Low elevation coastal zones, i.e. coastal areas with elevations less than 10 meters above sea level, cover two percent of the world’s land area, but contains 10 percent of the world’s population and 13 percent of the world’s urban population (refer to Table 1, Annex 2). Asia has 13 percent of its population living in low elevation coastal zones, which constitute only three percent of its total land area. Eight of the top ten countries with largest population residing in low elevation coastal zones are in Asia (refer to Table 2, Annex 2). Most are with heavily populated delta regions, and are exposed to flood risks from rising tides, tropical storms, sea level rise, and combinations of high tides, large waves, storm surges and/or high river flows. The poor and low-income groups are the most vulnerable. Despite these risks, coastal settlements, in particular urban, continue to attract more people and are growing more rapidly than inland, putting more people at risk to coastal hazards.
Migration away from these zones is a wise prevention measure, but not practical due to economic considerations. Reconstruction after the 2004 tsunami demonstrated the re-building in the same areas that suffered heavy toll. Reducing risks through preparedness and mitigation, in addition to policies that support inland urban development, then become the more acceptable option.
Coastal risk reduction involves actions at local, national and regional levels. Communities should have capacity to assess their risks and vulnerabilities, a periodically practiced emergency operations plan, infrastructure to receive and disseminate warnings, secure critical facilities, sustainable management of coastal and marine natural resources to prevent creation of new risks, diversified livelihoods to reduce dependence on coastal resources and enable them to bounce back more quickly from a disaster, and awareness of their risks and risk reduction measures. National, sub-national and local institutions provide an enabling environment for these to happen: regulations, policies, institutional and financial mechanisms that support risk reduction, and a robust early warning system that reaches communities at-risk. Regional and global institutions assist in developing institutional capacities and in bringing the best of science for local application to reduce risks.
The tsunami of 2004 provided impetus for development of tsunami warning systems. For most countries in the region, however, tsunami is a very infrequent hazard, hence the imperative to develop a tsunami warning system within a multi-hazard framework. UNESCO/IOC recognizes that tsunami warning coordination and operation should be within a multi-hazard approach, to be cost effective and sustainable. By covering several types of hazards, in particular high frequency, but low impact hazards, multi-hazard warning systems will be activated more often than any single-hazard warning system, and therefore should provide better functionality and reliability for dangerous low frequency, but high impact events, such as tsunamis. Multi-hazard warning systems allow continuous interaction between warning information providers and users. Table 3, Annex 2 shows the common requirements of a tsunami and storm ready community and the possible entry points for integration.
Large swell waves resulting from monsoon winds in 2007, and storm surges associated with tropical cyclone Nargis in 2008, exposed institutional weaknesses at all levels in the generation, interpretation, translation, and communication of warning information, particularly for low-lying coastal zones prone to storm surges, large waves, and other coastal hazards, which this project seeks to address through specific capacity building initiatives.
Almost all of the countries in the Asian and African regions have the NMHSs as focal points for tsunami warning. NMHSs have the mandate for weather and related observations, forecasting, and issuing warning for marine-related hazards, including storm surges and large waves. Most NMHSs in the region are reasonably well-established, however, they have capacity gaps in relation to effective operations and in multi-hazard warning (refer to Table 4, Annex 2); adding tsunami warning, which is more demanding because of the very short lead time required, is a big challenge. It is therefore critical to build capacities of NMHSs and link them with the national disaster management community.
The WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones (beneficiary countries – Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand – are Members of this Panel), at its 33rd session (Dhaka, Bangladesh, February 2006), agreed that it is critical to ensure that the tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean is linked with the existing tropical cyclone early warning system and storm surge forecasting to maximize the benefits of these capabilities for saving of life and property in the coastal regions. A task force was established at its 35th session (Manama, Bahrain, May 2008) to implement the proposed multi-hazard early warning concept. In addition, the ESCAP/WMO Typhoon Committee, at its 40th session (Macao, China, November 2007), recommended the formulation of a conceptual framework consistent with Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems. These developments in the regional arrangements to reduce disaster risks by multi-hazard approach will be benefited substantially by the implementation of this project.
The WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones (PTC), at its 37th session (Phuket, Thailand, February 2010), noted the establishment of RIMES and its role in building capacity of its Member States for early warning of tsunami and other natural hazards. The relevant extract of the TCP report is as follows:
“In this connection, the Panel noted that a regional early warning facility for Indian Ocean and South-East Asia was established with funding from the ESCAP Tsunami Regional Trust Fund and DANIDA, at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) campus in Pathumthani, Thailand. The facility is to build capacity for national early warning systems and enhance community resilience, i.e., to provide regional tsunami watch, to offer research and development support to NMHSs, and to enhance the capability of national systems to respond to early warning information at national, local, and at-risk community levels in line with the Hyogo Framework of Action. On 30 April 2009, the facility was reformulated as the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES), an inter-governmental, international, non-profit organization, whose mandate is to provide regional tsunami watch and advisory services, and build capacity of its Member Countries for early warning of tsunami and other natural hazards. Maldives serves as the current Secretariat to RIMES, and the Programme Unit at AIT campus is responsible for day-today operation and management of the regional early warning facility. Some Members of the Panel received localized disaster risk information from RIMES.”
This project will address the following gaps:
1) An institutional system that allows regular interaction and dialogue among national warning information providers, such as the NMHS, disaster management organizations, and communities at-risk to keep the tsunami warning system active and communities alert. At present, interactions are mostly event response-based, hence disaster preparedness and response do not adequately meet the demands of situations created by emergencies. Table 3, Annex 2 shows that a minimum of twice a year meetings would be required for developing and sustaining tsunami- and storm-ready communities. At-risk community participation and feedback are essential in these meetings to ensure that warning reaches the last mile, is responded to, and is relevant to user needs.
Of the 26 countries participating in the RIMES-facilitated early warning system, Bangladesh and Philippines have this experience through demonstration projects in seasonal climate forecast application, supported by USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA); and Cambodia and Vietnam through demonstration projects in enhancing coastal community resilience to natural disasters, supported by DANIDA. For Bangladesh, the experience needs to be extended to tsunami warning. Table 5, Annex 2 lists these initiatives.
Support from the ESCAP Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness is being sought, through this project, for Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. These countries have poor and low-income groups in low elevation coastal zones that are vulnerable to inundation from high tides, large waves, storm surges, or high river flows (refer to Table 9, Annex 2), and were affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. They are members of the RIMES and expressed interest to participate in the project (refer to Annex 6).
2) Warning information products that are usable in decision-making, around which regular interaction between warning provider and communities at-risk would be centred, compared to the current event-based interaction. Development of these products need to consider user needs in terms of content, language, lead time, timing and channel of delivery. Table 6, Annex 2 shows the various institutions involved in the generation and delivery of tsunami and hydro-meteorological warning information.
Further, the project addresses capacity gaps identified in the pilot countries (refer to Table 4, Annex 2), which relate to the critical areas of downscaling to generate location-specific warning information, and in interpreting and translating such information to user-friendly formats for local level applications.
It is to be noted that the role of RIMES is to provide research and development support to fill gaps in the regional and /or national systems. It aims to complement WMO operational arrangements for the provision of weather and related forecasting products, by translating severe weather and related forecast research and development into improved operational forecast products and application by Member Countries. In collaboration with WMO’s Public Weather Services Programme, RIMES also facilitates a strengthened interface between operational forecasters and disaster managers, by enhancing the latter’s capability to utilize operational forecast products for making informed decisions for reducing disaster risks.
Within this project, WMO is expected to implement a severe weather and related forecasting system for the Bay of Bengal region, focused on extreme weather and related phenomena, including strong winds, heavy precipitation, large waves and storm surges. Within the framework of WMO scientific and technical programmes, the NMHSs in the Bay of Bengal region will benefit from the cascading concept of the forecasting process, which would help developing countries and LDCs to access and implement the most relevant global Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) and Ensemble Prediction Systems (EPS)-based products, including those for marine forecasting, from the WMO’s Global Data-Processing and Forecasting System (GDPFS), for improving warning services to end-users and generating specific and localized disaster risk information.
