From debate to action: early warnings for protection and resilience in Africa

Gavin Iley, our Head of International Crisis Management and Resilience describes recent developments in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in Africa.

It is just over a year since Storm Desmond caused severe flooding in parts of the UK, and eight months since heavy rain and flooding in a number of East African countries resulted in the displacement of almost 232,000 people and killed 271¹. When I posted on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) blog in September I highlighted the impact of flooding on the world’s most vulnerable communities. That post related to a conference being delivered by Wilton Park, the Met Office and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), entitled ‘Flooding in the Greater Horn of Africa: building effective early warning systems’. I expressed my hope then, that the event would stimulate debate and dialogue in support of ongoing collaboration and lead to a real difference for communities at risk from the serious impacts of flooding.

Image supplied by Wilton Park

Image supplied by Wilton Park

It’s safe to say that the conversations and discussions did indeed address some of the challenges faced and the need for early warning systems (EWS) to be more effective in the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA) region. To summarise those discussions, Wilton Park have produced a report detailing the main points and conclusions, and I have highlighted some of the key themes below.

Sharing good practice

The conference provided an excellent opportunity to share good practice between the delegates, who included representatives from national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHSs) in the region, intergovernmental institutions, the World Bank and non-governmental organisations. Various current projects are highlighted in the report, including the WMO’s Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project, aimed at strengthening the capacity of NMHSs to deliver improved forecasts and warnings of severe weather. Details of the Department for International Development’s WISER (Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa) programme are also shared. The Met Office is one of two fund managers for this programme and is involved in a number of projects in East Africa focussed on improving and developing user-led operational weather and climate information services.

Improving early warning systems

To those of us experienced in disaster risk reduction, it is evident that the chain of those involved in early warning systems in the region is long and complex. The disaster risk management process often results in the slow dissemination of warnings, particularly to remote and rural communities. The challenges of meeting the needs of these vulnerable communities means that users (those receiving the forecasts and warnings) are often not sure when and how to respond to warnings of severe weather. The discussions held at the conference concluded that five key areas require improvement to develop effective early warning systems in the region:

  • coordination between NGOs/donors, nations, national organisations, NMHSs and national governments, and national governments and users of early warning systems (EWS)
  • communication with communities through education, between suppliers and users of EWS, and using the media
  • institutional capacity developing technology and data, investing in leadership development, and sharing good practice
  • ownership at intergovernmental, governmental, national and community level and
  • empowerment of the user ensuring they understand what action can be taken and that action is taken at the right time

What next?

While our discussions at Wilton Park highlighted the need to improve and enhance early warning systems in the greater Horn of Africa, they also demonstrated the continued relevance of the UNISDR (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) EWS checklist. Therefore one concluding thought: 2017 will see the first Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) since the historic agreement of the Sendai Framework for DRR in 2015. A great deal has changed since the EWS checklist was first developed and, thanks to the Sendai framework, the global DRR outlook also looks very different. Given the significance of 2017 to the global DRR community it feels like the right time to review the cornerstone of much of our work, the UNISDR EWS checklist, and bring this up to date to ensure it remains relevant to us all for the next 10 years.

¹ Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

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