UN unveils $3 billion global ‘early warning system’ for disasters

UN unveils $3 billion global ‘early warning system’ for disasters


The United Nations on Monday unveiled a five-year plan to build a global early warning system for deadly and costly extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change.

The price – a relatively modest $3.1 billion, or less than 50 cents per person – is a small price to pay for best practices that can save thousands if not millions of lives, UN chief Antonio Guterres said at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt.

“I have called for every person on earth to be protected by early warning systems within five years, with the priority being to support the most vulnerable first,” he said as world leaders gathered in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea for 13-day calls.

Even as extreme climate-related weather events are on the rise, half of the world’s countries lack advanced early warning systems that can save lives.

Countries with insufficient infrastructure have, on average, eight times more mortality from disasters than countries with strict measures, according to the United Nations.

Appropriate early warning systems for floods, droughts, heat waves, hurricanes or other disasters enable planning that minimizes negative effects.

And it’s working: the number of people affected by disasters has almost doubled over the past two decades, but the number of people killed or missing has halved.

When Cyclone Bhola struck what is now Bangladesh in 1970, it claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and prompted the country, formed the following year, to invest in weather forecasting technology, emergency shelters and a volunteer network along the coast.

A similarly powerful Cyclone Amphan made landfall in the same area in 2020 but left only 26 dead.

“Early warnings save lives and offer tremendous economic benefits,” World Meteorological Organization chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

“Just providing 24 hours’ advance notice of an impending hazardous event can reduce the consequential damage by 30 percent.”

The Global Commission on Adaptation found that spending just $800 million on such systems in developing countries would avoid losses of $3 billion to $16 billion a year.

Beginning with science-based observation networks and predictive technology, a full early warning infrastructure also requires national and community-based response capabilities, as well as ways to quickly convey information to a population.

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