The Caribbean leads the way towards early warnings for all

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley
UNDRR/Antoine Tardy
Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley

6 February 2023: Bridgetown, Barbados.

“Disasters remind us that we are world citizens, whether we like it or not.”

The world’s first regional launch of the Early Warnings For All Initiative has taken place in Barbados led by Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, who spoke with conviction about the disasters faced by her region and by nations around the world.

“It is well and truly an honour for this country to launch the first regional Early Warnings Systems for All initiative.” Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley

In October 2022, when UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched The Executive Action Plan for the Early Warnings for All at COP27, he called on the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) to co-lead the initiative and implement it in collaboration with a wide range of global partners – with a timeline that would see universal coverage within five years. 

This plan calls for partnerships drawing together all sectors, at local, regional and international levels. 

Prime Minister Mottley pointed out that when disasters hit, they strike across national boundaries – and our preparations and responses need be united. 

“We speak this morning in Barbados, but we extend deepest sympathy on behalf of all of us to the people of Türkiye and Syria,” she said.


Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados

Mia Amor Mottley


“The greatest global challenge”

“It is only when we are united in partnership and we remove the divisions that have been foisted upon us by history, or by law, or whatever, that we can come together to fight what is the greatest global challenge ever since human civilisation began,” Ms. Mottley said.

“We have to change how we think and act in this world if these actions are going to make difference to the lives of so many,” she stated.

“Even when you provide the warnings, if you do not have partnerships, if you do not have the reinforcing community education, if you don’t have the plans that cause people to know that you are serious, the warnings will on deaf ears.”

Emphasis on the safety of people

Philip J. Pierre, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, noted that the region is especially prone to complex and cascading hazards.

“Hurricanes visit our shores regularly, causing extensive damage to infrastructure, and sometimes wiping out nearly the entire GDP of our countries in loss and damage within hours,” he said.

The 2017 hurricane season, with almost US$300 billion of damages, was the costliest season on record.

“Multi-hazard early-warning systems correctly place emphasis on the safety of people. Early warning systems not only save lives, but also provide vast economic benefits.”

Not a privilege, but a right

In a recorded video message, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed explained that the Secretary-General’s initiative to extend multi-hazard early warning systems to cover all people would require an investment of US$3.1 billion, but its benefits would be immense, saving countless lives and protecting economies.

“Every person in the Caribbean, in Small Island Developing States, and the world, must be protected by an effective, multi-hazard early warning system,” Ms Mohammed said.

“This is not a privilege, but a right that every person on earth should enjoy.”


Early Warnings For All for the Caribbean panel

Panel discussion with Gerard Howe, Mami Mizutori, Inger Andersen and Qu Dongyu, with Petteri Taalas and Shajunee Gumbs via video link, moderated by UN Resident Coordinator Didier Trebucq


Ensure that no-one is left behind

UN Resident Coordinator Didier Trebucq introduced the panel discussion including the heads of four UN agencies along with the chair of the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) Initiative and the Youth Ambassador of St. Kitts and Nevis.

He noted advances in his region’s preparedness for natural hazards, as well as some challenges.

“In the Caribbean, early warning systems have progressed, with roadmaps completed in seven of the CDEMA (the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency) participating states,” Mr Trebucq said.

However, gaps remain in building ‘last mile’ coverage, to ensure that no-one is left behind.

“This is at the core of the Early Warnings For All Initiative, which aims to ensure universal coverage within five years.”


Qu Dongyu, FAO Secretary General

Qu Dongyu


Food security for the least developed countries 

Mr. Qu Dongyu, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that FAO is working with UN partners to establish early warning systems to protect agri-food systems against hazards.  

“We’ve also established offices for the small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs), with special attention to the SIDS, who face challenges from the three Cs – climate crisis, Covid-19 and conflict,” he said.

Improving predictive capacity

Joining via video link, the Secretary-General of WMO, Prof Petteri Taalas, noted that early warning systems rely on our capacity to monitor and predict changes in the weather and climate, and that the science was making important gains.

“We have a dream to be able to go to a higher resolution of climate modelling in the future,” he said.

“At the moment we are not able to describe these weather extremes or the water cycle in an accurate way – our dream is to have the biggest possible supercomputer facilities to estimate what kind of risks we are going to face in the future.”


Inger Andersen, UNEP

Inger Andersen


We must protect nature, so that nature can protect us

Ms. Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), spoke of the importance of investing in resilience, using nature-based solutions, alongside investment in early warning systems.

“We from UNEP very much feel that the work of our colleagues at UNDRR, the work of our colleagues at WMO, is important; because getting early warning means that you can begin to prepare, means that in your investments you can create resilience,” she said.

“Working with nature is the way that we can protect ourselves. But as long as we ignore it, nature will send us invoices – in the form of storms, fires, floods, droughts.”

Actions must be owned by regional and national instructions

Ambassador Gerard Howe, chair of the CREWS Initiative, said that they are working with key regional partners on several important programmes including a strategic road map for enhancing multi hazard early warning systems, national-level flood strategies, and work on inclusion and capacity building.

“CREWS will continue to support initiatives and actions led and owned by regional and national institutions – because that is where the understanding of local context lies, it is where the political ownership lies, and it is where sustainability lies,” he said.


Ariel Kestens, IFRC

Ariel Kestens


Early warnings must trigger early actions to save lives

Ariel Kestens, Head of the Country Cluster Support Team for the Anglo Caribbean at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), also stressed the importance of local community engagement in developing and implementing early warning systems.

“Early warnings are only positive when they can turn into early actions which are able to save lives,” he argued.

“We in the IFRC strongly believe in building preparedness and capacities that are risk-informed and impact-based at local level,” Mr Kestens said.

“Having local actors who are anticipatory-ready is going to lead to safer communities.”

Inclusion means bringing the youth on board

Ms. Shajunee Gumbs, Youth Ambassador of St Kitts and Nevis, reminded the assembled leaders that the emerging generation needs a seat at the table.

“As a youth, I must say that the most important aspect is to ensure that we have the youth involved in dissemination and communication, and response capability,” she stated.

“We can aid with the creation of educational messages and campaigns to ensure that they are more appealing to persons who are similar to us, and then we can aid in the dissemination of warnings.”


Mami Mizutori, UNDRR

Mami Mizutori


Political will is the key to success

UNDRR Head Mami Mizutori said that the launch marks “a critical first step toward coalescing the national, regional, and global cooperation needed to ensure everyone on Earth, especially the most vulnerable populations, are protected by multi-hazard early warning systems.”

In order to make real progress, the initiative needs to be taken up by leaders at all levels.

“Most important is the political will at the national and community level. We have seen it today demonstrated by the Prime Ministers of Barbados and Saint Lucia, and from the Secretary General of CARICOM,” Ms Mizutori said.

“We need to see this replicated throughout the whole region.”


All photos: UNDRR/Antoine Tardy

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Themes Early warning
Country and region Barbados
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