Early Warnings

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Early Warning Systems

Early Warning is “the provision of timely and effective information, through identified institutions, that allows individuals exposed to hazard to take action to avoid or reduce their risk and prepare for effective response”. According to the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) (UN2006), it integrates four main elements:

Importance of Early Warning Systems as an Integral Part of Disaster Risk Reduction

A fundamental precondition for national disaster risk reduction is availability of well-functioning early warning systems that deliver accurate, reliable and understandable warnings, in a timely manner, to authorities, operational disaster managers and populations at risk, to enable early actions to reduce the impacts of potential disasters. Such systems must rely on commitment, collaboration, coordination, and information sharing among different stakeholders, at different levels (international, regional, national, local).

Over the years, many international and regional agencies and organisations of the United Nations (including specialised agencies) have worked with their Members on different aspects of early warning systems and disaster risk reduction, such as development of specialised technical capacities for monitoring, detecting, and forecasting for different natural hazards, governance and organisational aspects, emergency preparedness and response planning, coordination of humanitarian response, community based mechanisms for emergency preparedness/response and public education. Hazard specific early warning systems have been developed, which in some cases have similarities and common crosscutting elements. There may be the potential that enhanced integration among different components of early warning systems could lead to strengthened capacities and economies of these systems at national to international levels, and enhanced capacities for disaster risk reduction. However, there is need for identification and prioritisation of actions that can lead to more effective and sustainable early warning systems.

Operational Aspects of Early Warning Systems

Early warning systems help to reduce economic losses and mitigate the number of injuries or deaths from a disaster, by providing information that allows individuals and communities to protect their lives and property. Early warning information empowers people to take action prior to a disaster. If well integrated with risk assessment studies and communication and action plans, early warning systems can lead to substantive benefits. Effective early warning systems embrace the following aspects: risk analysis; monitoring and predicting location and intensity of the disaster; and communicating alerts.

Cohesive and comprehensive disaster management, meteorological, climatic and hydrological information data and information and the provision of standardized, value-added data products for assessing, predicting, and forecasting environmental change is key to climate change adaptation and planning. Thus, one way to support effective climate change adaptation planning in Sierra Leone is to improve climate monitoring and early warning systems through the enhancement of the technical and technology capacities of the relevant mandated institutions – Sierra Leone Meteorological Department (SLMD) in the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (MTA), the Office of National Security – Disaster Management Department (ONS-DMD), the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), the Environment Protection Agency-Sierra Leone (EPA-SL).  However, the stumbling blocks in the path include the present limited or non-existence of systematic processes for packaging, translating and disseminating climate information and warnings, lack of technically skilled human resources and poor community level usage of climate information and responses to received warnings. This is as a result of a number of policies, institutional, financial, technological and informational barriers that exist in the country.

To avail Sierra Leone with the opportunity to better manage climate hazards, food security and agricultural production, scarce and dwindling water resources and make its socioeconomic development process less vulnerable to climate-related risks – it is essential to:
      • enhance the capacity of hydro-meteorological services and networks to monitor and predict weatherand   climate events and associated risks e.g. floods, droughts and severe storms;
      • develop effective and efficient ways of packaging weather and climate information, including contextualising with other environmental and socio-economic data to produce early warnings/alerts and advisories; and
      • Support improved and timely preparedness and response to weather and climate information and early warnings, including efficient delivery mechanisms using radio and telecommunications networks

Effective and efficient climate monitoring and early warning systems in Sierra Leone will be based on the integration of regional and national early warning systems, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping of vulnerable areas, meteorological information on flooding, droughts and severe storms, and community-based and/or traditional early warning systems. It would provide indicators for monitoring the impacts of climate change and facilitate climate hazard preparedness and adaptation planning. In this way, it will be possible to systematically integrate climate information into longer-term planning and investment decision-making.

The following strategies has been adopted to develop effective Climate Information, Disaster Management and Early Warning Systems (CIDMEWS) to support adaptation planning in Sierra Leone:
      • improving capacity to analyze and interpret climate data;
      • improving weather forecasting capabilities;
      • enhancing local, regional, and national data;
      • Establishing denser networks comprising observation, forecasting, and monitoring infrastructure – including automatic and remote sensing technologies – which can be rapidly deployed, are relatively easy to maintain, and simple to use;
        recovering historical data;
      • building support and awareness among local communities that have a demand for climate information and warnings; and
      • Promoting greater collaboration between the providers and users (including user-agencies and local communities) of climate information.