Our Time to Zero In series makes the case for an inclusive transition to net zero that focuses on people, fairness, technology, markets and communities.
By Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone
Over the past decades, residents of Freetown in Sierra Leone have witnessed first-hand the devasting impacts of climate change. Floods, rising sea levels, mudslides, landslides and more have caused irreplaceable loss and destruction, getting worse with every passing year.
Sierra Leone has not been a major contributor to climate change, and yet its people are bearing some of its worst impacts. It is my ambition that the people of Freetown, and people in climate-vulnerable cities across the world, are able to build rich and productive lives and livelihoods despite the changing climate.
In Freetown, we are using tried-and-tested methods, and developing new innovations that leverage 21st-century technological advances, to help the people of our city fundamentally transform our ability to adapt to climate change.
Data collected from satellite imagery has been instrumental in deploying early-warning systems to help prepare for adverse weather events; mobile phones have been crucial to disseminating timely information to people; and weather predictions and forecasts in combination with cash transfers have enabled Sierra Leone to establish its first shock-responsive social safety-net programme to increase financial resiliency in the wake of disasters and crises.
While technology is a game-changer, we have only tapped the tip of the iceberg.
To truly leverage the power of technology, we need a deeper understanding of what technologies can be used and when; we need access to the right type of technologies at the right time; and we need clear strategies to increase financial support, so we can fully leverage what technology has to offer.
This roadmap shows how new partnerships and ways of thinking are needed, and it elevates the importance of technology in upending the traditional reactive manner of waiting for a disaster to unfold before action can be taken. Most importantly, the roadmap provided offers the guidance and tools needed for a city such as Freetown to transition to smart approaches and policies that fully use the technological advances of the past decade to save lives and livelihoods.
By Andrew Zolli, Chief Impact Officer, Planet
One scarcely needs to be a scientist to understand that our time is one of existential, linked, planetary-scale emergencies. Humanity’s unsustainable consumption and exploitation of the Earth’s resources is pushing many of the systems on which all life depends – including our own – perilously close to breaking point.
The evidence is all around us. We have less than a decade to avoid locking in the worst effects of climate change – the very same decade in which another billion people are due to swell humanity’s ranks.
But while the 21st century has brought with it seemingly unsurmountable challenges, it has also equipped us with unprecedented tools and resources to address them head-on. Our challenge is to align the tools to these challenges, as quickly as possible.
To ensure our progress, we’re also going to need a monitoring system that can show us this progress – or lack thereof – in real time.
Here, many technologies – but especially a new generation of Earth-observing satellites – can play an important part. These satellites now capture change on the entire Earth every day, in high resolution, providing an independent source of truth and transparency that enables new modes of action and accountability. When analysed using the tools of artificial intelligence, the data these satellites produce can illuminate climate, conservation, and humanitarian risks and realities as never before, and inform a new generation of sustainable-management practices, innovative policy mechanisms and financial instruments to address them. The result should be more agile and anticipatory policies, designed to blunt the impacts of the sharpest shocks and disruptions, particularly for the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens.
To achieve this outcome, however, we must ensure the widest access to the tools, technologies and data and, especially, the skills to use them. Vulnerability to climate shocks and disruptions is now ever-more strongly correlated with the capacity to use these tools at the most local level. It is not enough to have them tied up in well-resourced international institutions – every government needs their own facility equipped with these tools.
This roadmap is crucial in providing governments, companies and other stakeholders with the steps needed to make this transition, and to help governments leverage technology to save lives and livelihoods in the wake of a changing climate.
