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Signs of the times: Early warnings translate to early actions

22/03/2017 Malaita, Solomon Islands

Increasing scientific evidence over the past two decades indicate that the global climate is changing.

As a result of a climatic shift, humanitarian actors and donors are facing new challenges to respond in a timely and effective way. Expanding needs, competing priorities and scarce resources globally mean that new tools are needed to ensure smart, effective investments to help attenuate the impact of disasters before they occur. One tool that is addressing this need is Early Warning - Early Action (EWEA) of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)

Early Warning - Early Action

FAO has developed a EWEA System to translate warnings into anticipatory actions to reduce disaster impacts on agriculture sectors. It focuses on consolidating available forecasting information and putting plans in place to make sure we act when a warning is at hand.

The concept of acting early before disasters strike is gaining increasing attention as the international community recognises the importance of exploring new and cost-efficient ways of disaster management. Being able to forecast and mitigate the impact of disasters is critical – not only to save lives and livelihoods but also to protect development gains.

The EWEA System works at two levels, globally and country-specific. At global level, FAO has developed a quarterly EWEA report which flags the biggest risks to agriculture and food security  over the upcoming three month period. The report links early warning analysis with recommendations on which actions should be taken to mitigate or prevent the disasters.

Nationally, FAO  develops specific EWEA Plans for major disaster risks. These plans are tailored to each country and utilize existing early warning systems to develop indicators and evidence-based triggers for prompt action.

Fluctuations in climate

While changes in average climate conditions can have serious consequences by themselves, the main impacts of global climate change are felt due to fluctuations in climate variability and weather extremes. The 2015‒2016 El Niño weather phenomenon, for example, is one of the most intense and widespread on record in the past one hundred years. Agriculture, food security and nutritional status of more than 60 million people were affected by various El Niño-induced conditions including droughtsfloods and extreme hot and cold weather.

In the Pacific region

The Pacific is known to be one of the most prone regions to natural disasters in the world. In 2016 alone, the region experienced drought induced by the recent El Niño and the strongest tropical cyclone on record, Tropical Cyclone Winston.

In February 2017, the EWEA team went to Solomon Islands to develop the Pacific Region regional cyclone early action plan and a drought early action plan tailored specifically for the country. The mission in the Solomon Islands involved meeting various government counterparts to establish the EWEA system and weave the programme into existing government activities.

The team met with various stakeholders to understand the potential effect of the disasters on livelihoods and key agriculture sectors. The mission also included understanding what early warning systems are available and how cyclones or drought impact livelihoods. The latter was done with the help of community consultations in Malaita Province, Solomon Islands.

“The plans aim to harness existing early warning structures in the Pacific, such as rainfall outlooks and ENSO alerts provided by the Solomon Islands Meteorological Service”said Catherine Jones, the EWEA specialist from FAO. “The early warning system will equip the FAO Subregional Office for the Pacific Islands, based in Apia, Samoa, to act early . By preventing or mitigating such disasters we can safeguard assets and livelihoods of communities in the Pacific and build resilience to natural disasters”.

Drought early action plans are currently in the making for the Republic of Marshall Islands and Federal States of Micronesia.

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