Early Warning Systems manage to decrease deaths resulting of climate change by three-fold during the last fifty years

Early warning systems: Egypt’s hope to adapt to climate change

Early Warning Systems manage to decrease deaths resulting of climate change by three-fold during the last fifty years.
Early Warning Systems manage to decrease deaths resulting of climate change by three-fold during the last fifty years.

In Hegaza, Kom Ombo town, Aswan (southern Egypt), farmer Mohamed Abdel-Fattah used the Early Climate Warning application for the first time, as empty boxes appeared for him in the application to fill with the type and date of his cultivated plants. Once he filled in the information and after one click, he received recommendations on irrigation methods, fertilisation, and ways to face climate change during the following days, in order for him to pre-adapt with these changes.

Mohamed (40-years-old) has been using the application since last year, which is part of Building Resilient Food Security Systems to Benefit Southern Egypt Region project, or what is known as the “Climate Change Project”; the application feeds Mohamed with the expected temperatures throughout the week, and recommendations to be followed according to the expected weather phenomena and according to the span and type of the plant he is cultivating.

In the event of high temperature, the application recommends sprinkle irrigation to preserve the buds from falling, whereas during the cold, it recommends stopping irrigation and providing the plant with certain percentages of fertiliser.

I no longer need an agricultural engineer to advise me on how to irrigate my crops”, said Mohamed.

Early Warning means taking adaptive action to climate changes using communication systems, helping rural communities prepare for dangerous weather events, thus saving lives, jobs, land and infrastructure, as well as planning and saving money.

early warning system

Climate Services State

Over the past 50 years, the World Meteorological Organisation’s State of Climate Services report, released in October 2020, monitored more than 11,000 disasters caused by weather, climate and water hazards, resulting in two million deaths and economic losses of 3.6 trillion USD. As the average number of deaths recorded for each disaster decreased by a third during this period, the number of disasters increased fivefold, whereas economic losses increased sevenfold.

This remarkable increase in extreme weather events and their violent impacts on vulnerable communities, made the focus on early warning systems an urgent need, especially considering that the report prepared by 16 agencies and international finance institutions found that one in three people did not have adequate access to early warning systems. It is alarming to see that nearly 108 million people sought help to deal with the dangers of storms, floods, droughts and fires in 2018, moreover, this number is set to increase by nearly 50% by 2030, at a cost of about $20 billion USD annually.

In Egypt, water resources, irrigation, agriculture and coastal protection sectors were the most vulnerable to climate change, according to Egypt’s report to the United Nations Convention in 2018. In parallel, there were several projects working on supporting Early Warning Systems to confront climate risks in these sectors.

Emad Abdullah, current director of the “Enhancing Resilient Food Security Systems”, said that the project helped farmers adapt to climate changes through several mechanisms, including creating an application feeding farmers with early warnings of expected weather phenomena, and the necessary recommendations to deal with them.

Abdullah was the Director of the Agricultural Regions Department of the first project, which started in 2013 and was funded by the Climate Regionalization Fund, the Ministry of Agriculture and the World Food Program, and continued until 2020. In the same year, the Embassy of the Netherlands decided to fund another project to complete it, and it is expected to continue until next year.

A team of scientific consultants from members of the Agricultural Research Centre provides the application with information; it can predict climate changes for up to five days, providing farmers with different recommendations according to the type of crop they are growing and the weather. In cases of drought, the application would recommend the so-called “protected irrigation”, that is, irrigation with small quantities of water to compensate for the lack of water loss and to moisturise the plant. During strong winds, it recommends stopping irrigation until the weather stabilises or the wind calms, while adhering to a specific rate of fertilisers. As for rain, it advises to stop irrigation and not fertilise; as with heavy rains, fertilisers will be washed away. A Partner associations’ work team has been trained to recommend the application through personal interviews, using some public radio stations in the village, or through mosques and churches”, Abdullah added.

The project targets Assiut, Sohag, Qena, Luxor and Aswan governorates; as Upper Egypt region is “fragile” in the face of climatic changes of rain, torrents, frost waves and drought to a greater degree than the rest of the country’s regions. Also there, farmers prefer traditional farming methods as they’re linked to their own traditions and customs inherited from their ancestors, according to Abdullah.

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Sustainable Agricultural Investments

In the same context, the Sustainable Agriculture Investments and Livelihoods Project “SAIL” in which the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture works with the International Fund for Agricultural Development “IFAD”, aiming at providing an early warning program for farmers to adapt to climate change. This project was launched in 2015 and shall run until 2023, according to Magdy Allam, the project’s Climate Change Program Coordinator.

In an interview with “Scientific American”, Allam said, “the early warning unit of the project provided training courses for farmers in the lands and in field schools, and trained 950 farmers in 30 villages during the first stage, targeting 7,500 people to receive messages alerting them to upcoming climate changes related to heat or humidity, drought, wind and dust storms, and provide them with irrigation and fertilisation recommendations.

As coastal areas in Egypt rank at the top of the list of places most affected by climate change, Egypt started in 2019 the Nile Delta Protection Project, which is scheduled to continue until 2025, with funding from the Green Climate Fund, amounting to 31 million USD to provide protection for a length of 69 km in low and critical coastal areas, in five governorates: Port Said, Damietta, Dakahlia, Kafr El-Sheikh, and Beheira; the Project is implemented by the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation in partnership with the United Nations Program.

