Global Survey of Early Warning Systems

If an early warning system had been in place when the tsunami of 26 December 2004 struck the Indian Ocean region, many thousands of lives could have been saved. That catastrophe was a wake-up call for Governments and many others about the role early warning can play in avoiding and reducing the human and physical impacts of natural hazards.

In the days following the tsunami, I called for the development of a global early warning system for all natural hazards and all communities. Such a system would build upon existing national and regional capacities, and complement broader initiatives aimed at disaster preparedness and mitigation. As a further step, in March 2005, I asked the Secretariat of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), in consultation with relevant United Nations organizations, to undertake a global survey to identify existing capacities and gaps in early warning systems. This report is a culmination of that process.

The report highlights the significant global progress that is being made in our ability to assess risks and to generate and communicate predictions and warnings. These gains are mainly a result of growing scientific understanding and the use of modern information and communication technologies.

However, considerable shortcomings and gaps remain, especially in developing countries, where basic capacities, equipment and resources are often not available. And at the human level, we are still failing to raise public awareness of risks, disseminate timely and understandable warnings, and strengthen community preparedness and resilience. We must address these issues if the growing toll of disasters is to be arrested and reversed.