UN develops innovative early warning tool for drought prone Asia-Pacific regions

Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction, Third Session

Senior officials from governments across the Asia-Pacific region today agreed on a set of collective priorities and ground-breaking initiatives that will build resilience to natural disasters and further enhance regional cooperation, at a meeting convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok.

Faced with the continued, severe impact of natural disasters across the region, representatives at the Third Session of the Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction called on ESCAP to facilitate regional cooperation aimed at harnessing technological advances for resilient, inclusive and sustainable development.

In line with this, ESCAP's long-standing Regional Space Applications Programme for Sustainable Development (RESAP) announced the development and operationalization of a new regional mechanism on drought. With this mechanism, the monitoring and early warning capabilities of drought-prone countries will be significantly strengthened through the effective use of space-based information provided by service nodes in the region.

Every year in the Asia-Pacific region, droughts push millions of farmers into debt and deepen poverty and hunger but this new regional mechanism is capable of issuing early warnings before the drought is visible to the human eye. Its satellite sensors will detect warning soil and water conditions before the worst of the droughts take hold, so that early action can be taken.

Initially supported by Chinese and Indian space agencies, the regional drought mechanism will provide monitoring and early warning services and capacity building for drought-prone countries in the region. Mongolia is already piloting the mechanism, and Cambodia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka are expected to join soon as pilot counties.

“The commitment shown by member States to mainstream disaster risk reduction into their sustainable development plans is encouraging, and raises the hope that the Asia-Pacific region will emerge as a global role model in this regard,” said ESCAP’s Director of Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division, Ms. Shamika Sirimanne. “And there is significant momentum towards greater coherence of efforts in disaster risk reduction across the region.”

H.E. Ms. Fathimath Thasneem, Deputy Minister, National Disaster Management Centre, Government of the Republic of the Maldives, and Chair of the Committee Meeting added: “Faced with the major challenge of strengthening resilience to natural disasters, ESCAP member states have come together to reinforce how they work together in the region, launch new initiatives and set out an ambitious collective agenda for the years ahead.

"This has been a most timely and successful meeting, that has benefitted from ESCAP’s unique role in bringing together officials from ministries of planning and finance with disaster managers in order to mainstream disaster risk reduction.”

Echoing this, a clear message to emerge from the meeting was that governments need to place resilience on the core agenda of planning and finance ministries, to ensure that disaster risk reduction does not take place in isolation. Instead it should be brought together with climate change adaptation and sustainable development into a ‘resilience framework’ with clear performance metrics.

To this end, the senior officials asked ESCAP to develop a set of measurable ‘resilience indicators’ that will inform policymakers of their country’s preparedness level. They also requested ESCAP’s support in strengthening disaster-related statistics and improving damage and loss assessments and datasets.

Organized with the active participation of a range of United Nations actors involved in disaster risk reduction, the outcomes will be tabled at the ESCAP Commission Session in May 2014. They will also inform discussions at other forthcoming high-level events, including the 6th Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference in June 2014 and the 3rd United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March 2015.