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Humanistic Early Warning Systems Save Lives

During disasters, most people lose their lives due to limited information about potential disasters. Available research suggests that informed communities tend to respond better to natural disasters.

An early warning system for hazards such as floods, droughts, heatwaves, or storms, is an integrated system which allows people to know hazardous weather is on its way and informs how government, communities and individuals can act to minimize the impending impacts. Engaging communities in early warning systems is crucial to saving lives, reducing injuries, and protecting the environment due to disaster events.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), early warning systems at Africa, Asia and the Pacific sub-regional and regional levels ensure preparedness and rapid response to natural disasters, using a model that integrates the components of risk knowledge, monitoring and predicting, dissemination of information and response to warnings.

Although the technical aspects of the collection of weather and climate data have improved over the years, most semi-urban communities remain vulnerable to disasters. This can be attributed to challenges pertaining to the dissemination of effective early warning messages. 

During the 2022 commemoration of World Meteorological Day, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres said “one-third of the world’s people, mainly in the least developed countries and small island developing states, are still not covered by early warning systems.” In Africa, the situation remains dire as 60 per cent of people lack coverage.

The National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) has developed a National Indicative Risk Profile that ensures accessibility and widespread use of disaster risk management data and information. The South African Weather Services in collaboration with NDMC issues daily Impact based Early Warnings based on the vulnerability of areas.​ The weather advisories, watches and warnings are used by Disaster Management Centres in preparation and readiness for emergency actions.

People-centred early warning systems are developed to warn the public of possible impacts that could occur because of hazardous weather.

For early warning systems to be effective, communities at risk must be fully engaged through public education and awareness campaigns. Effectively disseminating messages and warnings ensures that there is a constant state of preparedness.

“It is important to strengthen the power of prediction for everyone and build their capacity to act,” concluded Secretary-General Guterres.

Additional information by the South African Weather Service