risks and the promotion of impact-based early warning services and systems.
This MoU was renewed by Ms Armida Salsiah-Alisjahbana, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of UNESCAP and Prof. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of WMO on 21 September 2019 during the UN Climate Summit held in New York, based on their aligned values and objectives and desire to work together in areas of mutual interest.
A Joint Workshop on Strengthening Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems and Early Actions in Southeast Asia was organized by WMO and hosted by UNESCAP in Bangkok, Thailand from 18 to 20 February 2020. Participants reached a consensus on developing a coordinated Southeast Asia-wide framework for strengthening the hydro-meteorological disaster risk management and capacity development of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.
The Regional Climate Outlook Fora (RCOFs) have been guided and supported by WMO and its partners to promote collaboration, knowledge and information sharing on seasonal climate prediction and its likely implications for the most impacted socio-economic sectors since the late 1990s. The potential to add further value to the outputs of RCOFs through impact-based products was introduced by UNESCAP during the South Asian Seasonal Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF), the Forum on Regional Climate Monitoring, Assessment and Prediction for Asia (FOCRAII) and the East Asia winter Climate Outlook Forum (EASCOF).
Looking ahead, with its official membership in the United Nations’ Regional Collaborative Platform in Asia and the South-West Pacific, WMO will build on the achievements of 2020 and further expand regional cooperation in the broader context of sustainable development. In 2021, the partnership will continue its critically important mission to build resilience to climate and disaster risk; and promote the social and economic benefits of impact-based early warning services in the Asia Pacific region. WMO’s longstanding and manifold regional initiatives and capacity development programmes in Asia-Pacific will now be further enhanced.

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."