By 2030, climate crises will push more than 130 million people into poverty, doubling the current figure of those requiring emergency aid to 200 million a year. The cost of adapting to the impacts of climate change will be $140–$300 billion per year by 2030 and $280–$500 billion per year by 2050. By 2050, climate shocks are expected to displace 1.2 billion people, with already vulnerable regions including sub-Saharan Africa especially affected. Inevitably, it will be low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that will bear the brunt of this displacement and loss since they are disproportionately burdened by climate change, with pronounced vulnerability to ecological threats. Despite this, LMICs have received minimal funding for climate adaptation to date.Technology, however, could play a critical and cost-effective role in climate adaptation with early-warning systems an essential tool in predicting climate disasters of the future. Advances in this early-warning technology – from remote sensing to Earth observation to big-data techniques – could enable governments to better anticipate climate disasters, preparing for and mitigating their effects. The World Meteorological Organisation, for example, estimates that improvements in this technology could save $66 billion in loss and damages each year.Our roadmap for LMICs therefore calls on governments to provide, at minimum, a 24-hour advance warning of a climate shock to vulnerable communities while setting out the steps that governments can follow to determine which technologies they should prioritise. It also shows how they can strengthen their ability to access, finance and put into operation the technology for early-warning and climate-informed action. Specifically, the roadmap identifies the following eight steps for governments to follow:
Conduct comprehensive assessments of existing disaster risk-management (DRM) systems and governance frameworks, and identify data gaps.
Evaluate and determine, using tools developed through this work, the technologies to prioritise based on data needs and existing DRM systems.
Elevate DRM to the remit of key decision-makers within government.
Legislate a national DRM strategy, and related legal and regulatory frameworks that include private-sector guidelines, while developing standards in product development.
Leverage available expertise and tools that enhance technical and financing capabilities.
Gradually implement integrated, scalable and modular tech infrastructure.
Facilitate data collection and sharing by setting standards, leading data-sharing agreements and using data-driven technologies.
Invest in technical capabilities such as monitoring and forecasting, and the skills needed to interpret and act on early-warning data.
These steps will pave the way for the integration and coordination of preparedness and response efforts, which are currently fragmented. They will also encourage national ownership of tech-led solutions, which is vital to strengthening early warning and early action while ensuring such efforts are demand-driven. Using this roadmap to adopt and scale these technologies will also enable governments to use core technologies for additional services essential to governments in the 21st century, including supporting remote access to education and health care.As LMIC governments do not operate in a vacuum, we also offer a similar roadmap for donors and international organisations that encourages: investment in risk-informed early action; prioritising the creation of a streamlined and coherent tech-centred disaster risk-management system that integrates the multitude of existing systems; and financing disaster response with more certainty through a set of standard operating procedures and pre-negotiated triggers.This roadmap, the opening piece in our climate disasters and tech series, is accompanied by an additional three policy papers that examine in greater detail how governments can use, access and finance tech-led approaches.
It can be politically challenging for any policymaker or government to prioritise funding for a disaster that has yet to happen. However, as we have experienced with Covid-19, it is essential for governments to track potential crises, have the right tools and frameworks in place to manage those risks, and have the necessary infrastructure and capacity available to respond effectively when disaster does strike.
Climate change is already having a significant impact on countries and populations across the world, and climate-linked disasters place the greatest burden on populations in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Disasters triggered by natural hazards occur five times more often than 40 years ago, having affected 1.7 billion people around the world over the past decade alone while causing $137 billion in economic loss each year. By 2030, climate change threatens to push more than 130 million people into poverty and could mean 200 million people a year – twice as many as today – need humanitarian assistance as a result. By 2050, climate-related crises could displace 1.2 billion people. Both LMIC governments and the wider international community – international organisations and governments of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries – need to transform the ways in which we prepare for and respond to climate-linked disasters in the most vulnerable nations as they increase in frequency and impact.
Ignoring these impacts will not only continue to cause huge suffering, massive human and economic loss, and internal displacement: it also threatens to undermine long-term development goals and climate-mitigation efforts, including net-zero objectives and the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) targets set out in the Paris Agreement.
And yet, of the countries considered most vulnerable to climate change, 63 per cent received less than $1 per person in adaptation funding and 25 per cent received no adaptation funding at all. However, early-warning systems save lives and assets worth at least ten times their cost, and simply improving these systems[_] could save 23,000 lives and $66 billion in damages each year; in a case study from Samoa, every $1 invested in early-warning services for cyclone hazards yielded a return of $6 in benefits.
