ESCAP Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness: Strategic Note 2017-2020

1 Introduction


An effective early warning system is a key component of disaster prevention efforts and resilience building. The costs of early warning systems are generally far outweighed by the economic benefits. In Asia and the Pacific, investments in hydro -meteorological warning services could have a benefit - cost ratio of between four and 36. A study for ESCAP estimated that on average, over the next century the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System will save the equivalent of at least 1,000 lives per year 1. Sustaining the necessary funding is a major concern, so it is important to emphasise the benefits of investing in a regional ‘public good’.

Much of the investment required is in people – specifically the technical staff of national meteorological and hydrological services, to enable them to make forecasts more accurate and user friendly, and to increase warning lead times. For high -frequency, low -impact hazards, such as storms and floods the priority should be to improve local and national warning systems. However, for low -frequency, high -impact hazards, such as tsunamis, it would be more economical to take a collective or regional approach.

With improved forecasting and advanced geospatial modelling for vulnerability and exposure assessment, early warning systems are becoming more impact -based and risk -informed. Impact -based forecasting brings the risk information providers – particularly the hydrometeorological, seismological and geospatial community – closer to disaster management authorities and related sectoral ministries. It is an important multisectoral approach to make multi -hazard early warning systems more effective, and it represents a process of graduation from early warning to early action for mitigation and prevention.

Many Asia -Pacific countries have improved their early warning systems for tropical cyclones. Bangladesh has had success in combining early warnings and cyclone shelters. Over a 40 -year period, fatalities have been cut dramatically: in May 2017, for example, cyclone Mora, hit southern coastal areas with wind speeds of up to 150 kilometres per hour but there were fewer than ten deaths. Another successful example is Hong Kong, China where the decrease in deaths caused by typhoons has been attributed to improved early warning systems combined with better compliance with building codes2. A recent example is typhoon Hato (24 August 2017), the most severe typhoon in 53 years to hit Hong Kong, China, where fewer than 10 deaths were recorded.

Despite the success stories, access to early warning is not yet universal. Joint action is needed to improve warning systems for shared hazards that cut across national borders. Moreover, steps also need to be taken to ensure the sustainability of early warning systems.

ESCAP’s Multi-Donor Trust Fund

The ESCAP Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness in Indian Ocean and South East Asian Countries (“the Trust Fund”) was established in 2005 through a US$ 10 million contribution from the Royal Thai Government. The Trust Fund’s initial, overall objective was to build and enhance tsunami early warning capacities at various levels by responding to the needs of Indian Ocean and South East Asian countries. In addition to Thailand, the governments of Bangladesh, Germany, India, Japan, Nepal, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Sweden and Turkey have all provided financial and in-kind contributions to the Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was expected to contribute to the development of an integrated regional early warning system (EWS) comprising a network of collaborative centres connected to sub-regional and regional platforms. To this end, the Trust Fund applied a multi-hazard approach in line with the principles of effective and people-centred end-to-end early warning systems. In 2011, the scope of the Trust Fund was expanded to include climate and disaster preparedness within the core areas of support, while retaining a focus on early warning for coastal hazards. In 2015, the Advisory Council endorsed the expansion of the reach of the Trust Fund to include Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Southwestern Pacific. Henceforth, to reflect this new geographic scope, the report will be referring to the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness.

Key achievements to date

Since its establishment, the Trust Fund has contributed significantly to the progress made in building regional and national warning systems for coastal hazards. In 2011, a key milestone was reached with the operationalization of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWMS), which was established through the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IOC-UNESCO). The Fund also supported the establishment of the Regional Integrated Multi -Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES), which is closely linked to the IOTWMS.

As of December 2016, the Trust Fund had supported 26 projects with a total budget of approximately US$ 15.5 million, directly benefitting 19 countries. Projects cover most aspects of early warning, including but not limited to: monitoring and warning services that provide support to lower capacity countries; risk maps for community preparedness planning; development and testing of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs); education and public awareness r aising activities; strengthening of warning dissemination; and emergency drills.

Early warning systems in a complex Asia-Pacific region

Since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, considerable progress has been made in early warning systems and bringing disaster risk management to the fore. However, the systems are faced with some significant challenges. Among these, early warning systems: a) mostly fall short of being multi -hazard; b) often have limited coverage and do not always reach the ‘last mile ’; c) struggle to secure and sustain funding; d) present a level of disconnect between different initiatives; e) fail to address fragility, conflict and complex crisis; and, f) have not yet adapted to risk -multipliers such as climate change and rapid urbanisation.

In 2017, Asia and the Pacific continue to be the world’s most disaster -prone region. The disaster risk largely emanate s from multiple hazards with transboundary and socio -economic origins and impacts. In addition to natural hazards, the region is also plagued with several theatres of violent conflict and fragile governance which present enormous challenges for development and security in the region.

Where violence is widespread and government ceases to function, the pace of development falls dramatically, and conditions can deteriorate to extreme levels. Protracted conflicts and civil unrest in the region have resulted in displacement and politically -driven migration. This is a setback to strengthening early warning systems and resilience building efforts. Newly settled migrants and refugees may not fully be integrated in early warning systems of the host communities and countries.

Furthermore, the Asia -Pacific region stands out for its economic growth achievements, albeit in a somewhat uneven manner. Social disparities and economic development gaps between countries exist and appear to be widening in cases. According to 2016 key statistics provided by the Asian Development Bank, 330 million people are still living on less than $1.90 a day, and approximately 1.2 billion people in Asia and the Pacific are below the poverty line of $3.10 a day. Disasters and poverty are bidirectional in their causative linkages, particularly in certain transboundary areas where multi-hazard risks prevail.

Harnessing regional cooperation for disaster prevention and building resilience is therefore crucial to achieving the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Trust Fund is evolving to face these challenges and build on the opportunities offered by the new global and regional commitments.