Global UN early warning system launched in the Caribbean

17th February 2023

The Caribbean has become the first area in the world to witness a regional launch of the UN’s Early Warnings for All initiative (EW4ALL).

The initiative, which calls for investment across disaster risk knowledge, observation, forecasting, preparedness and response, and communication of early warnings, especially in vulnerable communities, was launched in Barbados on 6 February 2023.

Given the Caribbean’s history with natural disasters and the worsening threat of climate change, the region was seen as a fitting place to launch the initiative.

“The Early Warnings for All initiative offers us an opportunity to strengthen cooperation around investment in multi-hazard early warning systems to ensure the safety of the people of the Caribbean,” said Elizabeth Riley, Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).

She noted that while 19 States and territories participate in CDEMA, only 30% have established roadmaps for multi-hazard early warning systems. Based on this, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) stressed that it is vital to support the Caribbean in building climate and disaster resilience so that countries can take early action.

EW4ALL seeks to “drive coordinated political action towards strengthening multi-hazard early warning systems for hazards such as hurricanes, tropical storms, tsunamis, volcanoes, floods, landslides, and epidemics, among others,” said the WMO, which is implementing the project with the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). 

The global EW4ALL project was first announced by UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the COP27 climate change conference in Egypt in November 2022. It calls for initial new targeted investments of US$3.1bn between 2023 and 2027, which the UN has said is equivalent to a cost of just US$0.50 per person per year. 

“Launching Early Warnings for All in the Caribbean is a critical first step toward coalescing the national, regional, and global cooperation needed to ensure everyone on Earth, especially the most vulnerable populations, are protected by multi-hazard early warning systems,” said Mami Mizutori, Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Head of UNDRR.

Speaking that the launch, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley spoke about the importance of global partnerships. “Even when you provide the warnings, if you do not have partnerships, if you do not have the reinforcing community education, if you don’t have the plans that cause people to know that you are serious, the warnings will fall on deaf ears,” said Mottley.

She called for the establishment of a plan to have two emergency ships stationed in the north and the south of the Caribbean to provide rapid response to countries in the aftermath of a disaster.

“We need a recovery ship. Islands don’t have the benefit of road networks to deliver quickly and in some instances, [airport] runways will be destroyed in disasters,” urged Mottley. “There are ships that flow and go around the world; some are hospital ships, but we need more than a hospital ship because we need a ship to provide fresh water immediately after a disaster,” added the Prime Minister.

In his address, Prime Minister of St Lucia Philip Pierre highlighted that the region is especially prone to complex hazards. “Hurricanes visit our shores regularly, causing extensive damage to infrastructure, and sometimes wiping out nearly the entire GDP of our countries in loss and damage within hours,” he said.

Referencing the 2017 hurricane season, the costliest season on record which caused almost US$300bn in damages, Pierre said that “early warning systems not only save lives, but also provide vast economic benefits”.

Noting the presence of regional leaders at the launch, UNDRR Special Representative Mizutori underscored the need for political will. “Most important is the political will at the national and community level. We have seen it today demonstrated by the Prime Ministers of Barbados and St Lucia, and from the Secretary General of CARICOM,” said Mizutori. According to the WMO, early warning systems are among the most proven, cost-effective climate adaptation measures, that not only save lives but can also reduce economic losses in the wake of climate disasters. The Global Commission on Adaptation reported in 2019 that just 24 hours’ notice of an impending hazardous event can cut the ensuing damage by 30%.

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