Skip to main content

Five approaches to build functional early warning systems

Throughout the years, the various United Nations agencies, funds, and programmes have played an important role in promoting and developing a culture of preparedness and prevention. The UN has underlined the value of prevention strategies on multiple occasions, not only by encouragement, but also through a number of projects, conferences, and platforms. As climate change and its consequences are becoming ever more evident, the private and public sectors are now counting on the assistance of academia and international organisations to support prevention strategies and build a more resilient society.

Early warning is a major component of prevention and, thanks to the Sendai Framework for Action 2015-2030, it has gained a prominent place in the agenda of the international community. This has led, in the past few years, to a growing number of projects aiming at implementation or upgrades of regional, national, and local EWS. However, there are frequently difficulties related to the implementation of EWS that span a wide range of sectors, actors, and processes, and that involve various levels of infrastructure and technology. For these reasons, and given that each country/community context is different, it is not usually possible to provide standardised solutions or recommend standard means of implementation. However, as highlighted in this publication, it is possible to bring some of these important lessons and best practices to bear when designing projects to strengthen EWS.

Through a preliminary analysis which supported this publication, qualitative interviews with disaster risk reduction experts from UNDP country offices in the region, as well as through desk research, some of the main challenges in the field of early warning have emerged.

This publication has highlighted innovative approaches to tackle these challenges through solutions focused on:

  1. Institutions, regulations, and capacity development
  2. Technological solutions
  3. Community outreach and community-based solutions
  4. Private sector engagement
  5. International Co-operation and Data-sharing

These solutions have been found to be applicable to most of the broad challenges in the regions discussed (SouthEast Europe, South Caucasus, Central Asia). The first three intervention areas of this publication describe how to specifically build the elements necessary for EWS: developing institutional capacity; upgrading technological infrastructure for better monitoring, forecasting, and dissemination; and building community-based solutions which engage the population and reach out to it through innovative communication strategies.

The last two areas of intervention are cross-cutting approaches that help improve the performance of EWS throughout all their components: i) engaging the private sector in the early warning process, and ii) cooperating internationally to raise funds, reduce costs, share knowledge, develop institutional capacity, and make solutions more sustainable.

The aforementioned solutions and examples underscore the fact that setting up an early warning system is a long and complex process that requires attention to each segment of its function; an EWS is only as effective as its weakest component. Recognising EWS complexity, this publication can be used in two ways: Firstly, to understand which necessary components are to be implemented and which cross-over elements should be present for the system to work. Secondly, to identify strategies addressing specific challenges that have proven to work successfully elsewhere. This strategy reflects the ethos behind this publication, which is built on a challenge-solution approach, whereby for each challenge it is possible to identify different solutions. Although the publication does not cover all possible challenges and solutions, it allows the reader to identify quickly areas which have not been considered in the design of an early warning system; to be inspired on how to upgrade an early warning system by acting within a specific area of intervention; and to find answers to challenges and problems encountered in the implementation of such systems.


Resource Type

  • Manual