A new Early Warnings for All Action Plan for Africa is one of the most ambitious and comprehensive initiatives ever launched to save lives and livelihoods on a continent which is regularly exposed to extreme weather and which bears a disproportionate socio-economic cost of climate change.
The action plan was unveiled on the opening day of the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, on 4 September.
The primary objective is to make sure that timely and accurate information about natural hazards and impending disasters reaches all segments of African society, particularly the most vulnerable. This answers the call of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres that every person worldwide must protected by early warning systems by 2027. A number of African countries have been identified for priority action in the global initiative.
“Africa is one of the world’s most susceptible continents to the negative impacts of climate change. Severe floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, storms, and heatwaves are undermining the socio-economic advancements achieved by the continent,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“Between 1970 and 2021, Africa accounted for 35% of weather, climate, and water-related fatalities. Yet, only 40% of the African population has access to early warning systems – the lowest rate of any region of the world. This new Early Warnings for All Action Plan for Africa seeks to change that,” said Prof. Taalas.
The socio-economic impacts of extreme weather and climate change were highlighted in WMO’s State of the Climate in Africa 2022 report, which was also released at the Africa Climate Summit on 4 September.
“The greatest injustice of the climate crisis is that people who have contributed the least are paying the highest price in lives and livelihoods. Six out of every 10 persons in Africa are not protected by effective early warning systems, the most basic tool to save lives and protect livelihoods ahead of a disaster. Implementation of the Secretary General’s bold vision to ensure that everyone is covered by an effective early warning system by 2027 must be at the top of the global agenda. The EW4ALL Africa Action Plan is Africa's roadmap to achieve this goal and must be supported by all,” said Selwin Hart, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Action and Just Transition
Early Warning Systems provide more than a tenfold return on investment. Just 24 hours’ notice of an impending hazardous event can cut the ensuing damage by 30 per cent. The Global Commission on Adaptation found that spending just US$800 million on such systems in developing countries would avoid losses of $3 to 16 billion per year.
“The Early Warning for All in Africa Action Plan is a comprehensive effort to strengthen early warning systems across Africa. By focusing on monitoring, capacity building, communication, and community engagement, the initiative aims to enhance disaster preparedness, increase public awareness, and promote regional cooperation. Ultimately, it strives to save lives, protect livelihoods, and build a more resilient Africa,” said Mami Mizutori, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, and head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want
The Africa Regional Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in 2004 has led to progress towards more proactive management of disaster risk. But much more can be done.
According to the African Union Commission, the increase in disaster damage and losses witnessed in many countries is because disaster risk reduction is not mainstreamed into development planning and there is inadequate investment in early warning systems.
An effective early warning mechanism could prevent or reduce the risk of a disaster occurring and minimize its impacts. As a result, recovery processes are cheaper and quicker, further contributing to resilience.
The Early Warnings for All in Africa Action Plan is fully aligned with Agenda 2063, ‘The Africa we want’, and the Africa Climate Change Strategy. It supports the 2030 global agenda, notably the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Early Warnings Systems have become popular in disaster risk management because they have proven to be an effective strategy that governments can take to significantly reduce disaster loss and damage. But you all agree that this initiative is ambitious," said H.E. Ambassador Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment at the African Union Commission. "Our presence here to launch this action plan is a testament that we are ready to walk the talk in making the African Continent resilient to disasters," she said.
The Early Warnings for All in Africa Action Plan – like the global initiative – has four foundational Pillars, coordinated through the support of the political leadership. For each pillar, a proposed scenario for what success looks like, required actions and proposed activities has been developed as well as implementation strategies and coordination considering from regional to national levels.
Disaster Risk Knowledge and Management: This pillar is led by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, with support from WMO.
It aims to collect data and undertake risk assessments to increase knowledge of hazards and vulnerabilities and trend. By improving disaster risk knowledge, Africa can better understand and manage its vulnerabilities, reduce the impact of disasters, and build resilience within communities in order to better manage disaster risks.
It encompasses the following aspects: Risk Identification and Assessment; Data Collection and Analysis; Community Engagement and Education; and Knowledge Sharing and Partnerships. This requires a multi-faceted approach that combines scientific advancements, community participation, and regional collaboration to create a safer and more prepared Africa.
Observations, monitoring, and forecasting: WMO leads this pillar, with support from UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
It focusses on improving the monitoring and observation of various climate and weather-related parameters. This involves deploying modern sensor technologies, use of satellite imagery, weather stations, and other data collection tools to gather real-time and accurate information.
It seeks to address critical gaps in observational coverage, data transmission and sharing, utilization of data and products from Global Producing Centres (GPC) and space earth monitoring systems, and the production of value-added products such as impact-based forecasts.
To effectively utilize the collected data, the initiative emphasizes the capacity building of meteorological and hydrological agencies. This includes training meteorologists, technicians, and relevant stakeholders in advanced forecasting techniques, data interpretation, and dissemination of climate information and services to different socio-economic sectors.
Dissemination and Communication: This pillar is led by the International Telecommunications Union, with support from the International Federation of Rec Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) , UNDP, and WMO. One of the key aspects of the initiative is to establish robust and reliable communication channels for disseminating early warning information.
It involves leveraging digital technology, such as mobile networks, apps, and social media platforms, to reach a wider audience and ensure the delivery of warnings in a timely manner.
Preparedness and Response Capabilities: IFRC leads this pillar, and with support from Risk Informed Early Action Partnership (REAP), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and World Food Programme (WFP).
Recognizing the importance of community involvement in disaster risk reduction, the initiative supports the active participation of local communities in early warning systems. This includes educating communities about the risks they face, training them on response and evacuation procedures, and integrating their indigenous knowledge into the systems.
Governance and Coordination: The African Union Commission (AUC) provides political leadership in the implementation of Early Warnings for All on the continent, supporting WMO and UNDRR who are co-leading the implementation.
Establishing an effective governance and coordination mechanism for early warning systems in Africa is crucial to ensure the timely and coordinated dissemination of critical information to at-risk populations.
The initiative would strengthen regional cooperation by fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing among African countries, regional organizations, and international partners, promoting a coordinated and harmonized approach to early warning systems in the continent. This is vital given the transboundary nature of many hazards.