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Pushing ahead with global disaster early-warning system, UN convenes experts meeting

Pushing ahead with global disaster early-warning system, UN convenes experts meeting

Sálvano Briceño
Pushing ahead with plans to mitigate the impact of natural disasters, from earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes to floods and wildfires, scientists and advisors from 20 specialized United Nations bodies began a two-day meeting today to decide how a people-centred early-warning system can be implemented worldwide.

Over the past two years alone more than 1,000 such disasters have occurred around the planet on every continent, representing more than one major disaster per day, affecting the livelihoods and wealth of some 200 million people. Insurance companies put the estimated damage at some $300 billion.

“Disasters triggered by natural hazards will happen again, often unpredictably, always erratically,” UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) Director Sálvano Briceño told the meeting at the UN campus in Bonn, Germany.

“While the hazards cannot be prevented, their impact can be decreased if vulnerable communities have been enabled to develop sufficient resilience to cope with them. The International Early Warming Programme is a critical instrument in establishing a strong framework for such global early warning systems,” he added.

The UN-led initiative started in 2003 to help reduce the impact of natural disasters through effective early warning systems. But it gained added momentum after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami when, according to experts, scores of thousands of the more than 200,000 people killed in a dozen countries would have been saved if such a system had existed in the region to enable them to reach higher ground in time.

This first Advisory Group Meeting of the International Early Warning Programme will provide the international community with an opportunity to start shaping how that programme should operate in the coming years. In particular, participants will assess the recommendations of the Global Survey of Early Warning Systems to build a more comprehensive alert platform that includes all types of natural hazards.

To facilitate implementation of the proposed programme and strengthen cross-sector partnerships, the Bonn-based UN/ISDR Platform for the Promotion of Early Warning is assisting actors in both the public and private sectors to sustain a dialogue on the issue.

In the case of tsunamis, early warning systems include quake and tidal sensors, fast communications, alarm networks ranging from radio to cell phones, and disaster preparedness training – essential to enable the potential victims on the ground to benefit from the technological advances.

“The United Nations system needs to take a leadership role on global early warning systems,” ISDR said in a news release, calling the Bonn expert gathering “an instrumental step forward in setting the course for an effective global International Early Warning Programme.”