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Global effort to strengthen early warning systems expands

Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States benefit from better weather and climate information

A global initiative to strengthen early warning systems and climate resilience in the most vulnerable countries continues to gain momentum with a new injection of Euro 10 million contribution from Germany.

The Climate Risk Early Warning Systems (CREWS) Initiative, set up in 2015, has invested USD 42 million in projects in Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States and has mobilized an additional USD 130 million from public funds of other development partners.

Thus, Fiji now has an early warning system for flash floods. Advisories are issued for sand storms in Burkina Faso, which is also now generating seasonal forecasts and informing small scale farmers through local radio stations on when to plant their crops. Papua New Guinea issued its first seasonal forecast this year thanks to cooperation with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The latest counties that benefit from CREWS support are Afghanistan, Chad and Togo, with projects under preparation for Haiti, as well as additional financing planned for the Pacific and West Africa.

Gerd Müller, German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, said: “We must move from talk to action. The level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is higher than it has ever been. Climate change is already happening. And those suffering the most are the developing countries who, to crown it all, are the ones that have contributed the least to this situation. That is why it is important that affected countries get proper weather forecasts, so they are not caught totally unprepared when droughts or floods occur. If they know, for example, that a storm is on its way, with heavy rainfall, they have a much better chance of being able to prepare for it and can perhaps also receive timely assistance.”

The Minister said that good weather forecasts not only make it possible to respond better to crises at short notice, they also allow more long-term climate analyses to be made. If it is clear that a lengthy drought is coming, then the planning of food supplies can be better organised.

Therefore, the Minister said, “weather forecasts are the first building block in creating a foundation that countries can use to make whatever adjustments are needed to cope with a changing climate. Germany will help them, because the knowledge is already there.”

Carole Dieschbourg Minister for the Environment, Climate and Sustainability of Luxembourg, said the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather means that early warnings to protect lives and property are now more necessary than ever.

She said it was vital to close the capacity gap and ensure that weather forecasts and climate information from powerful supercomputers are made available to vulnerable countries and communities.

“We have made progress but we really have to do more,” she told a side event at the UN Climate Change Conference on 11 December.

Ingrid Hoven of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development highlighted the role early warnings play in building resilience to climate change. She stressed the high return from such investments, whilst and encouraging comprehensive approaches to climate risk promoted through the InsuResilience initiative, that include early warnings and insurance schemes.

Germany announced an Euro 10 million contribution to the CREWS Trust Fund, in addition to the initial Euro 3 million contributed in 2016.

In support of these efforts, a new Alliance for Hydromet Development, announced on 10 December, will align international efforts to close the capacity gap on early warnings and climate information by 2030. It brings together 12 international organizations providing assistance to developing countries, including the World Bank and World Meteorological Organization.

CREWS was launched by the French Government and four other countries at COP21 in Paris to ensure that Least Developed Countries and small island developing State are able to benefit. Two additional countries have since joined, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

“CREWS is increasingly relevant because of the growing impact of climate change especially on the most vulnerable,” said Frances Ambassador for Climate Change Brigitte Collet. “It is clear we are in a race against the clock,” she said.

She said that an assessment of CREWS showed that more than 44 countries benefit, out of a target of 76 priority LDCs and SIDS. “France will remain committed.”

CREWS allows LDCs and SIDS to draw on the expertise of three partners: the World Bank and its Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery, the World Meteorological Organization, that also hosts the CREWS Secretariat, and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

In all these countries, WMO has successful identified the most adapted and best available technical advice that is often found in more advanced meteorological agencies to address the needs.

“CREWS is really a success story and is taking real action on the ground,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. Half of national meteorological and hydrological services worldwide still lack proper multi-hazard early warning systems and impact-based forecasts, he said.

For instance, Tropical Cyclone Idai caused massive loss of life in Mozambique earlier this year because, whilst the storm was accurately forecast, there were insufficient advance warnings about the impacts of the Category 5 winds, huge storm surge and devastating flooding, said Mr Taalas.

By contrast, a major tropical cyclone which hit the Indian coastline in Odisha this year killed 38 people, compared to the 10,000 lives lost in a similar storm in the same location 20 years ago, said UN Disaster Risk Reduction chief Mami Mizutori. Better weather forecasts – and in particular better communication and education – were decisive, she said.

Pacific islands are among CREWS beneficiaries. Four out of the lowest-lying islands in the world are in the Pacific.

“The highest point in the Marshall islands is the landfill,” said Kosi Latu, Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

“This puts the scale of the challenge into context. The CREWS project is so important because we are talking about the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. CREWS funding has helped local meteorological services provide weather forecasts and early warnings in simple ways which can be easily understood by local communities.

“The CREWS project enables us to raise the level of consciousness. It has helped to increase the level of understanding of early warning systems in the context of the Pacific,” said Mr Latu.

CREWS has a special gender-sensitive focus because women are often impacted differently than men by climate-related risks and are at the forefront of having action at the local level.

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