Early warning systems still missing in 100 countries, U.N. says

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Governments of 100 countries still lacking disaster early warning systems have a duty to invest in the projects, which could save lives and property, and reap longer-term economic benefits, the U.N.’s meteorological agency said.

With vulnerable countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands among those still without early warning systems, the WMO said better disaster preparedness could help governments improve farm outputs, boost safety in sectors such as shipping and transport, and protect people.

“The money that we invest in the met (meteorological) service, you get it back tenfold in terms of economic benefits,” World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in the Mexican resort of Cancun at the end of a two-day conference on early warning systems.

Early warning systems cost between $10 million and $100 million, depending on the size of the country. The Geneva-based WMO is working with organizations such as the World Bank to roll out systems, with Morocco among countries being used as a benchmark, Taalas said.

The MultiHazard Early Warning Conference was held ahead of a U.N. disaster risk reduction conference, which started Wednesday and continues until Friday.

The disaster risk reduction conference marks the first major meeting since 2015, when the Sendai framework was hammered out in Japan, setting ambitious targets for governments to cut deaths and economic losses from disasters by 2030.

The seven Sendai targets also include limiting damage to infrastructure and disruption to basic services such as health and education, and widening access to early warning systems.

Robert Glasser, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), said the cost of natural disasters is skyrocketing, fueled by increasing climate change and a lack of risk awareness in economic development, with people building in high risk areas such as flood zones.

“Even though often the human impact of conflict and conflict displacement is prominently in the press, actually the displacement from natural disasters is far greater and often unreported as well,” Glasser said, pointing to smaller-scale disasters that often go unnoticed by the media.

Natural disasters force 26 million people into poverty each year and cost the equivalent of $520 billion in lost consumption, according to the World Bank.

The United Nations has called on governments to spend at least 1 percent of development aid by 2020 on disaster preparation, but they currently spend just half that amount.