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World Disasters Report 2009: Focus on Early Warning, Early Action

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Early warning and early action: An essential partnership to prevent disasters

In terms of natural hazards and their impact, 2008 was one of the most devastating years. While hazards are largely unavoidable, especially with the growing threat of climate change, they only become disasters when communities' coping mechanisms are exceeded and they are unable to manage their impacts. The world's poorest and most vulnerable people are those most at risk.

This year's World Disasters Report focuses on two key aspects of disaster risk reduction: early warning and early action. The decline in injuries, loss of livelihoods and deaths from disasters over the past 30 years is, in part, due to the establishment and improvement of early warning systems. Advances in science and technology, in forecasting techniques and the dissemination of information are major contributors. However, the development of a more people-centred approach is clearly essential to ensure that the warnings captured by satellites, computer modelling and other technologies reach at-risk communities and are then acted upon.

The 2004 tsunami focused the world's attention on early warning systems because no such system was in place in the Indian Ocean. Thousands of lives were lost - although tsunamis are relatively rare events. There are many outstanding examples of early warning systems for more frequent hazards. Two notable ones are those for tropical storms in Bangladesh and Cuba where community-based early warning leads to prompt evacuation and has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.