i initiative

Space and Development…Increasing Access to Space in Africa

Early Warning Systems

Posted by Simon Adebola on April 1, 2009

As it is said, “Prevention is better than cure”. This shows the necessity of looking at healthcare interventions beyond the limited scope of activities aimed at arresting a situation that is already in progress. The planning of healthcare interventions for disaster management relies also on the existence of reliable early warning systems that would provide information about the likely occurrence of hazards. This would enable the institution of an appropriate plan that would adequately address the dangers posed by the impending event. As stated in the United Nations report on the World Conference on Disaster Reduction that held in Kobe, Japan a few weeks after the Asian Tsunami of December 2004, “Effective early warning systems have been widely recognized as worthwhile and necessary investments. Such systems, coupled with humanitarian aid and better preparedness, have greatly cut the number of people dying from famine, saving two million lives over the last 20 years” (Leoni, 2005).

The framework of early warning systems is composed of four phases (Bogardi 2006) namely:
1. Monitoring of precursors
2. Forecasting of events
3. Notification of a warning or an alert should an event of catastrophic proportions take place
4. Onset of emergency response activities once a warning has been issued.

Each phase requires coordinated action, and the responsible actors in each phase should endeavour to ensure that there is seamless flow of interaction and understanding between them. Such that the information passing from one to the other is clearly understood and results in the desired response. This is accomplished through preparatory meetings, formal and informal education etc.

The use of satellite-derived information for meteorology and earth observation provide useful tools for keeping watch over trends and changes in the earth’s environment and serve as useful indicators of what to expect. Since most disasters are of hydrological, geological or meteorological origin, a system based on satellite monitoring of the features that lead up to these events would provide a foundation for such an early warning system.

This would provide information on the hazards and vulnerabilities of the communities, which are based on not only environmental but also on human and socio-economic factors. This vulnerability assessment would generate the information needed to determine the scale of disaster preparedness efforts to be put in place as pre-emptive guides. Following which, a monitoring system capable of providing accurate warning on potentially catastrophic events, by the monitoring of various hazards, can then be relied on to give timely alerts. This is completed by the planning of evacuations, briefing and deployment of trained teams to give appropriate medical support, and other activities which ultimately save time in the relief process.

The role of having early warning systems is crucial for African states, these systems are needed to support the efforts at strengthening emergency response. This should be the proper approach. Infrastructural develoment efforts for developing earth observation systems utilizing both space based and in-situ platforms are necessary. Capacity buiding initiatives training personnel in the development, testing and validation of hazard prevention models to form the basis for decision support tools providing active surveillance of hazards are all needed. This should be part of our focus as we seek to contribute to ensuring global security.

BOGARDI et al. 2006. Early warning systems in the context of disaster risk management. [Online]. Available at http://www.unisdr.org/ppew/info-resources/docs/ELR_dt_23-25.pdf.

LEONI B,. 2005. Global Early warning system launched at conference on disaster reduction [online]. Available at http://www.unis.unvienna.org/unis/pressrels/2005/iha998.html.

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