Invest more in predicting the future to be better prepared, say experts


Luis Burón B.

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction – Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean
Mapa de focos de contagio en América y el Caribe
Martín Sánchez

Investing more in technology is essential to better forecast the impact of environmental, technological and biological hazards and help prevent disasters, said regional experts.

More funding needs to be poured into technology projects which have a focus on areas such as climate change in order to help communities prepare for major events and reduce disaster risk, they said.

“Investments must be made in all sectors, but climate and natural resource information is essential”, said Víctor García Lemus, founding member of the Latin American and Caribbean University Network for Disaster Risk Reduction (REDULAC).

In order to get a better grasp of complex, multi-hazard scenarios, funding is needed to generate more geospatial information as well as social information related to food security and health systems, he said.

García Lemus is a member of the Regional Scientific and Technical Advisory Group (RSTAG), set up by United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean

Recently, technology has played a critical role in understanding the spread of the COVID-19 virus and helped governments and communities around the world take steps to reduce its impact. 

Several countries have applied satellite location systems to trace the efficiency of lockdown and social distancing measures. The New York Times’ interactive maps showed how the movement of people in China and the United States played a key role in the spread of the virus in those countries.

The Central American Integration System (SICA), for example, has launched its SICA COVID-19 Emergency Information and Coordination Platform. Organized through the Coordination Centre for Disaster Prevention in Central America and the Dominican Republic (CEPREDENAC), the platform draws on information from contagion databases and response strategies.

It shows available hospitals and isolation centers, as well as airports, sea and land ports. Using NASA data, it also incorporates weather forecasts and shows areas vulnerable to floods and landslides, helping create a key tool for decision making.

Science, technology and innovation plays a crucial role in the formulation of actions, strategies and public policies, said Raul Salazar, chief of UNDRR’s Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean. 

“Applied science must influence decision making and the development of evidence-based policies, clear mandates, strategic collaborations and the allocation of resources for data collection, management and updating”, said Salazar.

“Science and technology at the service of society ensures resilience”, he said.

The need to improve forecasting and preparation in order to reduce risk is a key component of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030). 

The Framework calls on academia, scientific and research entities and networks to focus on the disaster risk factors and scenarios, including emerging disaster risks, in the medium and long term; increase research for regional, national and local application; support action by local communities and authorities; and support the interface between policy and science for decision-making.

While data and technology are often used effectively in response to disasters, they need to be better incorporated into preventing damage and losses from events, said Allan Lavell, a member of RSTAG.

“We are confident that we can use probability models to project future losses and damages and produce hazard maps for different times and events”, said Lavell.

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