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New CREWS initiative for the Caribbean

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An expert review has been launched into the effectiveness of early warnings in the Caribbean during the devastating 2017 hurricane season in order to strengthen resilience against future disasters.

The World Meteorological Organization and regional and international partners will make the assessment as part of the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative. Findings are expected to be published in 2018, ahead of the next North Atlantic and Caribbean hurricane season.

The 2017 season was one of the worst on record, causing hundreds of casualties and reversing socioeconomic development in hardest hit territories. It was by far the costliest on record. In Barbuda, 90 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed, and Dominica was devastated. Hurricanes Irma and Maria killed more than 300 people.

For the Caribbean islands that were affected, timely and clear warnings of the impending tropical cyclones are an essential part of their capacity to cope, with such extreme weather events and manage disaster risk.

Mary Power, Director of the Development and Regional Activities Department at WMO, said: “The death toll of the largest hurricanes was certainly reduced because we saw them coming. Forecasting models accurately predicted the hurricane path and anticipated their extreme intensities days ahead. This allowed territories in the region to declare a state of emergency up to two days in advance of landfall.”

However, Power added that there is need to better predict what the impact of the hurricane will be in a given location. She said if the warning system does not inform on the potential floods, high winds and storm surges, it is difficult for people to take preventive action. The objective of an early warning system is to save lives and livelihoods when faced by an extreme climate event she said.

Two regional institutions based in Barbados—the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), will be leading the expert reviews.

The review will contribute to a harmonized vision on how the region will address issues of not just alert and warning but also how communities respond to this information.

CDEMA’s Executive Director, Ronald Jackson said he is “very concerned that most of the region’s vulnerable communities still remain without adequate facilities for effectively disseminating impending emergency situations to all segments of society, and to facilitate their early action in response to the information received.”

The World Bank, through the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) is one of the lead implementing partners of CREWS. A funding window of US$5.5 million is pipelined for the Caribbean region.