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Ensuring effective early warning systems in South Asia for fighting disasters  

Published : Monday, 2 December, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 1008

"History is a vast early warningsystem."
-Norman Cousins, a renowned
writer of America.

Parvez Babul

Parvez Babul

An early warning system is a set of infrastructure and capacities needed to generate and disseminate timely meaningful information of the possible extreme events or disasters (floods, drought, fire, earthquake, tsunamis) that threatens people's lives and properties. Early warning systems for preventing losses due to floods and other disasters through national, regional and international cooperation with all the stakeholders engagement must be ensured.

Recently Bangladesh and India faced a very severe cyclonic storm "Bulbul". Early warning systems in both the countries played important roles to take necessary measures by Bangladesh, India and even other neighbouring countries to save lives, livelihoods, and to reduce the loss. Nepal also faced severe floods this year.

So every year most of the countries are facing different types of disasters at an increased rate, and claiming uncountable and irreparable loss of lives and livelihoods due to human -induced climate change. Considering all those pressing issues, ensuring effective early warning systems are the prerequisite to tackle climate change and fighting disasters nationally, regionally, and globally as well.

Ensuring effective early warning systems for fighting disasters in South Asian, and Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) countries-- we have to perfectly engage all the stakeholders together as disasters are transboundary and regional issues. Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives are the eight South Asian countries. And the eight Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) countries are: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.

Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region extends 3,500 km over all or part of eight countries from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east. It is the source of ten large Asian river systems that provides water, ecosystem services. The basins of these rivers provide water to around two billion people, a fourth of the world's population.

Hills and mountains, particularly the HKH mountain system, have always constituted places where adaptation, mitigation, and resilience are hallmarks of the people. The Hindu Kush Himalaya are arguably the world's most important 'water tower', being the largest volume of ice and snow outside of the Arctic and Antarctica. Together the rivers support the drinking water, irrigation, energy, industry and sanitation needs of the people living in the mountains and downstream.
South Asia, with a growing population of 1.6 billion people, South Asia hosts 40 per cent of the world's poor and malnourished on just 2.4 per cent of its land.

A 2010 study found a linear drop of 7.5 per cent in rainfall in South Asia from 1900 to 2005. Shrinking glaciers, water scarcity, rising sea levels, shifting monsoon patterns, and heat waves place considerable stress on South Asian countries, whose primary employment sector remains agriculture. Frequent drought diminishes agricultural production and food security, especially for people in rural areas. Effectively managing the negative impacts of climate change requires a responding South Asia. It will help building and sustaining South Asia's social, economic, environmental resilience, and the emergency response capacity.

Bangladesh has the largest, 58 in number of transboundary rivers from India and Myanmar. The floods in Bangladesh are possibly the worst in recent years. So early warning systems for preventing floods, and other disasters through regional cooperation with all the stakeholders engagement must be ensured.

Local, National, regional and international stakeholders consultation and social dialogues are demand of time involving Media people of both print and electronic Media including community Radio. Experts stressed the need to reach the right information at the right time through right Media to the right people or audience, easy-to-understand way as part of preventing and fighting disasters.  

It is very relevant to mention here that the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH).

Since time immemorial, the people of the Himalaya have maintained their rich cultural traditions, identity and have conserved agrobiodiversity within the parameters of their own traditional knowledge. The early warning systems are now being used by national meteorological and hydrological institutions and non-governmental organizations in Bangladesh and Nepal to strengthen existing forecast and warning systems. The partners have been using the tools internally to support their understanding of the warning situation.

However, the systems have not been used in an integrated fashion for mainstream flood forecasting usage as expected. Against this backdrop, ICIMOD recently organized a stakeholder consultation workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together partner institutions, share knowledge and user experiences in using these tools through one of its successful project: SERVIR. The title of that regional knowledge forum was: "Early warning for floods and high-impact weather events, held in October this year 2019.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched SERVIR-Himalaya in 2010, which is serving the remote Hindu Kush-Himalaya region. Founded in partnership with the ICIMOD, the hub was created to address challenges associated with forestry, agriculture and region-wide issues such as land cover change, air quality, glacial melt and adaptation to climate change.

While discussed, regarding enhancing and strengthening South Asian, and HKH regional cooperation, Mr. Birendra Bajracharya, Chief of Party of SERVIR -Hindu Kush Himalaya MENRIS of ICIMOD Nepal said, "There are many innovative methods and tools being developed around the world for prediction of extreme weather events and enhancing early warning systems. The advancement in Earth observation and computing infrastructures have made it possible for highly accurate predictions.

However, there are still big gaps in customizing the information and reaching out to the people in need. Regional cooperation in data and knowledge sharing will help in improving validation of these systems for increased confidence on forecasts as well as will provide a better understanding of the upcoming disasters which occur beyond the boundaries."

In fact, water, and weather-related disasters result in the loss of life and billions of dollars annually. It is a problem that demands an all-hands-on-deck approach from the broad hydrological and meteorological scientific community in partnership with water and disaster management communities.

Giving emphasize on capacity building, SERVIR recommended to build and institutionalize the technical capacity of government decision-makers and key civil society groups. Above all, fighting disasters demand best use of evidence-based information and data, holistic and integrated approach accordingly.

The writer is a journalist, poet and author

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