Featured Organization: WMO

Disaster risk reduction – highest priority for WMO


The vast majority of disasters are linked to high-impact weather and hydrological events as well as climate extremes – including rapid-onset hazards such as tropical cyclones and slow-onset hazards such as droughts. Disaster risk reduction is, therefore, at the core of the mission of WMO and the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) of its 191 Member States and Territories (on 1 January 2016).

Originating from the International Meteorological Organization established in 1873, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)  became the specialized agency of the United Nations in 1951 for meteorology, operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences. It is the authoritative voice of the United Nations system on the state and behaviour of the Earth's atmosphere (weather), its interaction with the oceans, the climate it produces, and the resulting distribution of water resources.

WMO promotes international cooperation in the areas of weather, climate and the water cycle by coordinating the activities of the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs)  of its 191 Member states and territories (on 1 January 2015). It provides a unique mechanism for the timely exchange of data, information and products and fosters the improved understanding and development of meteorology and operational hydrology as well as the benefits from their applications.

WMO carries out its work through scientific and technical programmes.  These are designed to assist all Members to provide, and benefit from, meteorological and hydrological services and to address present and emerging problems. Within the framework of these programmes, NMHSs contribute substantially to the protection of life and property against natural hazards, to safeguarding the environment, and to enhancing the economic and social well-being in all sectors of society.

WMO is composed of the following constituent bodies: The World Meteorological Congress, the supreme body of the Organization, meets every four years. The Executive Council is responsible to Congress for the coordination of the WMO programmes and the utilization of its budgetary resources. Composed of 37 directors of NMHSs, it meets at least once a year to review the activities of the Organization. WMO has six Regional Associations whose task it is to coordinate meteorological, hydrological and related activities within their respective Regions (Africa; Asia; South America; North America, Central America and the Caribbean; South-West Pacific; and Europe). It also has eight Technical Commissions , composed of experts designated by Members, that study meteorological and hydrological operational systems, applications and research and establish methodologies and procedures for these. The Secretariat serves as the administrative, documentation and information centre of the Organization and provides support to the work of the above-mentioned bodies.

WMO and disaster risk reduction: Events of hydrometeorological origin trigger the large majority of disasters. Between 2005 and 2014 alone, 83% of disasters, 95% of the total affected population and 39% of deaths on record were linked to hydrometeorological hazards such as tropical cyclones, storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, cold waves and wildfires. For this reason, disaster risk reduction has always been one of the highest priorities of WMO. The cross-cutting WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Programme  established in 2003 aims to enhance the contributions of NMHSs to disaster risk reduction in a cost-effective, systematic, and sustainable manner by developing knowledge products, capacity development projects and multi-stakeholder cooperation in disaster risk and emergency management. The scope of the Programme encompasses strengthening the NMHSs’ technical and functional capacities to:

  1. provide hazard information for risk assessments, prevention, response, recovery, and risk transfer across sectors;
  2. support preparedness through early warning systems;
  3. respond to user requirements; and,
  4. cooperate and engage in disaster risk governance structures at all levels.

The Executive Council Working Group on Disaster Risk Reduction provides specific guidance to the Programme. Furthermore, Disaster Risk Reduction Focal Points in all WMO Regional Associations, Technical Commissions and other relevant programmes and projects ensure coordination with these bodies. In order to better respond to user needs, the implementation of the WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Programme is supported by so-called User-Interface Expert Advisory Groups (UI-EAGs)  on topics such as hazard and risk assessment, multi-hazard early warning systems, humanitarian assistance and disaster risk financing. Their members are representatives of NMHSs as well as other international intergovernmental organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector. At the WMO Secretariat, the Disaster Risk Reduction Services Division under the Weather and Disaster Risk Reduction Services Department manages the Programme.

WMO is now realigning its Disaster Risk Reduction Programme to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and produced and will regularly update a WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Roadmap. This long-term framework (including shorter term work plans) will guide WMO activities in support of all components of disaster risk management as well as their further enhancement and coordination across WMO constituent bodies, programmes and partners.

