Developing multi-hazard early warnings across Europe

ANYWHERE (enhANcing emergencY management and response to extreme WeatHER and climate Events) is a H2020 innovation programme developing tools to support decision makers in real-time coordination of emergency management operations. Started in 2016, the programme seeks to capitalise on advances in observation systems and in forecasting models in anticipation of natural hazards such as flash floods, landslides, droughts and heat waves.

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Mataro near Barcelona, affected by flooding in 2016. Source: La Vanguardia

The programme includes 31 organisations from a mixture of experts from the hydrometeorological forecasting community, research scientists, early warning system developers and responders. Those from the Civil Protection Authorities are providing a valuable role in shaping the end-user product requirements of the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (MH-EWS).

The recent 6th programme meeting was hosted by the Fire and Rescue Department of North Corsica: Sevice d’Incendie et de Secours de Haute-Corse (SIS2B). SIS2B have a specific role in providing emergency response to victims of accidents, incidents and have a specific interest in the developing tools to aid operational response to forest fires and are now supporting the development of a MH-EWS for the region.

With the programme set to complete in 2019, the new platforms are currently being trialled. Under the working name of ‘A4’, various regional and local pilot demos are being developed for multi hazards. The pan-European A4EU utilises ECMWF and EFAS products such as the Flash Flood Index and the Extreme Forecast Index. More regionally applied applications include modelling snow load impacts on electricity supply in Finland, modelling traffic disruption due to severe weather in Catalonia and providing early warnings to Schools due to flooding in Genoa.

One application is A4CAMPSITE which is specifically targeted at increasing self protection in campsites located in flood prone areas in Catalonia. There is a high risk of flooding for many hundreds of campsites in the region and there are several legal restrictions being based on the flood plain including ensuring all campsites have adequate flood risk plans.

The EWS is using radar rainfall nowcasting product linked to warning triggers within a self contained warning system.  These are linked to flood plans, with configurable actions (such as evacuation plans) and linked to SMS alerts for the campers.  A4CAMPSITE is being supported by new ANYWHERE partners developing innovative hydrometeorological applications and is being implemented on 13 campsites along the Tordera river with a full trial over the late-summer rainy season.

Nepal Floods 2017: ‘We had the forecasts but not the system to link them with our preparedness and response’

Madhab Uprety, Disaster Risk Reduction consultant, and Sumit Dugar, Research Associate at Practical Action Consulting South Asia, reflect on efforts to improve disaster preparedness in Nepal.

Southern flood plains of Nepal have always experienced a varied degree of flooding during the monsoon.  Whilst humanitarian responders and district level agencies have always relied on a general level of preparedness based on average levels of risks leading to periodic preparedness interventions across these flood prone districts.

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Portion of the Lal Bakaiya dam that was swept away by a flood in Rautahat during August 2017. Source: The Himalayan Times.

So far most of the major river basins are equipped with early warning systems and there are existing protocols and mechanisms to communicate early warnings and plan for emergencies. Yet we seemed hardly prepared for the recent Terai floods that claimed hundreds of lives and rendered tens of thousands of people homeless.

The scale and extent of flooding was huge as incessant rainfall for two days and across the Churiya range unleashed floods across entire southern belt inundating 26 Terai districts.

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Picture credit: Discussion between community members during flood response exercise, by Sumit Dugar.

But the rainfall event was not off the radar of prediction and was indeed forecast several days in advance. The events were captured 10 and 3 days in advance by the global flood and weather forecast models. Though the flood alerts were issued by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) 24-hours in advance, disaster managers hardly move beyond their customary response approaches of rescue and relief.

Existing early warning systems in major river basins were instrumental in saving assets, lives and properties, but warnings and actions merely based on the real-time situation of rivers and rainfall were not adequate enough to cater every contingency, particularly in case of flash floods from small monsoon (intermittent) streams.

There is dire need of paradigm shift towards forecast-based emergency preparedness. Unfortunately, there is not any mechanism that links scientific forecasts within the existing humanitarian landscape.  And also it is largely unclear among the humanitarian actors and government stakeholders about what levels of forecast probabilities and magnitude are worthy to react.

Globally there has been a recent increased shift towards anticipatory preparedness and early actions based upon weather forecasts under the remit of Forecast-based Financing (FbF), a niche concept which envisions humanitarian agencies and government stakeholders making use of credible scientific information to anticipate possible impacts and mobilise resources automatically before a hazard event.

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Picture credit: Community member using hand siren during flood response exercise, by Sumit Dugar.

Practical Action together with support from the World Food Program have been advocating this approach in Nepal and the idea has already been put-forth across national Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) platforms for discussion. FbF is currently being piloted in six flood prone districts of West Nepal and there is an intention to upscale these initiatives across entire southern flood plains of Nepal. Forecast thresholds and triggers have been identified and Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) that includes science informed anticipatory actions have been developed and integrated in the local disaster preparedness plans.

