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24 Jan 2019 | HI-RISK

Regional water-related disaster experts discuss gaps in flood early warning communication and potential solutions

The three-day regional workshop on “Communicating flood early warning for last-mile connectivity” held in Kathmandu, Nepal, from 2 to 4 October 2018 ended with an agreement among participants to produce case studies on good practices in flood early warning communication as currently practiced in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Pakistan. The workshop participants agreed in principle on the methodology and framework for documenting such good practices for regional sharing and uptake in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region.

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In his welcome remarks, Basanta Shrestha, Director of Strategic Cooperation at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), emphasized the importance of technological innovations in disaster risk reduction and the need for timely communication of warning to at-risk communities. Shrestha also said that the regional workshop is an opportunity to learn from the experiences of country partners in deploying their flood early warning systems to save the lives, livelihoods, and property of the most flood-vulnerable communities – especially women, children, the elderly, the differently abled, and the poor.

Graham Murphy, Deputy Chief of Mission, Australian Embassy to Nepal, said that preventing hazards from turning into fatal disasters by providing early warning is a pressing need. Arun Bhakta Shrestha, Regional Programme Manager of ICIMOD’s River Basins and Cryosphere Programme, underlined the need to consider different gender aspects to understand how and why water-induced disasters affect women and men differently. Mandira Shrestha, Programme Coordinator of ICIMOD’s Hi-RISK Initiative, explained the importance of improving early warning communication. She highlighted the fact that flood early warning communication was found to be one of the weakest links during the response to the South Asian August 2017 floods, which affected 40 million people in the region and claimed around 1,200 lives across Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.

Over the next three days, 30 participants – representing hydromet agencies, disaster management authorities, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and practicing disaster risk reduction – participated in discussions on key strengths, weaknesses, and gaps associated with flood early warning communication in their respective countries. Country-wise group discussions were held to identify potential solutions to the key gaps and weaknesses already identified for each country under three domains: technical, institutional, and socio-cultural.

Mandira Shrestha shared key initial findings of the strategic assessment of flood early warning communication conducted in Nepal through participatory approaches such as key informant interviews and focus group discussions. This was followed by an active feedback session.

Paul Pilon, Chief of the Hydrological Forecasting and Water Resources Division at WMO, presented key findings of the WMO’s national assessment (prepared by the Commission for Hydrology (CHy) of the end-to-end flood early warning system (E2E FEWS) capability for flood forecasting through the community of practice approach. He suggested that the Hi-RISK Initiative should use CHy’s assessment guidelines to conduct its own strategic assessment of FEWS and document good practices in early warning communication for regional sharing. He also called on hydromet agencies and forecasting divisions in South Asia to make use of the South Asia Flash Flood Guidance System to develop their capability in generating and issuing flash flood forecasts and also to move toward impact-based flood forecasting, focusing on where and when the inundation is going to occur.

The Hi-RISK Initiative will be piloting impact-based flood forecasting in the coming years and sharing the results and technical expertise with the concerned hydromet agencies for uptake.

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