NMHSs, most of which operate 24/7 throughout the year, and WMO have an increasingly vast reservoir of scientific and technical expertise, data and tools that can be combined with local, regional and global knowledge to provide targeted services and products. These include detecting, monitoring, predicting and warning from a single authoritative source of a wide range of hydrometeorological hazards. In collaboration with other international, regional and national organizations, WMO also contributes to reducing the impacts of other hazards such as those associated with space weather, geophysical phenomena, forest fires and chemical and nuclear accidents (see for example the WMO Emergency Response Activities (ERA) Programme  and the support to the International Airways Volcano Watch (IAVW)). In addition to public safety, such events affect water and food supplies, the environment, transport, health and other socio-economic sectors. In this way, WMO has been supporting the implementation of a number of environmental conventions and providing guidance and assessments to governments on related matters.

Observing, detecting and monitoring hazards and related data management: Collecting and archiving quantitative information on the state of the Earth’s atmospheric system, the oceans, surface waters and aquifers and their interactions with land surfaces, ecosystems and human activities is the backbone for all other activities eventually contributing to disaster risk reduction. WMO ensures that observational and monitoring instruments for these activities are accurate and provide standardized data worldwide. This is vital if data generated in one place are to be usable elsewhere in the world.

  • The World Weather Watch (WWW)  Programme’s Data Management component ensures overall management of meteorological data and products of the WWW system, in particular the standardized representation of data and metadata, and coordinates the monitoring of data availability and quality. WMO also promotes Data Rescue projects and initiatives (DARE), i.e. securing data at risk of being lost due to deterioration or obsolescence of the storage media, natural hazards, theft or vicious destruction, and ensures that data can be easily accessed and used.

Seamless prediction from hours to decades – forecasts, outlooks and scenarios: Weather prediction has achieved immense progress, driven by research and advances in telecommunication, information technology and observational infrastructure. Predictive skill for day-to-day forecasting now extends in some cases beyond 10 days, with an increasing capability to give early warning of severe weather events many days ahead. For example, today’s five-day weather forecasts are as good as the two-day forecast of 20 years ago, and seasonal forecasts can now be provided for a season to a year ahead with a projection of impacts in various parts of the world (such as for the El Niño). In addition, ensemble methods now routinely provide essential information on the probability of specific events, a key input in numerous decision-making systems. Key activities include:

  • The WMO Global Data-Processing and Forecasting System (GDPFS)  is a network of three World Meteorological Centres (WMCs), 12 Global Producing Centres (GPCs) for Long-range Forecasts, about 40 Regional Centres, including Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres (RSMCs and Regional Climate Centres (RCCs) and National Meteorological Centres (NMCs), which process data and routinely provide countries with analyses and meteorological forecasts, and support early warning capacities of NMHSs.
  • The World Weather Research Programme (WWRP), working in partnership with other international initiatives, is ensuring the implementation of a research strategy towards seamless prediction of the Earth system from minutes to months. Three main projects will be the pillars of this strategy in the next 10 years: The Polar Prediction Project (PPP), the Sub-seasonal to Seasonal Prediction Initiative (S2S) and the High Impact Weather project (HIWeather).

Warning and communication: Improved skill in prediction only has value if understandable warnings are delivered in a timely manner to the people in harm’s way. WMO provides essential support to early warning systems through, for example:

  • The WMO Global Telecommunication System (GTS)  interconnects all NMHSs for the collection and distribution of meteorological and related data, forecasts and alerts, including tsunami and seismic-related information and warnings. WMO is building on its GTS to achieve an overarching WMO Information System (WIS)  that enables systematic access, retrieval, dissemination and exchange of data and information of all WMO and related international programmes. WIS also provides critical data to other national agencies and users from various sectors, including for disaster risk reduction and management.
  • The Common Alert Protocol (CAP) provides the international standard for emergency alerting and public warning for “all hazards” including hazards related to weather events, earthquakes, tsunami, volcanoes, public health, power outages and many other emergencies, and for “all-media” including communications media ranging from sirens to cell phones, faxes, radio, television and various digital communication networks based on the Internet. CAP is also an effective standard for getting public warnings across people online.