RIMES is also recognized by ICG/IOTWS, at its 5th session (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 2008), as a potential regional tsunami watch provider (RTWP) in its network of inter-operable system of RTWPs. RIMES is working towards full recognition as an operational RTWP and, in this regard, adheres to ICG/IOTWS standards and requirements, and ensures that activities complement and are coordinated with ICG/IOTWS. ICG/IOTWS, at its 7th Session (Banda Aceh, April 2010), requested RIMES to exchange tsunami early warning information with other RTWPs in the region.
The project will complement and build on ongoing efforts in the target countries, such as by UNESCO/IOC on developing tsunami standard operating procedures in Myanmar, and UNDP on establishment of Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs) and last-mile preparedness in small island communities in the Maldives. A simulation exercise through this project can test these, identify gaps and support critical actions needed to address gaps.
The RIMES Executive Board, in its meeting held in Bangkok (April 2010), evolved a Master Plan to be implemented in the next 5 years (2010-2014). Addressing coastal hazards in low elevation coastal zones has been adopted as one of the priority regional programs for RIMES Member States (Annex 11-RIMES Master Plan).
This project also addresses comprehensive risk assessments, education and public awareness, and local level pilot demonstration activities, which are among the key needs identified in the “Report on Regional Unmet Needs and Recommendations: Tsunami Early Warning Systems (TEWS) in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia”.
Importantly, this project addresses the TEWS within a multi-hazard framework to ensure long-term sustainability of TEWS, and community preparedness and response strategies.
Problem Analysis and Project Design
National stakeholder meetings were conducted in Maldives, Myanmar and Sri Lanka from June – September 2006, with support from the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), to clarify stakeholder roles in end-to-end multi-hazard warning, identify gaps in their warning dissemination systems, and recommend a set of actions for improvement, with an overall goal of improving community response to warnings. In Thailand, noting the need to build the National Disaster Warning Centre’s (NDWC) capacity, a training workshop was conducted in August 2006 on disaster risk communication, with particular focus on target warning recipients, warning content, inter-agency coordination and user feedback, to complement the Tsunami Alert Rapid Notification System (TARNS) initiative of the US Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (US-IOTWS) programme.
These stakeholder meetings brought together, in a dialogue, institutions involved in generating warning information for tsunami, large waves, storm surges and other natural hazards experienced in low elevation coastal areas, institutions that deliver these information to communities at-risk, institutions and organizations that utilize these information to assist during emergencies, and representatives from communities who were most affected by the December 2004 tsunami. For Maldives, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, the meetings were the first of its kind that involved a wide range of stakeholders, including community representatives. A key recommendation of these meetings is periodic stakeholders meetings to review system performance, receive user feedback, and identify problems and actions needed. Annex 3 provides the summary report of these meetings and training workshop, which includes the names of participating government and non-government organizations.
These meetings and training workshop also identified the following gaps, among others:
• Internal linkages between departments within and among stakeholder institutions;
• Information gaps from warning centres cause loss in media credibility;
• More accurate, area-specific, concise, clear/ not confusing user-friendly warnings;
• Information on anticipated duration of threat;
• Language of warning messages;
• Targeted warning in hazard-prone areas;
• Warning dissemination channels;
• Research and development capacity.
The project was then designed to meet the gaps identified above, with the following key components and elements:
1. Strengthening institutional capabilities at national and regional levels for end-to-end warning systems for tsunamis, storm surges, large waves and other natural hazards:
a. At least twice a year stakeholder forums to review system performance, receive user feedback, and identify problems and actions needed.
b. Local communities are capacitated to:
i. Receive warnings 24/7. Warning points are established in select communities and connected to warning institutions from national to local levels, and able to receive and disseminate warnings through effective communication pathways;
ii. Respond to emergencies. Emergency Operations Centres are established, trained and practiced.
c. At least twice a year visits by national warning centre officials to local communities to ensure functionality and effectiveness of the end-to-end warning systems.
2. Building institutional capacities for the application of warning information products in decision-making:
a. Training of users in the translation of these products for decision-making;
b. Demonstration of the transmission, translation and application of these warning information products in select low elevation coastal locations for risk reduction.
Targeted NMHSs in Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand endorsed the above project design and adopted this programme in their participation in the RIMES Executive Board meeting (April 2010) (Annex 6- Extract from RIMES Executive Board Meeting & Annex 11 - RIMES Master Plan).