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EARLY WARNING SYSTEMS: ARE YOU READY FOR ANY EVENTUALITY?


The destruction of the Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine is having widespread, disastrous humanitarian consequences - United Nations


A huge environmental disaster unfolded during the early morning hours on June 6 in Ukraine as Kakhovka Dam on the Dnipro River exploded causing floods across southern parts of the country. The impact of the disaster was very high because as per US State Department, almost 20,000 people will have to be resettled due to the floods. According to Ukrainian President Vlodomoyr Zelensky, thousands of people were without access to drinking water due to the destruction of the dam. Read about the news here. The above incident is a testament that a disaster can strike any time and it is imperative to be prepared for any eventuality.


In case of situations like flooding caused due to a dam storage failure, the importance of Early Warning Systems has been reinforced. Early Warning Systems play a critical role in supporting the evacuation process. Without an Early Warning System, triggering an evacuation process would be difficult. This blog will primarily focus on what Early Warning Systems are and how they play an important role in securing life and business continuity. We will also be specifically looking at Community Based Early Warning Systems and flood warning systems to examine their importance.


EARLY WARNING SYSTEMS (EWS)

“Before we were introduced to the early warning systems by the project, we used to rely on nature to provide us early warning. The river water got a different smell, the ants started to move their eggs and the crabs moved to higher ground. These were some of the signals that indicated that a flood might soon reach our village, but often we found that the information was not reliable and that it was false alarm”- Mr. Ramwati Yadav, Binauna Village Development Committee, Banke, Nepal


In the UN-ISDR (International Strategy for Disaster Reduction) terminology, the Early Warning System is the set of capacities needed to generate and disseminate timely and meaningful warning information to enable individuals, communities, and organizations threatened by hazards to take necessary preparedness measures and act appropriately in sufficient time to reduce the possibility of harm or losses.


A people-centered early warning system necessarily comprises four key elements:

  • Knowledge of the risks

  • Monitoring analysis and forecasting of the hazards

  • Communication or dissemination of alerts and warnings

  • Local capacities to respond to the warnings received

To develop a people-centered Early Warning System, it is very important to be aware of the risks in the community. If the village is near a dam or a river then flooding is the biggest risk, so EWS can be designed as per the identified risks.

You do not need a Tsunami EWS if you do not have access to the sea.

Source: Establishing Community-Based Early Warning System by Mercy Corps and Practical Action


COMMUNITY-BASED EARLY WARNING SYSTEM (CBEWS)

"With the careful use of EWS devices and application of the skills and knowledge we gained through various trainings and exposures, we made sure that no human casualties were reported in our communities although 24 people died in adjoining communities where EWS was not in place. These figures show that if local communities are prepared sufficiently in advance, the impact of flood can be reduced dramatically" - Mr Chhallu Ram Chaudhari, Teacher, Hasulia (Village Development Committee), Kailali, Nepal

Source: CBDRR Good Practice Kailali Disaster Risk Reduction Initiatives, Mercy Corps


CBEWS which is based on a people-centered approach, suggests that people of a community can be capable, and it empowers them to protect and prepare themselves and make them resilient against the disastrous effects.

Source: Establishing Community-Based Early Warning System by Mercy Corps and Practical Action


Essential Features of Community-Based Early Warning Systems (CBEWS)

  • CBEWS has many stages like designing, operating the systems, receiving warning messages, and responding to the warning, and in all these stages, all community members especially the vulnerable groups should be involved.

  • Everyone’s needs in the community must be considered when CBEWS measures are taken and the needs of the most vulnerable groups should not be excluded.

  • The process and the system are owned by the community members

  • The capacity of community members to deal with any situation is enhanced if CBEWS measures are in place.

Now let’s look specifically at Flood Warning systems in the context of the recent dam collapse in Ukraine.


FLOOD EARLY WARNING SYSTEMS

"Disaster mitigation... increases the self-reliance of people who are at risk - in other words, it is empowering."- Ian Davis-Former MD Mckinsey and Company


A flood early warning system is an integrated system of tools and plans that guide the detection of and coordinates response to flood emergencies. Source: Establishing Community-Based Early Warning System by Mercy Corps and Practical Action


Importance of Flood Early Warning Systems

  • Warnings are issued before flood strikes.

  • If warnings are issued early, then evacuations can be triggered, and lives can be saved.

  • ·Material losses can be reduced as action can be taken to transfer the items to safer places

However, these benefits only work under certain circumstances:

  • The timing between the warning and the estimated arrival of the flood should be sufficient to undertake mitigation measures.

  • Safe Assembly points should be determined in advance and must be accessible to all.

  • Similarly, Evacuation routes should be determined in advance and must be accessible to all.

  • Regular testing of the EWS must be conducted so as to ensure it is always operational.

  • Awareness must be created amongst the community members of EWS procedures, and all community members must in principle agree to follow EWS procedures.

CONCLUSION

As we see the disaster unfolding in Ukraine, the importance of Early Warning Systems is reinforced. Imagine there is no Early Warning System in place, and a disaster strikes, the scale of the calamity can be catastrophic.


Early Warning Systems are a set of processes that when implemented can ensure protection for the communities in the face of any disaster, not only floods.

Hence, we need to reinforce the importance of Early Warning Systems in our communities, create more awareness, and train communities so as to save lives and ensure business continuity.


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