Statement by Mr Jagan Chapagain, Under Secretary a.i., Program Services On behalf of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Extraordinary Session of the WMO Congress, Geneva, 29-31 October 2012.
Mr President (David Grimes), Mr Secretary General (Michel Jarraud), Ministers, distinguished delegates, good morning.
I thank WMO for the invitation. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is pleased to have this opportunity to talk about climate information, in the company of top-level experts who are predicting sun and rain globally on a daily basis.
I trust that you are familiar with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ work.
Our member National Societies function as auxiliaries to their governments and provide support to the most vulnerable in 187 countries. Together, through our collective plan of action – Strategy 2020 – IFRC is tackling the major humanitarian and development challenges of the present decade by focusing our work in three key areas: 1) disaster preparedness, response and recovery, 2) development through building local resilience, and 3) promoting social inclusion and peace.
We live in a world that is constantly changing. Climate change, environmental degradation, unplanned urbanisation and unsustainable development are but a few of these changes. These are processes without borders that have contributed considerably to increasing the vulnerabilities of people and the ecosystems that we all depend upon for a living.
The WMO and IFRC’s visions are actually two sides of a coin. For WMO, the vision is to contribute to the safety and well-being of people; while for IFRC it is to prevent and alleviate human suffering. In this very first Extraordinary Congress of WMO, we are gathered here to save lives, then to improve them, then to build on what we have in a sustainable way to realise “The Future We Want for All”.
What we need to do today and tomorrow must be supported at all levels by WMO and its ‘Met’ Offices with reliable and comprehensible climate information.
Scientific advances have made possible large-scale and long-term climate forecasts and predictions. As a result, information produced can generate timely and actionable information for decision-making in all climate-sensitive sectors. Among these sectors is disaster risk reduction (DRR). For decades, IFRC and its members have invested in DRR to build the resilience of people and their communities, and to contribute to local development. We know from experience how climate information can make a difference when combined with needed action.
The collaboration between IFRC and WMO is multi-faceted. For example, at WMO’s invitation, IFRC participated in the organization of the 3rd World Climate Conference, including the crafting of its outcomes such as the Global Framework for Climate Services that we are discussing today. The IFRC is also part of the Initiative of the WMO DRR Program for better supporting humanitarian planning, preparedness and
response operations at all levels. Soon pilot projects will be running in Africa and Asia.
At a regional level, in 2008, the African Centre for Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) and IFRC entered into an agreement to collaborate more closely in using weather information for reducing risks posed by extreme weather conditions. At the ACMAD Headquarters in Niamey, Niger, IFRC provided and exchanged climate information in different time scales with all relevant staff. User-oriented and comprehensible climate information largely improved the communication and use of climate predictions, particularly among illiterate subsistence farmers and other people facing severe risks.
This four-year collaboration not only allowed ACMAD to understand better what information is needed for DRR, but also allowed the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in the region to benefit from the information in different time scales to improve their preparedness, early warning and early action programs. As an outcome, the impact of damage and losses caused by annual rainy seasons and resulting floods in West Africa was significantly reduced. Research in 2007/2008 showed that at that time in more than 50 countries ‘Met’ Offices were working closely with Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies at country level. As a result, community-based Early Warning Systems were established in Bangladesh, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Liberia and other countries.
In facing the challenges brought by climate change, we need to invest more, along with the GFCS, to scale up the existing joint programmes so people and their communities can benefit further from this success.
Mr President, let me single out two examples to illustrate our cooperation at country level.
One is the development of flood early warning systems in Costa Rica. This project brought together the National Meteorological Services, the National Hydrological Service, the Disaster Risk Management Agency, community authorities, Costa Rican Red Cross and other representatives in the Sarapiqui river basin, to develop emergency preparedness and response Standard Operating Procedures. The project engaged a significant amount of cooperation and consultation facilitated by WMO, IFRC and World Bank to empower communities through authoritative information on floods.
Another example can be found in Cambodia. The Department of Hydrology and River Work generates forecasts, while alarm levels and corresponding responses are developed with the involvement of local communities. The Cambodian Red Cross
Society is implementing a disaster risk reduction project, which uses a two-way radio communication system to receive forecasts, and allows Red Cross volunteers to send river level data to the Mekong River Commission. The project, with an early warning and early action component, has contributed to the safety of thirty-eight villages located close to the Mekong River.
These two examples demonstrate that user-friendly climate information, when properly crafted and delivered in a timely way, can ‘contribute to the safety and well-being of people throughout the world and to the economic benefit of all
nations’, as indicated in the WMO’s vision.
We have also learnt from experience that climate information alone in its 20th century format is no longer sufficient to address the challenges posed by climate variability and change. The people who need it the most must be able to understand and trust it, and to act upon it. Key to this in our view is WMO’s leadership of the Global Framework for Climate Services.
The IFRC advocates for a more people-centred approach, essential in ensuring that information and warning captured by satellites, computer modelling and other technologies reach the most vulnerable communities, which can then act upon them. Early-warnings alone do not keep hazards from turning into disasters. Early action, covering all timescales, is also essential. In all cases, communities need to be empowered, so they can take ownership of linking their preparedness to response.
At the same time, this empowerment serves to catalyse dialogue around what national early warning systems are required. The empowerment at community level also contributes to each individual and household’s increased resilience. It is an investment for the future, and this has proven effective at attenuating the effects of disasters.
And so, IFRC is pleased to announce its soon-to-be-launched Guiding Principles of Community Early Warning Systems.
This document is a compilation of learning and experiences in more than 50 countries across the world, both inside the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement and alongside it, through key partners. It is prepared by IFRC, along with the guides for vulnerability and capacity assessment, public awareness and public education.
Coupled with the Disaster Response and Contingency Planning Guide, it provides a solid toolkit for disaster risk reduction/management practitioners.
The Guiding Principles certainly impart a good understanding for climate services providers on what climate information is required for well functioning early warning systems at community, national, regional and global levels. They also give a good overview of the ways in which user-friendly climate information can encourage early action for effective disaster risk reduction. That most important first mile - joining the scientific early warning to early action on the ground - is often the crucial missing link.
The IFRC appreciated ‘A Dialogue for Climate Services Users and Providers’, which took place before this Congress. We took this precious opportunity, through our participation in two of the panels, to learn from and exchange thoughts with climate services providers. The Dialogue’s outcomes in four prioritised areas – agriculture and food security, disaster risk reduction, health and water – can certainly help all of us to connect and rebuild the missing link, including through the set-up of the User Interface Platform2 (UIP).
However, this dialogue should not be a one-off. The IFRC is committed to continuing the dialogue with WMO. I would urge ‘Met’ Offices to reach out to climate-sensitive sectors, including our National Societies, for a well-functioning platform and partnerships at country level and down to communities. Only through regular two-way communications at all levels can we continuously add value to GFCS and move towards building community resilience and local development in a sustainable way.
I look forward to our close collaboration for effective implementation of the GFCS.