However, the ways in which we prepare for and respond to climate shocks have remained frozen in time: disaster-financing models are outdated; technologies that enable early action are underutilised and fragmented or siloed across disparate preparedness and response systems; and constraints on access to technology and interpretation of data limit governments’ ability to act.
Technology as a Game-Changer
Over the past decade, technologies have been developed that help make climate shocks easier to predict, and enable governments, donors and communities to be better prepared and more empowered to respond early. Each of these technologies plays a critical role in collecting and analysing data relevant across the disaster-risk management (DRM) phases of preparedness to response, as illustrated in detail in Figure 1.
From AI to Earth observation to cloud computing and digital radio, in combination these technologies can:
Provide early warning of impending shocks to governments and communities at risk.
Enable pre-emptive or early response to cushion the impacts of shocks.
Ensure the most vulnerable people receive the right assistance at the right time.
Gather impact data and strengthen community resilience.
Landscape of disaster preparedness and response technologies
Challenges of Leveraging Tech-Centred Solutions
While the technologies and data needed to revolutionise DRM are readily available, LMIC governments face a range of challenges in adopting and utilising these technologies – from coordinating internally to linking early warning to response, from accessing investment for tech-led solutions to interpreting data in order to inform action.
In particular, governments face three core challenges:
How to use the right technologies in the right ways to transform disaster-preparedness and response efforts.
Decision-makers are often unaware of the range of technologies available to them, and lack sufficient tools to help prioritise investments in technologies that meet national needs. Many tech-enabled initiatives also run both outside governments’ remit and in parallel to their processes, limiting government ownership and hindering the adoption of the technologies that they seek to scale.
How to access and incorporate the right technology in a comprehensive, government-wide, tech-enabled disaster-risk management system.
DRM is often fragmented and siloed, resulting in low prioritisation and limited financing for the tech needed to support early-warning and early-action efforts. Governments are also hindered in accessing new technologies due to non-interoperability of key infrastructure, and even non-digital historical data.
How to leverage international and national finance flows to build and maintain tech-enabled disaster-risk management systems.
International climate funds do not prioritise tech-based solutions for DRM, and while there are existing risk-assessment tools that draw on climate-linked data to inform financial decision-making, governments have limited capacity to use them effectively in this way, or to leverage additional funding.
The Tony Blair Institute’s “Tech to Manage Climate Disasters programme” has developed this roadmap to identify how climate-vulnerable LMICs can leverage technology and tech-centred information systems to lessen the impacts of climate events and effectively respond to them. This roadmap calls on governments to commit to providing, at the least, a 24-hour advance warning of a climate shock, and addresses how governments can use, access and finance tech-centred solutions to fulfil this commitment. The roadmap is the start of a four-part series – part of its Tech to Manage Climate Disasters programme – which will unfold over the coming weeks to provide additional in-depth background, analysis and technical details. The main roadmap is also accompanied by a similar roadmap developed specifically to show how donors and other funders can help finance tech-led solutions while supporting LMIC governments in adopting tech-driven approaches to prepare for, and respond to, climate-linked disasters.
Early-warning and climate-information systems are essential for enabling effective disaster-preparedness and response efforts, and data- and risk-informed decision-making relies on leveraging the various technologies underpinning these systems in the right way and at the right time. To fully harness the power of tech-led solutions, data collection and analysis need to be integrated into decision-making processes that, in turn, are used to trigger early action. By utilising technologies such as remote sensing, machine learning and predictive analytics, and internet-enabled devices, some parts of this process can be automated, allowing for faster and more effective early action and aid distribution once a disaster hits.
This streamlined approach is laid out in more detail below, illustrating both the process through which governments can follow the development of climate-linked risks to their expected impact, and how that should inform preparation efforts and fallout response efforts.
A fully integrated tech-driven approach to preparing for and responding to disasters requires significant resources (both human and financial), as well as infrastructure, and technical knowledge and capacity that many climate-vulnerable, low- to middle-income countries do not have access to. To support LMIC governments in identifying how they can adopt and finance tech-led approaches to early warning and early action, we have developed a roadmap that lays out the various steps these governments need to take to determine which technologies they should prioritise using, and how they can strengthen their ability to access, operationalise and finance technology for early-warning and climate-information action.
