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Chad, Somalia and Ethiopia set to get early disaster warning systems after deadly Derna disaster

Volunteers bury bodies in a mass grave in the south of Derna. Thousands of people died in the Libyan city after flash flooding triggered by Storm Daniel led to the collapse of two dams.
Ricardo Garcia Vilanova/AFP

Chad, Somalia and Ethiopia are the first three African countries set to benefit from a new, large-scale push to establish potentially life-saving early warning systems in some of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries.

The initiative by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) will also cover Antigua and Barbuda, Cambodia, Ecuador and Fiji.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) will provide an initial injection of some R25 million to launch a much larger effort intended to deliver almost R3 billion from the GCF and partner governments to advance universal early warning.

Africa is one of the hardest-hit parts of the world by climate change and natural disasters, and will be key if the target to achieve universal coverage by 2027 is to be met.

Earlier this month, thousands of people died in the Libyan city of Derna after flash flooding triggered by Storm Daniel led to the collapse of two dams. 

Had there been better emergency management and early warning systems, said UN World Meteorological Organisation chief Petteri Taalas, many deaths could have been avoided. But parts of Derna which were at risk were not evacuated, and emergency services were not prepared when the Derna and Mansour dams – long known to be at risk of collapse – broke and washed away people as they slept.

Selwin Hart, special advisor to the UN secretary-general on climate action and just transition, said the situation in Africa was so bad that 60% of Africans were not provided for through early warning systems.

“Early warning systems are effective and proven tools to save lives and protect the livelihoods of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Yet those that have contributed least to the climate crisis lack coverage.

“Six out of every 10 persons in Africa are not covered by an early warning system. No effort should be spared to deliver on the ambitious but achievable goal set by the secretary-general to ensure universal early warning systems coverage by 2027. 

“This will require unprecedented levels of coordination and collaboration. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. One life lost from a lack of access to an early warning system is one life too many,” Hart said.

Meanwhile, UNDP administrator Achim Steiner said artificial intelligence and science-based approaches were required to mitigate climate change.

“The power of science and technology to predict disasters is yet another demonstration of humanity’s ability to confront climate change.

“The main challenge was that those tools are yet to reach the critical parts of the world that are in urgent need of them.

“These vital early warning tools remain out of reach for too many. By bridging the gaps, this new initiative will help to advance the UN secretary-general’s bold vision where everyone, everywhere, can benefit from early warning systems by 2027,” he added.

In situations of floods or fires, fatality rates are eight times lower in nations with substantial to comprehensive early warning coverage than in those with only partial coverage.

“Communities most at risk must be warned early – and warning must be followed by action. The  IFRC’s role in reaching communities with early warnings and preparing them to act is critical to saving lives and livelihoods. This project demonstrates how early warning for all can bring together partners to take bigger and more effective actions that benefit everyone, especially communities who need it most,” said International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) secretary-general Jagan Chapagain.

Between 1970 and 2021, about 11 778 documented disasters were attributed to extreme weather, climate and water-related occurrences, which resulted in little more than 2 million fatalities and $4.3 trillion in economic losses, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

The World Health Organisation’s COP24 Special Report: Health and Climate Change anticipates that the world could lose up to R430.48 trillion (or 23%) of the global economy due to climate change, most of it on African soil.

Source: News24

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