How early warning systems help us deal with extreme weather

In April 2021, Southeast Asian island nation of East Timor was hit by the worst flooding in its recent history. Caused by a tropical storm, the flooding affected more than 30,000 homes and killed 34 people.

Such events are becoming a sad familiar story around the world, with climate-related disasters on the rise. But in Timor-Leste, a new climate adaptation project could help reduce this risk. NS plan focus on building an early warning system in the country, warning people in advance if similar extreme weather phenomena occur in the future. It can make all the difference — allowing people to protect themselves and their property.

Such systems are increasingly seen as a key measure of adaptation to climate change. “We are locked into intensifying climate impacts over the coming decades or so,” said Stefanie Tye, a climate resilience expert at the World Resources Institute. “So it’s only part of the reality that we need these systems to protect people and ecosystems.”

Early warning systems can alert local communities to things like hurricanes, tornadoes or landslides caused by extreme rainfall, where even a few hours ahead of an incident can make up for it, says Tye. difference, says Tye. They can also provide knowledge of slower-onset events, such as an impending drought months away. “You use the system to notify people who will be affected by these events, so that they can take appropriate measures to prepare.”

For example, in Bangladesh, a country known for its climate vulnerability and complex use of such systems, tornado warning has dramatically reduced the number of deaths over the past two decades.

They are also effective, according to a Report for 2019 from the Global Commission on Adaptation, with their benefits far outweighing the costs. The report found that just a 24-hour warning of an upcoming storm or heatwave could cut loss of life and property by 30%.

There are several aspects to making these systems work. Jochem Zoetelief, head of the climate services and capacity building unit at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which is running the project in Timor-Leste, said it was important to secure observational data. accurate to give accurate and timely warnings. “People need to trust forecasts and warnings, because if they’re not accurate and that happens too often, you’re going to lose people.” As a result, early warning system projects will often install equipment such as automated weather stations and radar systems, while enhancing the country’s hydrometeorological services.

But another important part is making sure the resulting information actually reaches those most likely to be affected. Indeed, there is no point in sending an email alert if no one has Internet access. Tropical cyclones can also wipe out communications infrastructure, so backups may be needed even if everyone has cell phones. Therefore, each project must consider the local context to decide on the best ways to spread the word, which could be anything from SMS alerts or radio broadcasts to a person making an announcement with a message. loudspeaker in the middle of a village.


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