Providing hazard information for risk assessments, prevention, response, recovery and risk transfer across sectors: Hydrometeorological observations, model outputs and standards provided by the NMHSs enable the identification, analysis and evaluation of hazards in terms of their location, intensity, frequency, duration and probability and are a fundamental input to sound risk assessments. On the other hand, post-disaster loss and damage data serves as input for estimating future impacts and formulating impact-based forecasts and risk-informed warnings. Such data needs to be quality assured, temporally and geographically referenced with the hazard event, consistently catalogued, and properly archived. WMO, upon the request of its Congress in 2015, is therefore starting a project on standardizing weather, water, climate, space weather and other related environmental hazard and risk information and on developing identifiers for cataloguing weather, water and climate extreme events. Related activities include:

Hazard information provided by NMHSs also supports disaster prevention and mitigation. For example, it is needed to determine the design levels of flood protection measures or high-risk zones where settlement and economic activities should be prohibited. Such structural and non-structural measures can also be taken during or after an event to prevent secondary hazards or their consequences such as the contamination of the air or soil and water resources (see for example the involvement of WMO in the Associated Programme on Flood Management (APFM)  and the Integrated Drought Management Programme (IDMP)).

Meteorological, hydrological and climatological information is also essential for humanitarian work. The WMO Commission for Basic Systems (CBS), therefore, established a Task Team on the Provision of Operational Meteorological Assistance to Humanitarian Agencies, comprised of experts from a number of NMHSs, to consider this perspective within on-going projects. The Disaster Risk Reduction Programme is linking this work to humanitarian agencies, for example through engagement in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), with the goal of demonstrating the benefits of weather and climate services targeted at their needs and requirements.

Assisted by the User-Interface Expert Advisory Group for Disaster Risk Financing (UI-EAG DRF), the WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Programme is further facilitating the development of weather, water and climate services for risk financing, insurance and other financial risk transfer mechanisms in order to cope with residual risks.

Partnership and coordination: Working in partnership with stakeholders, such as international agencies, national and local governments, non-governmental organizations, academia, the private sector and the media, and engaging in networks and other collaborative efforts is essential for meeting the objectives of WMO. The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections of weather, water, climate and related environmental processes are increasingly challenging the scientific and financial capacities of NMHSs to improve the quality and delivery of information, products and services. No single government or agency has the necessary resources to address all these challenges on its own.

Since not all negative impacts of various hazards can be avoided, early warning systems are well recognized as a critical life-saving tool and present an example for successful coordination and partnership. They can be described as the activities, requiring specific capacities, which generate and disseminate timely, accurate, actionable and inclusive warning information. Such information enables individuals, communities and organizations to prepare for and respond to a hazard appropriately and in sufficient time, reducing the possibility of harm or loss. Effective people-centred and end-to-end early warning systems comprise four interrelated elements:

  1. assessment of the risks involved;
  2. detection, monitoring and forecasting the hazards and generation of warnings;
  3. dissemination of timely and actionable warning messages and communication of associated likelihood and impact information; and,
  4. activation of preparedness and response plans and capabilities.

These four components need to be coordinated across many agencies and stakeholders at national to local levels for the system to work. They should be underpinned by institutional, legal and regulatory frameworks such as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Failure in one component or lack of coordination across them could lead to the failure of the whole system. A shift is underway from hazard-specific early warning systems to multi-hazard early warning systems that provide common capacities to prepare for and respond to several hazards (including those occurring simultaneously or cumulatively over time) and their potential interrelated effects. As such, multi-hazard early warning systems increase the efficiency and the consistency of warnings. WMO is a key contributor to the proposed International Network for Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (IN-MHEWS) and is planning to co-organize, jointly with UNISDR, the International Conference on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (IC-MHEWS)  in December 2016.

In terms of disaster risk reduction, WMO maintains strong partnerships. WMO is committed to the implementation of the United Nations Plan of Action on Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience. In this regard, key United Nations partners include:

Other key international partner organizations include:

Examples for partnerships with academic institutions include:

WMO also engages in networks such as:

Finally, WMO is a key contributor to the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), for which disaster risk reduction is a high-priority area.

Capacity development: Capacity development, including training and education, is essential both for NMHSs’ staff on how they can support disaster risk management and for other stakeholders on hydrometeorological issues. The WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Programme works closely with the Education and Training (ETR) Programme  to implement such capacity development together with other programmes and partners, in line with the WMO Capacity Development Strategy and Implementation Plan.

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