Moving Mountains

For mountains and people

What is CBFEWS?

CBFEWS is based on people-centered, timely, simple and low-cost technology. It disseminates information to the vulnerable communities downstream through a network of communities and government bodies.

A properly designed and implemented system can save lives and reduce property loss by increasing the lead time to prepare and respond to flood on ground level. UNEP (2012) defines early warning as “the provision of timely and effective information, through identified institutions, that allows individuals exposed to hazard to take action to avoid or reduce their risk and prepare for effective response”.

Early warning is defined by UNISDR as “the set of capacities needed to generate and disseminate timely and meaningful warning information to enable individuals, communities and organizations threatened by hazards to take necessary preparedness measures and act appropriately in sufficient time to reduce possibility of harms or losses” (ISDR 2006).

Contact person

Neera Shrestha Pradhan

Neera Shrestha Pradhan

Action Area Coordinator
AA-A: Managing Cryosphere and Water Risks

CBFEWS sites installed across the HKH by ICIMOD in collaboration with its partners


A community-based flood early warning system (CBFEWS) is an integrated system of tools and plans managed by and for communities. It provides near real-time early warnings when rising flood waters are detected. The warning information is transmitted to caretakers who disseminate the information to the rest of the community, government line agencies, and stakeholders. Although the detection of flood risk and its communication to vulnerable communities are driven by technology, the primary functioning of the CBFEWS lies in a people-centred approach to flood response. We have been piloting this system along flood-prone transboundary rivers in the HKH, helping communities across Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. We – along with Aaranyak and Sustainable Eco Engineering (SEE) – received the UNFCCC’s Momentum for Change: 2014 Lighthouse Activity Award in the ICT category for our work with CBFEWS.

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) Platform for the Promotion of Early Warning has identified four key elements for a complete and effective early warning system. Based on UNISDR’s four key elements, we have also defined four key elements for CBFEWS implementation (presented in the graphic below). From our experiences implementing CBFEWS, we have integrated sustainability in the entire mechanism. For the system to function effectively, the community needs to be able to independently operate and maintain the equipment. An isolated approach cannot make the CBFEWS successful. It is important to understand that these four elements (with sustainability binding them) are interrelated and failure in one element can result in failure of the entire system.


Key elements for CBFEWS implementation


Four key elements for CBFEWS

Features of CBFEWS

Cost effective

The manufacturing, repair, and maintenance of the system can be done at the local level.


Community members and government line agencies take ownership of the system and are involved in managing and disseminating early warning information.

Near real-time information

As water levels rise, upstream communities disseminate near real-time information to vulnerable downstream communities.

Response mechanism

Trainings and awareness activities enhance community response on early warnings and provide lead time for preparedness.

Information flow

Disseminating and communicating risk information to the concerned communities and authorities is an integral part of the CBFEWS. When the flood signal is detected upstream, it needs to be disseminated instantly so that people can prepare and respond to it. Warning information must be clear and brief.

Source of early warning

Early warning information comes from individuals or organizations that generate a risk message and send it to the concerned authorities and vulnerable communities. The caretaker is the main source of information.

Recipients of early warning

Warning recipients are nodal persons downstream who are part of the communication network. These nodal persons receive the warning message from different channels (e.g. directly from the source, such as a caretaker or other concerned authorities) and instantly communicate it to at-risk households.

Early warning message

The warning message from the source to the intended recipients could be textual (SMS), verbal/audio (siren, telephone, megaphone), or visual (flag, sign). Warning messages should be concise, understandable, consistent, and tailored to the specific needs of the intended recipients.

Communication channel

A communication channel is a network of people created for information dissemination. An efficient and reliable communication network is important for CBFEWS to function properly.

Partners and Resources

Partner for technical inputs as well as manufacturing the instruments.

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You will find publications produced or related to this Initiative in our publications repository – the HimalDoc. These information materials covers journal articles, books, book chapters, research reports, working papers, brochures, information sheets, and publicity materials including posters and flyers.

CBFEWS publication in Urdu
Reaching the most vulnerable: Community-based flood early warning system (CBFEWS) (in Urdu)
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जोखिममा रहेका समुदायसम्म पहुँच
जोखिममा रहेका समुदायसम्म पहुँच: समुदायमा आधारित बाढी पूर्वचेतावनी प्रणाली
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Fourth Regional Hands-on Training
Fourth regional hands-on training on Community Based Flood Early Warning System
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outscaling CBFEWS
Proceedings of the meeting on outscaling Community- Based Flood Early Warning System (CBFEWS) in Pakistan 16 January 2019, ICIMOD, Kathmandu, Nepal
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The Story from Then to Now
Community-based Flood Early Warning System: The story from then to now
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Featured flyer

Reaching the most vulnerable: Community-based flood early warning system (CBFEWS)

CBFEWS is an integrated system of tools and plans managed by and for communities. It provides near real-time early warnings when rising flood waters are detected. The warning information is transmitted to caretakers who disseminate the information to the rest of the community, government line agencies, and stakeholders.

Reaching the most vulnerable

News and features

Around the HKH

CBFEWS in the media and news

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Staff articles

Community-operated warnings
तराईमा बाढीबाट हुने क्षति घटाउने कीफायती उपायः समुदायमा आधारित पूर्वसूचना प्रणाली
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Flooding in Bhittamore, India (2019)
Preparing for double trouble: Monsoon floods during the pandemic
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Early warning equipment installed at Passu Glacier
Sounding the bell: How the Community Based Flood Early Warning System is saving lives in Gilgit-Baltistan
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The CBFEWS installed at Ratu River
Every Minute Counts: Growing Community Ownership of Flood Early Warning Systems in Nepal
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Reaching the most vulnerable
Connecting communities
Disaster preparedness through Community Based Flood Early Warning Systems

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