This roadmap is not necessarily linear – many steps here will be taken simultaneously. While some steps will be harder and more time-consuming to achieve than others, each step generally builds on the outcome of previous actions.
Throughout the completion of each step outlined in this roadmap, ensuring that the tech-led approaches are community based is critical to making certain that early warning translates into early action. Early-warning and climate-information systems are most effective when they are actively owned and driven by communities.
Integrating community-level structures and organisations, such as local disaster-management agencies and other local networks, increases buy-in from communities for early-warning and early-action investments and programmes, and increases community knowledge and awareness of disaster risks. It also enables response organisations and actors to develop plans that map community experience and local risk appetite with known-disaster hazards, and strengthens last-mile disaster-response mechanisms by identifying safe locations and evacuation routes.
Commitment to 24-Hour Advance Warnings
Because a 24-hour advance warning of a climate disaster can reduce 30 per cent of expected damage from a climate-linked shock, it is critical that governments take early warning and early action seriously, and commit to providing their populations with advance warnings within this timeframe. To help governments fulfil this commitment, each step of this roadmap strengthens a government’s ability to both determine where and when a disaster might strike, and inform the right people in an appropriate and timely way.
When taken in their entirety, the steps laid out in this roadmap incentivise the integration and coordination of currently fragmented preparedness and response tactics, which will lead to more effective planning and financing efforts. These steps will also improve a country’s ability to collect and interpret climate information, enhancing its risk knowledge and understanding of climate-linked shocks. This helps support the integration of DRM approaches across national systems as well as the prioritisation of multi-hazard early-warning systems (MHEWS), which enable early warning and early action for a variety of hazards.
The steps in this roadmap also encourage national ownership of tech-led solutions, which is vital to strengthening early-warning and early-action efforts. While governments do not necessarily need to own technologies or data themselves, they must have ownership over the process of using technology and data to turn signals into action. National ownership ensures preparedness and response efforts are integrated, robust and demand-driven. Ultimately, these steps allow governments to more effectively prepare for climate-linked disasters and respond faster and at a lower cost, saving lives and averting damages.
Tech-adoption and financing roadmap for LMICs
1. Conduct Comprehensive Assessments
Existing DRM Systems and Frameworks
Assessing existing early-warning system (EWS) and disaster-risk management (DRM) frameworks enables governments to understand which agencies are responsible for various aspects of preparedness and response efforts, what structures exist for coordination (if any), what frameworks are already in place, and where additional action needs to be taken to fill in identified gaps. Assessments should ultimately determine the necessary components and processes that require upgrading and/or streamlining.
Governments should assess existing structures and processes by drawing upon the expertise and established guidelines of international and regional bodies, such as the Alliance for Hydromet Development or the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) Global Initiative, which focus on various components of DRM including EWS hardware capabilities and population disaster resilience. Assessments may be quantitative and qualitative in nature, or both, and involve probabilistic forecasting or indices-based assessments of outcomes throughout each stage of DRM.
Data Collection and Needs
Key to successful disaster-risk management is accurate and timely access to information for decision-makers. Technology is critical to facilitating this, and high-quality data enable governments to better monitor climate-linked hazards and risks, and more effectively target populations for response efforts. However, before they invest in technologies that enable more effective data collection, governments must review what historical data they have, and identify what data is currently being collected, how it is being collected and what the remaining data needs are. Governments also need to define the processes through which data can be obtained in an efficient and scalable way while a “wish list” of missing data should be created for future funding requests.
2. Evaluate and Determine Appropriate Technologies
While governments may aspire to invest in a comprehensive suite of technologies that feed into early-warning and climate-information systems, governments face a number of resource constraints and therefore must make trade-offs in terms of which technologies will have the greatest impact (and are therefore worth investing in), depending on identified needs and local contexts.
