Skip to content

Illustration by Security Management

Early Warning Systems Against Climate Events and Natural Disasters

Early warning systems could offer local communities help against an increasing number of climate-induced or climate-related disasters, with additional minutes used to save lives.  

A new major project from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will offer the Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste end-to-end climate information and early warning systems. 

Timor-Leste shares the island of Timor with part of Indonesia, having declared its sovereignty from the larger country in 1999. Timor-Leste also faces a higher likelihood of serious climate disasters, including floods, droughts, heatwaves, and tropical storms, with limited support for preparing for and recovering from such events. In April 2021, a tropical cyclone triggered massive flooding in the country, the worst in its recent history. The storm and its aftermath killed about 34 people and damaged or destroyed more than 30,000 homes. 

“Climate change presents serious challenges to Timor-Leste’s development; as the impacts of climate change manifest, Timor-Leste needs scientific data, information and early warnings on climate hazards and related risks,” according to a UNEP press release 

The $21.7 million project, approved by the Green Climate Fund, will create the ability for the country to collect and use climate intelligence, as well as disseminate resilience methods to vulnerable areas and communities. A new national forecasting center will be built and a monitoring system for air quality and alerts will also be created, allowing residents to determine how to lessen air pollution and other climate change impacts.  

Additionally, an Early Warning Early Action system will be introduced to assist with disaster preparedness. The system, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, will help spread information about impending weather events and humanitarian funding to communities before a storm or other hazard hits, hopefully curbing disaster and suffering, while also saving money by mitigating the need for larger disaster recovery efforts.  

The Green Climate Fund was established by the Paris Climate Agreement and is the world’s largest climate fund. It is used to support developing countries’ attempts to lower their emissions and create climate-resilient solutions.  

“Early warning systems can alert local communities on things like approaching hurricanes, cyclones, or landslides due to extreme rainfall, where getting ahead of incidents by even a few hours can make all the difference,” WIRED reported, looking at Timor-Leste and other communities attempting to beef up their resiliency to such disasters. “They can also provide knowledge of slower onset events, such as an upcoming drought several months away.” 

And while advocating for more climate-resilient neighborhoods is not a new concept, it is becoming an increasingly topical one for several countries, whether developed or developing.  

Across the ocean from Timor-Leste, weeks after UNEP announced the project award, floods and mudslides devastated streets, homes, and infrastructure in a region in British Columbia. Approximately 18,000 people were stranded by the floods, according to Reuters, and some areas reported fuel shortages until help arrived the floodwaters receded. 

Beyond the immediate destruction generated by the floods, ripple effects were immediately noted as the disaster effectively blocked coastal areas along the Pacific, including Vancouver’s largest port, further straining supply chains. Perhaps worst of all were reports from 2018 warning the local government that such events were expected to happen with increasing frequency and severity and calling for steps to be taken to prepare for such floods and similar events. 

On 2 December, as part of the launch of the 2022 Global Humanitarian Overview, the United Kingdom called for investing in early interventions in humanitarian crises caused by climate change and increasing natural disasters.  

“The UK has invested heavily in early warning systems, which enable a quicker, more effective humanitarian response," the British government said in a press release. It also noted that in response to Cyclone Eloise impacting southern Africa, UK aid funded specialist flood risk assessments, which helped anticipate the areas most likely to be hit hardest and therefore develop a better response.

While some early warning efforts might focus more on humanitarian efforts, methods and lessons learned can be applied in improving resiliency and recovery all around, from the private sector to military forces.