Snags plague India’s early warning systems for natural disasters
The lack of impact-based forecasts that can identify risks and the lack of localized action plans to follow up on warnings are some of the problems plaguing India’s Early Warning Systems (EWS).
IndiaSpend, the country’s first data journalism initiative, along with climate experts say that despite India’s sophisticated early warning systems for floods and cyclones, end-to-end connectivity needs to be improved.
This year alone, it is increasingly clear that India is among the most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change.
Disaster risk reduction
In March, intense heat waves swept across northern and central India, with parts of Delhi recording temperatures reaching 49 degrees Celsius – a first for the city. A total of 15 states were affected.
Assam state in the northeast of the country recorded unprecedented rainfall 327% above normal in May, affecting more than 4.5 million people and killing nearly 180 people.
Elsewhere, a period of intense rains in June triggered flooding of the Brahmaputra and other tributaries.
“Early warning systems have steadily improved in India, and we have saved lives during extreme weather events like cyclones,” Roxy Mathew Koll, a climatologist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, told RFI.
“We may struggle to cope with very localized events like waterspouts which have now increased due to climate change – forecasting ability is limited here.
“But we can research and map areas prone to downpours and landslides, and take long-term precautions. Early warning systems can save lives, but we also need policies with a long-term vision to save livelihoods.
Early warning systems
Early Warning Systems (EWS) are widely regarded as one of the most important mechanisms for preventing disasters worldwide.
According to a study, investing in an SAP to predict cyclones can save six times more by preventing damage. EWS are tools for local, national and regional institutions to manage disaster risk and reduce damage and casualties.
But as disasters continue to affect countries where EWS have already been implemented, it has prompted disaster management systems to think about the direction, architecture and function of warning systems. .
India’s weather early warning system has been effective for tropical cyclones. As a result, the country has seen a substantial drop in the number of deaths over the past two decades.
Mitigating the impact of disasters
“However, the warning system needs to become more robust for other weather events such as thunderstorms, heat waves and heavy rainfall during the monsoon season, for which the weather monitoring system needs to be improved and the Critical alerts should be sent directly to citizens’ mobile phones,” meteorologist and researcher Akshay Deoras told RFI.
Deoras, who has accurately forecasted several high impact weather events including deadly tropical cyclones such as Phailin, Hudhud and Nisarga, says that when an outbreak of a high impact weather event is expected, Doppler weather radars should scan faster than the current rate, which would improve monitoring.
“This information must then be converted into lucid alerts and disseminated immediately in the event of a dangerous outbreak. In addition, a lot of attention should be paid to creating meteorological knowledge among citizens,” adds Deoras.
A recent study of seven vulnerable cities by the Ministry of Interior, USAID, and the UNDP Climate Risk Management Partnership Project highlighted that city institutions were focused on response instead of taking preventative action.
“Technical capacity to understand disaster risk reduction, risk assessment and EWS needs to be strengthened at the level of local urban bodies. City-level hazard and vulnerability mapping capabilities need to be improved as a matter of priority,” the report says.
The report also mentions that technical agencies involved in providing warnings need to evolve and provide information that can be used by a wide range of users or create products based on user needs.
The latest edition of the Global Climate Risk Index published by Germanwatch, an independent development and environmental NGO based in Germany, observed that India was the seventh country in the world most affected by extreme weather events in 2019.