To help governments evaluate and prioritise different technologies, we have created the following three tools. These tools aim to help policymakers navigate the complex space of technology solutions in a systematic and objective way, and to help standardise decision-making:
1. Use-Case Library: A library of use cases breaks down disaster preparedness and response into specific actions, and identifies the required technologies for each of those actions. LMIC policymakers can use this library to stay informed about the technologies that are relevant for specific preparedness and response activities – identifying, for example, what technologies are relevant for gathering data on specific hazards, or identifying vulnerable populations.
2. Complexity Versus Impact Model (Figure 3):
This model depicts the degree of complexity in adopting and maintaining a technology compared to the potential impact it can have. The model helps policymakers determine which technology is appropriate for each DRM phase of risk knowledge, preparedness and response based on context- and nation-specific human and financial resources and capabilities. It also offers a way for governments to think about how to layer technologies: for example, governments may want to start by using “low-complexity, high-impact” solutions, with the goal of eventually moving to higher-complexity technologies as experience and expertise develops.
Complexity versus impact model
3. Decision Trees: Policymakers in different countries face unique constraints and opportunities in using tech-led approaches for disaster-risk management. They are therefore likely to be interested in leveraging technology for different disaster-risk management phases, and for different activities within each of those phases. Each decision tree below asks a series of questions to help policymakers determine which technologies are appropriate to use for different disaster-risk management activities, based on existing national use of tech-led solutions (or lack thereof).
The three decision trees[_] highlight three different use cases to provide examples of the questions policymakers should be asking and the process they should go through when determining which technologies should be used when. This list is not exhaustive, but rather illustrative.
Three decision trees to help policymakers determine which technologies they should be using
The following steps provide the actions that governments need to take to 1) address the gaps identified through initial assessments and stocktaking exercises, and 2) leverage the relevant technologies identified through evaluation tools based on country-specific contexts.
3. Central Governance
DRM is a multi-stakeholder process that requires decisive but coordinated planning and implementation across government. However, functions, roles and areas of responsibilities of agencies with a stake in the DRM cycle are not typically clear or legally outlined, undermining governments’ ability to effectively prepare for – and respond to – climate shocks.
Strong central governance is therefore needed to reduce fragmentation, redundancies and inefficiencies across government by enabling stakeholders to coordinate activities and integrate DRM into relevant national systems. Improved coordination enables better strategic and budgetary planning, including between ministries of finance, technology and climate, as well as better buy-in from across government on financing triggers and longer-term investments.
Governments therefore need to elevate DRM to the highest levels of governance through the creation or appointment of either a high-level champion or focal point agency – or, ideally, an inter-ministerial body. This committee or office should prioritise building technology and digital capacity and a core function should be to drive comprehensive, tech-enabled disaster-management systems across government. Figure 5 offers an example of where a high-level inter-ministerial body on disaster management would sit in relation to other ministries. This elevation would streamline and integrate DRM efforts and policies into other national systems, including development strategies, infrastructure projects, and public investment and financing strategies.
Inter-ministerial body sits under the prime minister or president’s office and coordinates across government
4. Frameworks and Standards
Legal and regulatory frameworks: Insufficient definition of roles and responsibilities and poor interagency crisis communications have hindered the overall ability of governments to respond to disasters. Governments must clearly distribute roles and responsibilities to every agency and organisation with a stake in a government’s disaster-risk management approach.
Strengthened institutional governance and the creation of a central coordination mechanism must be teamed with a national DRM strategy that includes legally binding frameworks for streamlining operating procedures across government agencies. These frameworks would allow for effective coordination mechanisms across government and should provide a clear distribution of responsibilities, workflows and allocation of resources. For example, having standard operating procedures (SOPs) for risk-data exchange ensures that the information shared is compatible between various agencies, and having clear and streamlined command chains and processes allows for increased bandwidth to develop national-disaster strategies and technology-adoption plans.
These frameworks and procedures must also lay out agreed-upon thresholds or triggers that determine when and what kind of response actions need to be taken once a disaster does hit. A national DRM strategy and accompanying frameworks should complement existing climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. The strategy must additionally include clear guidance on how private-sector companies, such as mobile-phone operators, are integrated and mandated to engage in preparedness and response efforts, as the private sector has important and unique financial, logistical, technical and human-resource capabilities that are critical to supporting disaster-risk activities.
