The science of extremes:
Warning systems work, but nations need more of them:
Since 1974, deaths from disasters havebeen on the decline,and early warning systems and
associated response systems are largely responsible, but “these gains are mainly a result of
growing scientific understanding and the use of modern information and communicationtechnologies.
considerable shortcomings and gaps remain, especially in developingcountries
, where basic capacities, equipment and resources are often not available.”
UN’s 2006 Global Survey of Early Warning Systems
An effective early warning system includes:
Generation of risk knowledge, including monitoring and forecasting
Surveillance and warning services
Dssemination and communication
Response capability(Basher, 2006)
Decision makers typically manage risks holistically, while scientific information is generallyderived using reductionist approaches.
This can create a disconnect between scientists and decision makers (Meinke et al, 2006).
An improved cyclone warning system helped save tens of thousands of Bangladeshi lives fromCyclone Sidr in 2007:
Cyclone Gorky in 1991, a category IV storm, killed
in Bangladesh. In 2007 CycloneSidr, also a category IV storm, killed only
Sidr was certainly powerful: 27 million people experienced losses from Sidr, and at least250,000 heads of lifestock died (Paul 2009).
Between 1991 and 2007, Bangadesh increased the number of working warning systemworkers and volunteers from 30,000 to more than 60,0000, and built thousands more storm
shelters. “Based on ?eld data, Paul (2009) reported that about 86% of all househ
surveyed were aware of the cyclone warning and evacuation orders prior to Sidr’s landfall.
Chowdhury et al. (1993), on the other hand, reported that in 1991 only about 60% of therespondents surveyed heard a warning in the coastal areas of Chakoria and Bashkhali. Both
areas were severely affected by Gorky.” (
Still “Despite the government’s sincere efforts, only about 40% coastal residents of Sidr
-affected areas complied with the evacuation orders. Apart from the shortage and inadequacyof shelters, there may be other reasons why thousands of individuals did not take refuge inpublic cyclone shelters. Studies need to be conducted to identify these reasons, and the