Empowering Resilience: People in Need's Global Impact Through Early Warning Systems

Published: Dec 17, 2023 Reading time: 6 minutes
PIN x NCDM activities of EWS 1294 Sensor maintaining
© Photo: PIN Cambodia

An effective Early Warning System (EWS) is a pivotal adaptive measure in the ever-evolving landscape of climate change. Such a system employs integrated communication to empower communities to proactively prepare for and adeptly respond to a broad range of potentially devastating climate-related events. At People in Need, we have implemented EWS (and have implementation plans) in several countries.

Beyond immediate crisis management, a well-executed EWS offers multifaceted benefits to society and the environment. We are committed to an honourable mission: safeguarding the safety and well-being of communities, with a particular focus on those facing vulnerabilities to multiple disasters / extreme events.

Our dedication to protecting communities extends beyond immediate disaster response; it entails preparadness and adaptation measures, and post-disaster recovery strategies, notably providing livelihood opportunities. This dual-focused approach ensures holistic support for vulnerable communities, enabling them to build resilience and regain their footing after adversity strikes. Our work protects lives and assets and empowers individuals and communities to secure their futures and pursue sustainable livelihoods; thus, we contribute to long-term stability and prosperity.

Our team in PIN Cambodia has pioneered the early warning system in Southeast Asia since 2013. Its success has inspired countries like the Philippines and Laos PDR. EWS is gaining recognition as adaptable tools and is key to disaster risk reduction. In Cambodia, a lack of flood information and warnings often left families unprepared for floods, resulting in significant human and economic losses. In response, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) committed to strengthening its disaster management and flood resilience. Thus, the journey of EWS 1294 began in 2013, addressing the absence of any structured early warning system in Cambodia.

 Named after the mobile short code "1294," EWS 1294 was initiated as a voice-based and subscription-based mobile phone for early warning information and dissemination. It was piloted in three flood-prone villages in Pursat province. Over the past decade—supported by international partners and in close collaboration with the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM)—EWS 1294 has seen remarkable expansion across Cambodia. The system has covered the whole country and it had been rolled out in each province. It has evolved and diversified beyond Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to encompass radio broadcasting, public loudspeakers, and a public Telegram group. Soon, SMS broadcasting will serve as an additional platform to reach more people.

Over the years, EWS 1294 has matured into a life-saving system, offering real-time flood information to national and provincial authorities. This enables authorities to rapidly disseminate warning messages to at-risk communities concerning both climatic and societal hazards. Today, EWS 1294 is officially recognised and owned by the Royal Government of Cambodia as the national early warning system. 

The Philippines, situated at the confluence of major tectonic plates and a typhoon belt, ranks among the world's most disaster-prone countries. It faces a myriad of disaster risks, including floods, typhoons, landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes, and even droughts, rendering its population highly exposed and vulnerable to these multiple hazards. While the Philippine Government has developed robust disaster response mechanisms, opportunities remain to bolster disaster management capacities across the country's diverse regions. Our colleagues at People in Need in the Philippines have embarked on an ambitious initiative, targeting 52,000 direct users in the Mindanao region. By harnessing technological innovations, such as mobile and the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, and inspired by the success of the EWS 1294 model in Cambodia, we are tailoring a comprehensive solution to address the unique needs of the Philippines. 

This approach integrates solar-powered and mobile data-enabled water and flood gauges hosted in the cloud. These expedients promise fast, relevant, and context-specific flood warnings. Furthermore, there is a commitment to expand risk data collection to include critical parameters like rainfall, wind speed, gusts, and direction. These data will be facilitated by the incorporation of a fully customisable Automated Weather Station (AWS) into the system.

 The incorporation of a fully customizable Automated Weather Station (AWS) into the system, provided by PIN, will be seamlessly integrated into our own Early Warning System (EWS) dashboard, enhancing the accessibility and utility of the weather data for LGU partners. Furthermore, there were discussions and significant support from the regional PAGASA office in Mindanao to help us integrate data from our flood sensors and the AWS into the PAGASA national system dashboard in the near future.

This year, we embarked on a mission in Laos PDR, taking the flagship Early Warning Systems project to extend the lessons from Cambodia's experience. While Laos PDR has made strides in establishing early warning systems for hydro-meteorological hazards like floods, droughts, and landslides, the capacity to reach communities directly is still lacking. We are actively working to establish a robust partnership with the government of Laos PDR to strengthen the existing early warning system. With human-induced climate change causing more extreme weather conditions, the need for early warning systems is more crucial than ever.

We will expand our EWS operations to Ethiopia and Nepal through the Early Warnings for All initiative. This expansion aligns with the 2030 global agenda. It supports the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction provisions, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Sustainable Development Goals. Beyond existing early warning system projects focusing initially on floods, we are demonstrating our commitment to saving lives globally.

 In Zambia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, we seek to collaborate with governments to prevent wildfires—a significant challenge in both countries. In Zambia, the fire season begins in early July, lasting around 15 weeks, and has led to substantial tree cover losses due to fires. Similarly, Bosnia and Herzegovina faces increasing wildfires, particularly in the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton. Fighting wildfires poses numerous challenges, and we are set to implement the Forefront Initiative for Rapid Early Suppression (FIRES) project. It aims to pilot an ultra-early smoke detector system, integrate it with existing systems, and raise awareness among citizens about climate change through RapidPro and social media.

Early Warning Systems are indispensable for climate change adaptation, empowering communities to prepare for and respond to climate-related disasters, and beyond. Their multifaceted benefits encompass protecting lives and livelihoods, bolstering infrastructure resilience, promoting sustainable development, and contributing to economic stability. As climate change poses escalating threats, the role of these systems becomes ever more pivotal in securing our collective future. We recognise the paramount importance of timely, accurate, and accessible information in mitigating the risks posed by disasters and climate-related events. By harnessing the power of advanced technology and community engagement, we are dedicated to providing vulnerable populations with the critical information and resources needed to prepare for, respond to, and recover from potential threats. 

Our mission is to empower individuals and communities, ensuring they have the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions and take life-saving actions when faced with impending disasters. Through our dedication to early warning systems, we strive to create a safer, more resilient world for everyone. We are and will be part of advocating for the Early Warnings for ALL (EWS4All) initiative. As part of our commitment to the initiative, we are working to harness technological innovation and expand our reach, to safeguard more vulnerable communities worldwide. Through our dedication to this initiative, we aspire to provide life-saving early warning systems to those who need them most and ensure a safer, more resilient future for all.

Autor: Johanna Legarta, Communications Manager

Related articles