Technology standards and requirements: Tech-led initiatives and programmes are typically developed independently, with little integration and interoperability with each other, and often run in parallel to government SOPs. Developing and upholding national and regional standards ensures that product development adheres to specific technical requirements that allows solutions to be interoperable, and enables not only easier integration of databases and instruments into existing national systems, but also easier communication and decision-making between governmental and regional stakeholders.
These efforts ultimately strengthen a government’s ability to adopt and procure new technologies, since solutions are configured to national standards.
Institutional frameworks and technology standards form the foundation for successful tech adoption
5. International and Regional Tools and Resources
International networks and multilateral development banks (MDBs) – see Figure 7 – can provide several key forms of assistance. First, they enable the sharing of data, expertise and knowledge; second, they facilitate the regional and global integration of hydrological and meteorological (hydromet) services; and third, they provide crucial technical expertise that helps countries to enhance and connect their hydromet services, and utilise risk information to inform climate-linked finance decision-making. However, international and regional support systems are not sufficiently leveraged, which hinders governments from efficiently and accurately using early-warning and climate-information systems.
Governments, particularly of resource-constrained countries, should access the tools provided by the international networks listed below, as well as the support systems of initiatives such as the Climate Risk & Early Warning System (CREWS), the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), or the World Food Programme (WFP), all of which aim to enhance the administrative, technical and financial capabilities of national hydromet services and EWSs. As climate-linked disasters are transnational in nature, cooperation between different countries can improve the effectiveness and accuracy of EWSs and response mechanisms through data-sharing and joint operation of infrastructure. Tapping into international and regional resources, coupled with regional cooperation, enables governments to achieve economies of scale, leverage available equipment and expertise, and enhance the efficiency and accuracy of hydromet services across regions. While foundational data sources and tools may be internationally or regionally based, decision-making capacity must always be situated at the national level to ensure coordinated and centralised disaster-preparedness and response efforts.
List of key international and regional bodies and support provided
World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)
International organisation under the UN system
Global standardisation and harmonisation
Access to global/regional data, processing and analysis
The WMO Global Data-Processing and Forecasting System (GDPFS), as part of the WMO Information System (WIS), has made numerical weather predictions possible for regions such as Southern and Eastern Africa
Climate Risk & Early Warning System (CREWS)
Collaboration between World Bank, WMO, GFDRR and United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)
Support for least-developed countries and small-island developing states to strengthen EWSs
Knowledge and financial support to enhance risk knowledge, hydromet infrastructure or capacity building
Hydromet and EWS for Afghanistan
Strengthening EWS delivery in Burkina Faso
CREWS has provided various forms of support to LMICS including a flash-flood guidance system for Fiji and 3D-technology-empowered early warnings for Afghanistan.
Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia
International organisation of hydromet agencies, science agencies and development partners
Shared EWSs across Asia and Africa
Risk assessment, hazard monitoring
Enhancing capabilities among member states
Flood forecasting system developed by RIMES members with application in Bangladesh
In 2020, close to 40 RIMES countries agreed to share real-time and historical data to boost climate modelling performance and empower participating countries with better quality forecasts
Assessment of countries’ hydromet capabilities
Creation of a financing facility to fund observation systems
Deployment of Country Hydromet Diagnostics, a standardised diagnostic tool
Country diagnostics assess hydromet capabilities
The Hydromet Alliance serves as a platform to connect between various initiatives such as the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), CREWS and upcoming WMO Country Support Initiative
African Development Bank
Asian Development Bank
Provide knowledge and financing support to enhance Hydromet services and infrastructure
Improving hydromet services in Moldova
National hydromet platform for interoperability in Haiti
ClimDev Special Fund to finance climate information across Africa
Improving Tajikistan’s hydromet operations centre
The World Bank provides resilience rating systems to share best practices and provide guidance to stakeholders on whether projects have adequately considered climate adaption and resilience in their design
World Food Programme (WFP)
International organisation under the UN system
Provides support in using remote-sensing technology for risk/vulnerability assessment and analysis
The PRISM programme supports countries with advanced vulnerability information
The access to satellite data provided by PRISM has been used to monitor disaster impact in countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Cambodia
6. Modular Tech Infrastructure
Governments face tight budgets and must prioritise investments. Investing in technology infrastructure, however, can be costly and require timely decision-making, particularly as technology advances at a rapid pace.
