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Early warning saves lives

16 June 2009Children lean on the balcony of a cyclone shelter© InfoImproved early warning systems and more effective preparation for disasters are vital to make better use of funds and prevent major loss of life, according to the World Disasters Report 2009.

Published by the Red Cross on 16 June, the report argues that better links need to be created between the countries and organisations with access to early warning information, such as satellite or meteorological reports, and vulnerable communities who need to act on that information.

From international to local level, co-ordinated systems should be established to disseminate vital information to those who need it, allowing people to take early action to safeguard their property and preserve their lives.

Preparing for disaster

In the case of a short-term warning of impending disaster, this will allow people to take early action, such as evacuating affected areas promptly, or simpler steps like storing food in higher places in the event of flooding.

If longer-term trends are identified, and these are properly communicated to people on the ground, communities will be able to take steps like building houses on stilts to mitigate flooding or carrying out earthquake drills.

Investing early in disaster preparation is also extremely cost-effective, the report says. Money spent prior to a disaster can save huge amounts of disaster recovery costs, as well as people’s lives. Evidence shows, for example, that $1 spent on prevention can save $4 on emergency response.

Investment in the future

Woman holding up a mega phone© Info“Early action is an investment in the future, and it is far more effective in the long run than waiting to respond to emergencies,” said Bekele Geleta, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in an introduction to the report.

“At a time of financial crisis around the world, and the ever-growing challenge of climate change, we must increase preventive activities as the most effective way of saving lives and livelihoods and preserving development gains,” said Bekele.

The report’s conclusions are supported by the British Red Cross’ experience in Bangladesh, the most vulnerable country in the world to tropical cyclones.  Evidence shows that you are 200 times more likely to die in a cyclone in a developing country.  Furthermore, cyclones in Bangladesh are impacting further inland over a greater geographic area, with increased frequency and severity, changes probably attributable to climate change.

However, effective early warning systems and measures to prepare for disasters have saved thousands of lives. A cyclone that ravaged the coastline of Bangladesh in 1970 killed 500,000 people. In 2007, Cyclone Sidr, which was a cyclone of comparable intensity, killed 3,000. This difference in the death toll is at least partly attributed to effective cyclone preparedness measures, such as those undertaken by the joint British Red Cross and Bangladesh Red Crescent programmes.

Find out more about how we prepare for disasters