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Saving Lives: Ensemble-Based Early Warnings in Developing Nations

Authors: Feyera A. Hirpa, Kayode Fagbemi, Ernest Afiesimam, Hassan Shuaib, Peter Salamon,

Publish Date: 2015
Volume: , Issue:, Pages: 1-22
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Natural disasters disproportionately affect the developing nations due to the lack of effective early warning systems. In this chapter, we present the need, challenges, and opportunities of early warning systems in developing nations for decision making in disaster risk management and demonstrate the added value of ensemble forecasting in particular in data- and infrastructure-scarce regions. First, we review the global extent of flood and drought disaster damages in the last few decades on human lives and the economy and demonstrate that a disproportionately high rate of death (per event) occurred in developing regions, where there is no (or ineffective) operational early disaster warning systems. Next, we present the everyday needs and challenges of preparing for and responding to natural disasters in Nigeria, a typical developing country with fragmented data infrastructure and limited national early warning system capability. Particularly, we share experiences from the most recent major flood disaster and demonstrate a potential value of ensemble-based flood early warnings, using streamflow forecasts from the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS).However, forecasting of disasters alone is not sufficient if the information is not translated into actionable advice at a local community level. This is particularly important for ensemble forecasting which requires training for the forecasters as well as the receiving authorities. In order to achieve this, technical knowledge and communication infrastructure are needed to deliver the early warning information to the relevant communities and concerned authorities. Multi-stakeholder partnerships bringing together scientific community, policy, and decision makers and end users from international to local level could facilitate humanitarian aid organizations, and decision makers understand and use the ensemble predictions on timely basis before, during, and after disaster strikes. The chapter concludes with highlighting the multi-stakeholder partnership initiatives on floods (Global Flood Partnership (GFP)) and droughts (Integrated Drought Management Programme (IDPM)), established with the common goal of reducing flood and drought risk across the globe.Floods and droughts range among the world’s deadliest and costliest natural disasters. Since the turn of the twentieth century, almost 5000 major hydrological disasters have occurred (CRED 2015); more than seven million people have been killed; over 3.5 billion affected; and estimated damages of 650 billion USD are reported. During the same period, droughts have been responsible for over 11 million deaths and 134 million USD of economic damages (CRED 2015; Hirpa et al. 2016). While these disasters occur worldwide, they disproportionally affect the poor, with more than 97 % of the associated deaths occurring in the developing world and the disasters amounting to a significant portion of their GDP (Pilon 2002; CRED 2015).Therefore, national authorities as well as the international community are seeking to cope with and adapt to the phenomena and to reduce the impact through risk prevention policies. Effective risk prevention policy extends over a set of long- to short-term actions. Long-term measures include action on prevention and adaptation such as planning (control of urban development and construction following legal rules and risk prevention master plans), construction works resilient to disaster risk, as well as educating experts, decision makers, and the public. Shorter-term measures include the monitoring, forecasting, and warning before disaster strikes. The importance of strengthening early warning systems and to tailor them to the needs of the users (including quantification and communication of uncertainty) remains one of the priorities of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (UNISDR 2015).Forecasting hazards and the associated uncertainty are an important element of any early warning system. However, to fully understand the risk and consequently translate it into actionable warning information, it needs to be complemented with information on exposure, vulnerability, and impact over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. For instance, major flooding in a rural area with no population may not appear critical while the same magnitude flood could cause significant damage in urbanized area with large population. However, a flooding in a generally non-populated area can turn into a disaster in case temporary camps or public events are organized when the disaster strikes. An effective risk reduction procedure, thus, should take all the three components – hazard, exposure, and vulnerability – into consideration.Many of the methods, tools, and applications described in this handbook require a functioning data collection and sharing infrastructure, remote sensing tools, hydrometeorological models with different levels of sophistication, and broad expert knowledge in scientific methods and data handling. Furthermore, platforms for communicating the information to end users and decision makers and, at the end of the chain, skilled end users that understand the hazard information are needed for an effective risk reduction. While numerous initiatives and services exist, still such prerequisites are not available in several, particularly developing, countries, and, consequently, there are often a large number of human lives lost due to natural disasters as indicated in this chapter.To this end, we discuss the regional variations of disaster (flood and drought) impacts using data from global disaster archives. Next, using the example of Nigeria, a country with limited early warning infrastructure, we present the challenges of coping with disasters in developing countries. Furthermore, we demonstrate the potential value of an ensemble prediction system (ENS) using flood forecasts from the Global Flood Awareness System ( for the unprecedented 2012 flood disaster in the country. Finally, an outlook to new initiatives on global flood and drought partnerships for risk assessment and reduction are highlighted. The partnerships have goals of closing the gaps in disaster risk management with regard to floods in particular for the developing countries but with added value products also for developed countries.



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