Governments therefore need to take a modular approach to investing in tech infrastructure by leveraging current resources while simultaneously building for the future. A modular approach enables governments to strategically invest in technologies that can be built upon and scaled over time, as additional needs are identified, and more robust technical capacities to collect, interpret and act upon data are developed. A gradual and strategic modular approach also allows for more systematic organisation of relevant information, and provides governments with the space to develop appropriate standards and regulations to enable smoother interoperability between national systems and both regional and international disaster- and weather-monitoring services. For example, access to existing risk knowledge can initially be attained through open-source geographic-information system (GIS) platforms or resources like the UN’s DesInventar disaster-information management system. Data from these kinds of regional and international sources can form a foundation upon which local data, gathered by national databases (from new and improved infrastructure), can be added over time.
This approach also enables governments to easily integrate technological advances into existing systems, or to pivot, if needed, should a particular technology or technological advance fail in a specific context. A modular approach with the potential for coordination and knowledge sharing also makes it easier for private-sector actors to share information and data on DRM activities with governments, and participate in preparedness and response efforts.
Finally, investment in tech-based infrastructure also has the benefit of providing a number of additional services necessary to 21st-century governments: for example, communications satellites can provide remote populations with access to education and medical expertise that would not otherwise reach them, and predictive analytics can be leveraged to strengthen supply-chain operations and financial management.
7. Data Management
Decision-makers need to know where a hazard is going to land, how soon, and how impacted local communities will be. Data – and data management – is vital for this. Effective data management involves identifying who collects data; ensuring it is up-to-date and of high quality; providing policies for data ownership and sharing; and including mechanisms for sharing data and preventing its misuse. Without this, tech-enabled early-warning and climate-information systems run the risk of providing incomplete and ineffective service delivery, which can trigger unintended consequences for affected populations and reduce trust in services provided by government authorities. However, most countries have limited policies, SOPs and/or other appropriate measures to ensure best practices in data management. Furthermore, privacy regulations and private-sector proprietary information mean many companies are unable or unwilling to share their data with third parties, further hindering disaster-risk management activities.
All data-related interventions must be guided by responsible data practices, and put in place before the occurrence of a disaster. Policymakers should draw on the resources for responsible data practices developed by organisations like the Centre for Humanitarian Data, which issued Data Responsibility Guidelines to provide support for best data-management practices for disaster preparedness and response efforts.
Government entities and disaster-relief organisations wishing to access data held by third parties should not have to replicate their efforts with each data owner for each new crisis. The necessary data should be identified ahead of time and made accessible for humanitarian purposes, and included in a systematic review conducted by governments. Governments must engage with the owners to build fair and sustainable humanitarian-driven agreements. By engaging with private-sector stakeholders in a unified way, data-sharing sets up consistent expectations and provides a streamlined process. Data-sharing agreements should include minimum standards and governments should take creative approaches to how data is shared. For example, rather than mobile-network operators (MNOs) transferring their data to external parties, it may be preferable, and just as effective, for the MNO to run the algorithm safely from behind their firewall.
8. Technical Capabilities
Producing and interpreting risk information from data-driven early-warning and climate-information systems is critical to informing effective preparedness, including making robust financial decisions. However, while there are a handful of open-source risk models and monitoring and forecasting tools, as well as advisory services provided by international and civil-society organisations, governments tend to have limited experience in engaging and utilising these tools. This contributes to low demand for (and underuse of) available risk-information services, which in turn hinder a government’s ability to cost potential damages from disasters, develop accurate tech-financing strategies, and determine appropriate financial instruments to finance tech-led approaches for preparedness and response.
