One of the most effective responses to human vulnerability to environmental
change is to strengthen mechanisms for early warning. Many actions can
be taken to protect life and property if warning is received in time.
While some threats are inherently unpredictable, many of those arising
from threats from environmental degradation and mismanagement, and from
human activities, can now be anticipated with some precision. Early warning
capacities are increasing steadily with technological advances in environmental
observing, assessment and communications. Examples are the cyclone early
warning systems that have been established in India and Mauritius.
|Advantages of foresight: predicting El
|Forecasting El Niņo events can help countries with their strategic
planning to ensure security in areas such as agriculture, fishing,
water resource management, flood control and energy supply, thereby
reducing the vulnerability of the people and country. The Tropical
Atmospheric-Ocean (TAO) array of ocean observation buoys, using measurements
of surface sea temperature, helps provide the first indication of
an El Niņo six to nine months ahead of the event. A number of institutions
in Peru, including the Instituto Geofisico, are working together to
improve predictions of El Niņo events using statistical modelling.
Such forecasts of rainfall and hot and cold events have helped farmers
to plan better use of water resources for irrigation, and fishermen
to prepare better for variations in fish stocks. Forecasts of the
next rainy season are issued in Peru each November, after which farmers'
representatives and government officials meet to decide the appropriate
combination of crops to plant. A forecast of El Niņo weather will
mean recommendations to plant crops that prefer wet conditions, such
as rice, and to avoid crops that prefer drier weather. Australia,
Brazil, Ethiopia and India are some of the countries that have taken
|Source: NOAA/PMEL/TAO 1998, IOC 1998, CNA Peru
Conventionally, early warning means an urgent indication of an impending
hazard (ISDR Secretariat 2001). There is a need for both sudden onset
warnings, for imminent disaster threats such as tropical storms and floods,
and slow onset warnings for disseminating information about disasters
that may develop over time such as famine and drought.
The term early warning is often taken to mean prediction' when in fact
the occurrence of many threatening events is essentially unpredictable.
Early warning simply means that an event is imminent and the time to escape
from it or take action against it is now. Early warning information can
be produced in the context of a broader vulnerability assessment process,
which includes the production and communication of forecast information
and the incorporation of that information in user decisions.
To be effective, an early warning system must be able to stimulate a
timely response before an event takes place. It must identify who are
the users of early warning information and what is the most efficient
way to reach them with credible information to enhance their powers of
decision-making. It must then translate relevant data into early warning
indicators that decision-makers can easily interpret and use.
Ultimately, the single most important factor that will lead governments
to incorporate the use of early warning systems and information in decision-making
is the political will to invest in response systems, both nationally and
internationally (Buchanan-Smith 2001). One example of an operational early
warning system which has generated such a response is the Famine Early
Warning System Network for Africa (see box).
|Famine Early Warning System Network
Ten-day rainfall forecast of the type
provided by FEWS. This one was for 1-10 March 2002
Source: NOAA 2002
FEWS NET is a USAID-funded partnership to
improve food security in 17 drought-prone countries in Africa, through
African-led food security and response planning networks that reduce
the vulnerability of people at risk. FEWS NET, scheduled to run
until 2005, is the successor to FEWS, which began in 1985. The goal
is to strengthen the abilities of African countries and regional
organizations to manage threats to food security by providing early
warning and vulnerability information. Achievements include:
- close collaboration with regional organizations and governments
in preparing contingency and response plans for El Niņo in 1997;
- co-sponsoring regional seasonal rainfall forecasts for user-friendly
- advances in satellite imagery interpretation through FEWS NET
- forecasting the quality of harvests in the Sahel;
- strengthening capacity by seconding FEWS NET/USGS meteorologists
to specialized centres in Nairobi (Kenya), Harare (Zimbabwe) and
- early warning of an impending food crisis in Ethiopia in 2000;
- participating closely in national systems and regional institutions
to develop common methodologies to assess vulnerability;
- emphasizing livelihood protection by mixing short- and long-term
programme and policy interventions;
- exploring linkages between environmental stress, food insecurity
and conflict; and
- working with governments and their partners to shorten the time
between early warning and response.
Source: FEWS 2002