Under an ongoing collaboration between the GEF, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and NGO People in Need, Cambodia’s push for nation-wide disaster preparedness has been boosted with the installation of new water-level stations and engagement with communities in the flood-prone coastal provinces of Koh Kong and Sihanoukville.
With finance from the GEF-Least Developed Countries Fund, the UNDP-supported project ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’ aims to increase Cambodia’s institutional capacity to assimilate and forecast weather, hydrological and climate information. The country’s geographical exposure and the lack of adaptive capacity make it vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. With over 80% of the population depending on subsistence farming, rural populations are particularly exposed. In 2013, floods affected 1.7 million people, with an estimated loss of US$ 356 million. In 2016, floods affected 2.5 million people.
“Linking technology and a community-based approach are key to an effective disaster early warning system,” said UNDP Early Warning Systems Project Manager Muhibuddin Usamah. “We’re pleased to engage with People in Need for their experience in working closely with and empowering communities, and for their practical approach to innovation. The simple water-level sensors they developed are low-cost and easily installed, yet they do the job well.”
According to the Global Climate Risk Index for 1996–2015, Cambodia ranked 13 of 181 countries worldwide in terms of in terms of fatalities and economic losses from extreme weather events (including storms, floods and heatwaves). In August, the National Committee for Disaster Management (NDCM) reported that 30 people had been killed by flooding caused by heavy rainfall and a swelling Mekong River. In 2017, weather-related disasters killed 103 people, injuring 120. In June, a report found that if the global rise in temperatures is kept below 2°C by 2100, and Cambodia maintains current levels of investment in climate change adaptation, climate change will reduce Cambodia’s GDP by 9.8 percent in 2050.
Key to adaptation and preparedness is the capacity to monitor climate and environmental data on a real-time basis, detect trends and make reliable predictions. Yet Cambodia faces several challenges, including nation-wide coverage in weather and hydrological stations. Helping the Government of Cambodia fill the gaps is a core objective of the project Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems.
Data from four new water-level sensors, two in each province of Koh Kong and Sihanoukville, is being collected and made publicly available online. It will be integrated with data from the 24 automatic weather stations and 29 automatic hydro stations installed by UNDP Cambodia with support from the GEF Least Developed Countries Fund.
Taken all together, the data will be used by the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology for providing real-time climate information across the country, but also climate-related modelling and establishing thresholds for determining extreme events. In turn, the information will be used for improved early warning of disasters, ever more important in the context of global climate change and adaptation in Cambodia.
In addition to installing additional water-level sensors, the partnership between UNDP and People in Need focuses on enhancing bottom-up decision-making when it comes to disaster management.
Since initiation of the partnership in September, four local-level disaster management committees have been established by UNDP and People in Need. Linked to district-level disaster management committees, they play a significant role in early warning decision-making, for example in developing contingency plans for disasters.
Earlier this month, UNDP and People in Need conducted trainings with the Commune Committees for Disaster Management in Sammeakki (Prey Nob district) and Ou Bak Roteh (Kampong Seila district). During the trainings the committees, composed of women and men and including village chiefs, identified hazards that their community face and the specific areas prone to greater impact. They also discussed vulnerability factors and especially vulnerable groups (such as people with disability and single-headed households), and the capacity and resources available and required, should a disaster occur. Such assessments are crucial for communities as well as policy and decision-makers to understand and respond to risk.
Together the organisations also visited schools to raise awareness of the EWS1294 tool for the delivery of flood early warning messages. The EWS1294 system, developed by People in Need in 2013, delivers messages directly to the mobile phones of at-risk people in 15 provinces across the country, including Koh Kong and Sihanoukville, recently added to the system in partnership with UNDP.
The system provides the National and Provincial Committees for Disaster Management with the ability to send voice-based alerts in the event of a disaster or extreme events. Individuals can subscribe for the free service by simply dialing 1294 and following the prompts to register their province, district and commune.
“With People in Need, we’re focused on innovation in early warning systems,” said Usamah. “In the coming year, we’ll continue to work together to improve Cambodia’s existing system, leveraging and linking technology and placing communities at the centre.”
This story was originally published by UNDP.