Climate Change: Countries across the Asia-Pacific region must take urgent action and significantly boost investments in disaster warning systems and innovative tools to combat the escalating threats posed by climate change, according to a recent United Nations report.
Released by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the report highlights the need for nearly $145 billion in funding to establish robust systems capable of minimizing casualties and damages caused by floods, earthquakes, droughts, and other disasters.
To bolster preparedness and response capabilities, the report emphasizes leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, satellites, and remote sensing. These advanced tools play a vital role in accurate forecasting, prompt public notifications during emergencies, and delivering essential services. However, the report underscores the importance of fortifying telecommunications infrastructure to ensure that vital information reaches vulnerable communities effectively.
Disturbingly, most countries have allocated less than 10% of the required budget, leaving a significant gap in disaster readiness. For instance, half of the countries lack early warning systems, and even fewer possess systems that are fully integrated into emergency planning, despite the U.N.’s ambitious target to provide every individual on Earth with such protection by 2027.
As a testament to the life-saving potential of early warning systems, countries like India and Bangladesh, susceptible to catastrophic tropical storms, have witnessed dramatic reductions in casualties and property damage. Swift warnings have allowed people ample time to evacuate and safeguard their assets, underscoring the pivotal role played by disaster preparedness.
Harnessing data from multiple sources, including historical disasters, social media platforms, sensors, and satellite imagery, artificial intelligence emerges as a powerful tool to alert communities about imminent threats. The ESCAP report also highlights its ability to offer crucial information on evacuation routes, secure shelters, and available resources.
Countries without adequate early warning coverage face an alarming eight-fold higher disaster mortality rate compared to those with established systems. The United Nations estimates that, without proactive measures, the Asia-Pacific region will suffer annual losses of approximately $1 trillion, amounting to 3.1% of the regional GDP.
In 2022 alone, the Pacific region endured 140 major natural disasters, claiming 7,300 lives, and impacting 62 million individuals, resulting in $57.3 billion in losses. However, the report warns that the region faces heightened risks as climate change intensifies floods, droughts, hazardous heatwaves, and other extreme weather events.
The UN report advocates adopting a multifaceted approach, emphasizing the mitigation of climate change impacts. This includes initiatives like mangrove planting to combat coastal erosion and flooding, the restoration of natural flood plains and wetlands, and diversifying crops to aid farmers in adapting to shifting environmental conditions.
The urgency to protect lives and facilitate adaptation has surged with the growing frequency of extreme weather occurrences, from powerful tropical storms to unprecedented heatwaves affecting diverse parts of the globe.
In terms of potential economic losses due to rising global temperatures, China, India, and Japan face the highest absolute monetary risks. However, smaller and economically challenged nations, particularly Pacific island countries like Vanuatu, Tonga, Palau, and Micronesia, face the most severe impacts on their economies.
Additionally, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Laos are expected to endure significant proportionate losses, comprising 7%-13% of their respective GDPs.
As the Asia-Pacific region grapples with mounting climate change risks, concerted efforts and increased investments in disaster warning systems and climate mitigation strategies are imperative to safeguard lives, protect economies, and foster resilience against an increasingly uncertain future.