This project contributes in protecting 17 million people from coastal flooding through installing 69 kilometres of low-cost dam system across the shores of the Nile Delta. It also includes the establishment of a system to monitor changes in sea levels and the impact of climate change on coastal erosion and beach stability.

Mohamed Hassan, Director of the Central Department for Research and Studies at the Egyptian Beaches Authority affiliated with the Ministry of Irrigation, and the current project leader, said that the work is taking place through three tracks: establishing water barriers from natural materials, integrated management of the Mediterranean coast from Rafah in the east to Salloum in the west, and the development of a gradual plan in the long term, to deal with climate changes and obtain accurate forecasts for rising sea levels. The project also aims to launch an Early Warning application for individuals and private sector usage.

And he continued – in an interview with “Scientific American”, “work is now underway to establish a national monitoring plan to be activated within two years, and the long-term goal is for the monitoring devices to cover about 1,100 km on the Mediterranean coast. These devices measure sea level in millimetres, as well as waves’ heights, and depending on these measurements, it is possible to create a highly accurate prediction system; it can expect accurately, for example, the occurrence of a 6 metres wave in Alexandria after 5 days, hence the state agencies can prepare after receiving an early warning”.

We have in Egypt from 10 to 15 devices to measure sea levels along the coast, but they measure in centimetres, so the new devices will be of high accuracy. Climate changes are getting more severe, the shape of the waves has begun to differ, and the periods when the waves are strongest have become different, so Early Warning helps us take action, not reaction. This early understanding enables us to plan and learn how to protect beaches, populations, and economic activities based on real data. For example, rising sea levels will lead to an overlap between fresh and saline water in agricultural lands and an increase in salinity rates, and we have to get ready for that. Egypt is one million square kilometres, and we live in only 5% of this area and 90% of it is in the cities of the Delta and the Nile Valley … Our whole life is linked to the delta which beaches are eroding”, he added.

Preparing for Natural Disasters

In addition to previous projects, the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and the General Meteorological Authority affiliated to the Ministry of Civil Aviation signed last January a protocol to implement projects that help prepare for natural disasters and climate changes, through “Artificial Intelligence” techniques to forecast weather conditions. Mahmoud Shaheen, Director of the Prediction and Analysis Centre at the Meteorological Authority said that, the protocol includes among its elements the launch of a user friendly electronic meteorological application to follow up on climatic changes, weather conditions, temperatures and weather phenomena expected in each governorate, and thus everyone becomes aware of the climatic developments that will occur in their geographical area via the weather alarm, benefiting workers from different sectors such as agriculture, tourism and others.

The protocol will create an easy system to feed information to those responsible for expected critical weather phenomena, such as heavy rain, strong winds and dust that can affect roads, and thus inform crisis rooms and relevant ministries. Also, an electronic system will be established to provide dated data related to climate changes and forecast, which will benefit those starting major projects, like for example, building factories will require knowledge of dated data and the prevailing wind direction throughout the year to prepare ventilation places and places to discharge pollutants away from the direction of residential areas”, said Mahmoud Shaheen to “Scientific American”.

Gaps in Meteorological Observation Networks

Establishing early warning systems in developing countries still faces great challenges. According to a report issued on December 28th by the Meteorological Organisation, there are gaps in meteorological monitoring networks in many developing countries, they need support being the basis for adapting to climate change and saving lives and livelihoods. Another report by the organisation, stated that about 70% of disasters in Africa are caused by extreme weather and climate phenomena, requiring increasing the investments in early warning systems to avoid disasters, and training workers to use these systems.

Globally, early warning systems are drawing more attention to protect the population from climate changes. In 2015, the Member States of the United Nations adopted the so-called “Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction”, one of its objectives was to reach a significant increase in early warning systems. The World Health Organisation launched a manual last September to assess the quality of early warning systems for climate change and infectious diseases, and said that the use of these systems can lead to an increase in the effectiveness of disease control by intervening at the beginning of the epidemic curve or before It occurs, rather than starting procedures late, and thus it becomes possible to improve the timing and effect of disease control.

Also, in December 2019, the United Nations launched the Alliance for Hydromet Development to bridge the capacity gap in early warning and climate information by 2030, aiming at enhancing the ability of developing countries to provide high-quality weather forecasts, early warning systems, hydrological and climate services. In 2018, the FAO launched the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS), facilitating remote sensing data which provides insights on water availability and phytosanitary health during agricultural seasons, and to give estimates about precipitation, through which the region and the country can be chosen to monitor the estimates.

In 2020, the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems Initiative (CREWS), stated that there has been a 21% increase in funding for early warning systems since 2019, by 66.16 million USD, and that more than 114 million people have been protected from droughts and sandstorms during this year thanks to these systems.

This story was originally published on Scientific American

Hadeer El-hadary
Hadeer El-hadary is a freelance Egyptian journalist. She’s written for Egyptian and Arab websites such as Scientific American, Vice Arabia, and Shorouk News. Her work focuses on the topics of environment, climate change, science, health and women’s rights. She’s won an award from the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate for an environmental story about converting date palm seeds into fuel and other products, and another award from Plan International organization and the Ministry of Social Solidarity for a story about discrimination against women in job interviews.
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