By Mekonnen Teshome
Mr. Mohammed Idris, a resident of the Awash Fentale rural village of the Afar Regional state in the eastern Ethiopia told this writer last March that he has lost his entire property, hut and cattle due to the heavy flooding occurred across the banks of the Awash River.
Mohammed by then confirmed that he was trying to survive in the emergency shelters provided by the regional government and WHO and receiving daily meals from local and international supporters. “People have lost their lives due to the flooding and I don’t complain much for losing my properties since I and my family are alive. Property can be replaced.” he explained as heavy flooding occurred in various locations across parts of the Afar, Oromia, and Somali regional states last March and April following a prolonged drought and heavy rain falls.
As to Mohammed, the flooding came unpredictably as the time normally was not a rainy season in Ethiopia. He said “we have no idea as to when and how natural disasters and flooding come. We live by the side of the Awash River which is our main lifeline and sometimes it causes devastating flooding like we have faced now. Most of us are poor farmers and pastoralists living here in the arid region and dependent on the river water. We don’t know what to do about flooding.”
Yes Early Warning Is Vital “For Everyone”
According to Distracter Risk Management experts, various natural disaster prevention systems especially timely “early warning” is critical to avoid environmental catastrophes and calamities on human and animal health.
Global bodies including the UN General Assembly in their resolutions have also adopted that early warning as a critical element of disaster reduction.
According to Ethiopian Meteorology Institute, Long-range Weather Forecast and Drought Monitoring Desk Head and Meteorology Science researcher, Mr. Mulualem Abera the issue of early warning is now to on the addenda of the global community as part of disaster reduction and management effort.
“For example, we can see the World Metrology Organization’s “Early Warnings for All” initiative which is a milestone global effort aimed at ensuring that everyone is protected from natural disaster related to climate change, weather and environmental calamities and events through life-saving early warning systems.”
Mulualem says that the overall objectives of early warning is minimizing potential impact of disasters by providing before-hand notices of potential hazards and protect individuals and communities from natural and human-educed catastrophes.
Mr. Ermias Masresha, Risk Assessment and Monitoring Senior Expert with the Ethiopian Environment Protection Authority, also underscores that early warning systems are useful for planning and preparedness activities by providing information about potential hazards, decision-makers can develop response plans, allocate resources, and take appropriate measures to reduce the impact of a disaster.
Early warning systems are vital in preventing excessive damage and loss as a result of flooding and possibly save lives and to adapt climate change, using integrated communication systems and can save lives, the environment and infrastructures and bring about long-term and sustainable development.
Mr. Ermias indicated that the importance of early warning for disaster reduction has now been tabled at major international conferences and submits including the Yokohama Strategy4, Agenda 215, the Barbados Plan of Action for Small Island Developing States6, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation7, the Mauritius Strategy8 and the G8 Summit in Gleneagles9, as well as major multilateral environmental agreements, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention to Combat Desertification.
“The Ethiopian National Meteorological Services Agency which was established in 1980 has been delivering its climate prediction services for the last over 40 years and we believe that our weather predictions and early warning systems have always been effective and valuable to manage agricultural, health and environmental sector activities,” Mulualem says.
However, Mulualem discloses: “Despite the availability of the national weather forecasts and early warning system, we are witnessing increased extreme weather events and natural disasters including flash flooding, drought, landslides and the like.”
Meteorological Services, Early Warning and Climate Change
He said that the paradox in the availability of effective early warning systems and the increase in the natural disaster are related to exacerbated global warming and the ever changing climate. In addition, “anthropogenic” causes like the burning of fossil fuels and converting land from forests to agriculture could also be attributed to the increasing environmental disasters, Mulualem added.
“Otherwise, our Metrology agency has always provided weather predictions and forecasts for pertinent bodies to help them make their own decision. For example, we were able to provide our predictions of the last 5 consecutive rain filatures weather conditions /3 “Bega” and 2 “Belg” seasons/, however, we could not prevent the various disasters that happed last year here in our country.”
As to Mulualem, in order to early warning to be effective, it needs integrated and concerted efforts of line ministries and government agencies in the environment protection, agriculture, health and disaster risk management.
On the other hand, the Ethiopian Disaster Risk Management Commission (EDRMC) says that it is maximizing the utilization of early warning systems in the country to undertake its risk management and reduction activities.
EDRMC disaster early warning and response team leader Mr. Wondwosen Beri says that the commission is relentlessly working to employ alternative scientific method of early warning systems especially to identify and protects the poorest of the poor from natural hazards and environmental disasters.
“Identifying the more vulnerable groups and the poorest of the poor and knowing the extent of the harms inflicted on them is imperative to reduce the disaster and rehabilitate victims,” he added.
According to the Ministry of Planning and Development (MPD), Disaster Risk Management (DRM) actions and strategies have been incorporated into the Ten-Year Development Plan (TYDP) of Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Disaster Risk Management Commission (EDRMC) also adopted disaster management legal framework facilitating a common ground to all concerned bodies to work collaboratively.
Ethiopia has also accomplished an outstanding village/woreda/ level disaster risk profiling (WDRP) and able to collect and profile risks for 485 villages and used them to develop disaster risk reduction and contingency plans for over 350 districts.
“This flagship program profiled and did the same with the breadth of geographically disaggregated and multidimensional data produced at the lowest administrative level possible, to assist risk-informed development planning and achieve a very decentralized early warning system in the country.” Ethiopia’s Ministry of Planning and development indicates.
Technology and Finance Remain Big Challenge
However, Disaster Risk Management Expert, Mr. Getachew Abate, says that the country’s early warning system is still has its own major bottlenecks related to low technical and skill capacities, financial and technological challenges, poor timeliness of information flow and as a result difficulties in obtaining quality of weather information are among other.
“Therefore, the international community needs to reinforce developmental endeavors through financial and technical supports with more emphasis than as they did for pledging relief food in the past.” Getachew added.
Mr. Mulualem of the Ethiopian Meteorology Institute also told African Demystifier in Addis Ababa that though the institute is doing its best to provide with quality weather data and information financial and technological challenges remain as major constraints.
“In Ethiopia we have 11 regional weather forecasting centers, however, we need weather prediction not only at regional levels but also location specific information and prediction and we need to upgrade ourselves to that level,” Mulualem said.
“As Ethiopia covers over 1.3 million m3 area, we need at least about 12 weather detection radars across the country and it is very expensive to install all these technological equipment as it costs millions of dollars to buy.” He pointed out.
The institute is also planning to install “Lightening Detection Radars” and in collaboration with Ethio-Finland development cooperation, three radars are being installed now and the country will have a total of four weather detection radars soon, the researched confirmed.
As part of tackling the technological challenges, a mobile application called ‘Weather App’ to modernize and in order to ensure a better user experience and high accessibility of weather information in the country.
Meteorological Services for Disaster Preparedness
Early warning systems aim to mitigate the risk produced by disasters. By providing advanced notice of potential hazards, early warning systems enable individuals, communities, and organizations to take appropriate measures to minimize the potential impact of disasters.
Early warning systems are also useful for planning and preparedness activities. By providing information about potential hazards, decision-makers can develop response plans, allocate resources, and take appropriate measures to reduce the impact of a disaster.