GENEVA (AP) — The chief of the United Nations announced a project Wednesday to put every person on Earth in range of early weather-warning systems within five years as natural disasters have grown more powerful and frequent due to climate change.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the project with the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization aims to make the alert systems already used by many rich countries available to the developing world.
“Today, one-third of the world’s people, mainly in least-developed countries and small island developing states, are still not covered by early warning systems,” Guterres said. “In Africa, it is even worse: 60% of people lack coverage.”
“This is unacceptable, particularly with climate impacts sure to get even worse,” he said. “We must boost the power of prediction for everyone and build their capacity to act.”
Early warning systems allow for the monitoring of real-time atmospheric conditions at sea and on land as a way of predicting upcoming weather events — whether in cities, rural areas, mountain or coastal regions, and arid or polar locations.
Expanding their use has taken on urgency because more lead time allows people to prepare for potentially deadly disasters such as heat waves, forest fires, flooding and tropical storms that can result from climate change.
A World Meteorological Organization report on disaster statistics released last year showed that over the last half-century or so, a climate or water-related disaster has occurred daily on average, resulting in an average of 115 deaths and $202 million in losses a day.
The U.N., its partners and many governments are striving to reach an increasingly evasive target of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
Guterres has instructed WMO, the U.N. weather agency, to push forward an “action plan” on the early warning system by the next U.N. climate conference, which is scheduled to take place in Egypt in November.
WMO plans to build on some of its existing programs like a multi-hazard alert system for hazards such as tropical cyclones, flooding and coastal inundation, as well as an early warning system that helps inform people most at risk of some kinds of disasters, the U.N. said.
Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based think tank, said it was “great” that people in Africa would be getting protection from an early warning system but that the work shouldn’t stop there.
“The early warning systems are vital in saving lives, but we must not stop at just preventing deaths,” Adow said. “If people survive a climate disaster but then are left to fend for themselves with their homes and livelihoods destroyed, it’s a meager blessing.”
“The global community needs to ensure the victims of climate catastrophes are helped to thrive, not just survive,” he added.
Follow AP’s coverage of climate issues at https://apnews.com/hub/climate