Call for early warning system as Asia faces threat of emerging disaster hotspots

There are calls for a regional disaster resilience plan for Asia, including an early warning system, amid fears of the rising threat of natural catastrophes.

In a new report the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) warns that the Asia-Pacific region has a narrow window to increase its resilience and protect its hard-won development gains from the socioeconomic impacts of climate change. It added in the absence of immediate action, temperature rises of 1.5°C and 2°C will cause disaster risk to outpace resilience “beyond the limits of feasible adaptation and imperil sustainable development”.

ESCAP added climate change-induced disasters pose an increasingly serious threat to the Asia-Pacific region and climate disaster-related losses are already enormous. In 2022, over 140 disasters struck the region, leading to over 7,500 deaths, affecting over 64 million people and causing economic damage estimated at US$57 billion.

“However, the consequences of inaction are greater,” it added. “The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2023 projects disaster-related deaths and economic impacts to amount to annual losses nearing $1 trillion or 3 per cent of regional GDP under a scenario of 2°C warming.”

“As temperatures continue to rise, new disaster hotspots are emerging, and existing ones are intensifying. A disaster emergency is underway, and we must fundamentally transform our approach to building resilience,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations under-secretary-general and executive secretary of ESCAP.

Increased investments in multi-hazard early warning systems as well as expanding coverage, particularly in least developed countries, is essential in reducing fatalities the report added. Early warning systems can also decrease disaster losses by up to 60 per cent, offering a remarkable tenfold return on investment.

“We are at a critical juncture in our efforts to achieve sustainable development. Climate-induced disasters and other disasters affect countries and communities. Tackling this global threat requires concerted efforts to speed up transformative actions across all sectors,” underscored H.E. Police Lieutenant General Nadhapit Snidvongs, vice minister of Interior, Thailand.

The proposed regional strategy builds on the global Executive Action Plan on Early Warnings for All, 2023–2027, launched by the UN Secretary General last year and aims to foster transboundary synergies between countries in Asia and the Pacific, the world’s most disaster-prone region.

Alisjahbana  said: “Nowhere is the escalating threat of climate change-induced disasters greater than in Asia and the Pacific. Over the past decades, floods, tropical cyclones, heatwaves, droughts and earthquakes have become more frequent and intense.

“They have brought a tragic loss of life, displaced communities, damaged people’s health and pushed millions into poverty. The number of persons exposed to potential disasters is high and forecast to increase as new hotspots emerge and existing ones intensify.

“In the absence of immediate action, disaster risk could soon outstrip the limits of feasible adaptation. The region has a narrow window of opportunity to increase resilience. The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2023 aims to help the region seize this moment.”

“Strengthening early warning systems carries the potential to significantly reduce the impact of disasters and related losses,” she continued. “It must be prioritised, alongside sector-specific early warning systems, to shield key industries such as agriculture and energy from climate shocks.”

“ Now is the moment to work together, and through regional cooperation, to build on innovation and scientific breakthroughs that accelerate transformative adaptation across the region. Only together can we protect the human, economic and environmental developmental gains necessary to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Only together can we implement a regional strategy to support Early Warnings for All, aligned with global and country-level initiatives and resting on well-established regional cooperation mechanisms.

“Only together can we unlock the financing necessary to enhance preventative and anticipatory actions.”