However, regular communication of the forecasts and their effective interpretation among the end users constrains FbF implementation. The aftermath of recent floods in August 2017 have certainly increased relevance of FbF in disaster preparedness and response, and the pressing question now is whether the recent floods will act as a wake-up call and we start making forecasts part of our readiness or simply plan response and recovery in a normative business as usual manner.

Resilience through disaster risk reduction in Nigeria

In April, Michael Clark reported on work to improve disaster management in Ghana. This month he reports on a new project in disaster risk reduction in Nigeria.

Way back in January 2005, with the world still in shock following the devastating Indian Ocean earthquake & tsunami and with the horrors of Hurricane Katrina still 8 months away, the United Nations was setting out how we would go about making the world safer from natural disasters – it’s timing could not have been more significant.

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The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Picture credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images via CNN.com

The 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) was the first time a global plan had been developed to detail the work required from stakeholders across the public, private and charitable sectors to reduce disaster risk. Thanks to the HFA, governments, intergovernmental agencies, international and national NGOs, disaster experts and at-risk communities were starting to work together to coordinate their preparation for disasters.

The HFA was the first significant step taken towards placing an emphasis on mitigating and preparing for disasters; the essence of resilience. It moved away from the traditional disaster management methodology – simply focussed on dealing with the aftermath; response and recovery. The subsequent Sendai Framework built on this and placed an even greater emphasis on mitigation and preparation through disaster risk reduction. It is the Sendai Framework that will shape how we go about disaster management and building resilience up until 2030.

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The seven global targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

In many facets, the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is seen to be a regional spearhead in disaster management across West Africa. The scale and scope of the hazards experienced across Africa’s most populous nation are vast – from flooding to oil spills and infectious disease outbreaks to an Islamist insurgency, the demands placed upon NEMA are significant.

The ongoing Afri-Gate project, which is led by the Bournemouth University’s Disaster Management Centre (BUDMC) and supported by RAB Consultants aims to support the growth of disaster risk reduction and resilience across West Africa. Much like my work in Ghana, the initial phase of the project sought to identify where there are challenges for disaster management and disaster managers in Nigeria in their attempts to improve disaster risk reduction.

I spent 5 days in the federal capital of Abuja, working closely with NEMA’s senior team to understand the disaster management structure and the strategic direction of the agency. Despite being in its infancy, a dedicated department to advocate and coordinate disaster risk reduction efforts across the country has ensured that Nigeria is making huge strides in the right direction.

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Michael Clark is a resilience consultant who has worked across West Africa over the last 7 years. He is pictured at NEMA Headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria.

Despite the best efforts of NEMA, recent flooding events in Oyo State have highlighted the challenges faced by the agency in their promotion of disaster risk reduction. Dredging operations undertaken by the state government to reduce the risk of flooding are being negated by the persistence of communities building homes on water courses. This is one of the areas that the Afri-Gate project will continue to explore as we investigate how NEMA can better engage communities to highlight the importance of disaster risk reduction.

The Afri-Gate project continues to grow in its impact and significance across West Africa.

Improving Disaster Management in Ghana

Michael Clark, Assistant Resilience Consultant from RAB, reports on efforts being made to improve disaster management in the West African country of Ghana.

In June 2015, significant flooding in Ghana led to the loss of many lives in Accra.  Four days of rainfall across the region resulted in many parts of the town being inundated by flood waters.  The flooding followed 185mm of rain in a single day – more than the average rainfall for the month.

Reports on the scale of the disaster state that Ghana’s Fire Service reported that a fire started at a bus station and then spread to a nearby gas station, causing an explosion which killed many people taking refuge from the flooding.

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Flooding in Accra, Ghana (Source: Africa Media Agency)

Since then, the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) have been taking steps to reduce the risk of future flooding.  Actions include educating members of the public about responding to the potential threat of flooding and removal of illegal structures built within waterways which had a key role in the 2015 floods.

Afri-Gate is a project led by the Bournemouth University Disaster Management Centre (BUDMC) and supported by RAB Consultants that aims to build resilience to both natural and man-made disasters in West Africa.  The initial phase of the project is currently identifying where there are challenges for disaster management in Ghana and will direct the second phase of the project which seeks to address how to manage and build the resilience of communities to a broad range of hazards including flooding.

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Accra to understand the disaster management and resilience structure in Ghana. I witnessed first-hand the huge strides being made by NADMO in establishing a robust disaster management structure and the credible steps taken towards more focus on disaster risk reduction through the establishment of a flood early warning system.

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Michael Clark is a Resilience Consultant with RAB in Durham.  Michael has worked in international development and was previously based in the city of Kumasi for five years with Thrive Africa.

It is anticipated that the first phase of the Afri-Gate project will conclude with a series of workshops later in 2017 where I’ll return to Accra along with colleagues from the research team at BUDMC in support of improved flood and disaster risk management.