To address this, governments need to develop the expertise and technical capabilities required to tap into existing resources and tools, and to analyse and interpret data to inform effective decision-making. Building out capabilities such as in-house data-processing expertise enables governments to procure accurate models and data from international sources, including the private sector, to evolve them to gain more local and granular monitoring and forecasting data, and to keep up with technological advances in the market. It also enables governments to interpret collected data, use the results, and communicate this information to ministries and international actors.
Developing in-house expertise can be done through a continued focus on technical capacity-building activities, engagement with key industry players, peer-learning with global networks of disaster-risk agencies and integrating data analysis into education systems. Leveraging existing capacity-building programmes offered by international organisations, and fostering partnerships with tech companies for knowledge and skills transfer can also support government efforts to strengthen technical capabilities.
Framework to develop risk-informed disaster-management agencies
While the roadmap lays out the different steps governments need to take to be able to use, access and finance tech, there are also six essential factors at play for ensuring they can do so to reduce the impacts of climate-linked shocks on their populations.
National government ownership, interpretive capacity and coordination
LMIC governments need to establish clear leadership, and foster the necessary expertise and cross-government SOPs required for interoperable and scalable systems and turning data into action. National ownership of each of these actions also enables governments to identify and set their own needs and demands, avoiding donor-led, fragmented or piecemeal initiatives.
Prioritisation of risk knowledge and forecasting
A longer lead time and effective long-term planning ensures greater resilience against climate shocks, and requires less investment than response activities. Governments need to prioritise technologies that enable predictive information, such as risk knowledge, monitoring and forecasting. Governments receive greater benefits at a lower cost the more upfront investments they can make in risk knowledge, prediction and preparedness.
Early-warning and climate-information systems are most effective when communities are the active owners and drivers of early-warning systems. The ramifications of climate-related shocks are experienced at a local level, and so the needs and capacity of impacted communities are an essential consideration when building effective early-warning, early-action systems. Integrating community-level structures and organisations also increases buy-in from communities, and increases community knowledge and awareness of disaster risks.
A fairer, faster and more responsive international climate- and disaster-financing system
Despite significant progress in predictive financing and anticipatory action, much of the resulting investment is going to international organisations rather than directly towards strengthening government systems. Investment by donors and the international community through a predictive, rules-based financial system that results in fairer and faster financing is critical to ensuring governments have access to the right technologies at the right time and have the ability to use, adopt and integrate these solutions into their national climate action plans.
Coordinated and streamlined donor investment
Donor support to governments is also piecemeal and highly supply-driven, leading to fragmentation across early-warning and climate-information systems. Different systems can generate different and contradictory information, resulting in confusion for decision-makers and delayed response efforts. Streamlining donor investment strengthens early-warning and early-action efforts and enables donors to more effectively coordinate limited resources.
Interoperability is fundamental to creating a comprehensive, robust and integrated early-warning and early-action system. It allows various technologies to work both with each other and with existing national systems, as well as enabling easier and more effective private-sector engagement.
LMIC governments do not operate in a vacuum, and most, if not all, receive support and funding from donors and international organisations as a result of various development programmes, including disaster-risk management activities. Donors and international organisations are therefore critical for the ability of LMIC governments to use and adopt tech-led systems. However, donors and international organisations as well as other external stakeholders, including private investors, often have different interests and priorities and rarely directly coordinate programme funding or investments. This leads to a myriad of solutions and interventions that are fragmented and siloed across a national government and with each other.
To help donors and international organisations tackle these challenges, this roadmap complements the steps laid out in the LMIC roadmap and articulates the actions these actors need to take to support and enable LMIC governments to use, access and finance tech-led solutions for more effective and cost-efficient preparedness and response efforts.
As with the roadmap for LMICs, this roadmap is not necessarily linear, and many steps here will be taken simultaneously. While some steps will be harder to achieve and take more time than others, each step generally builds on previous actions.
The steps in this roadmap encourage donors and international organisations to invest in risk-informed early action and build a more streamlined and coherent tech-centred disaster risk-management system that integrates the diverse multitude of existing early-warning and climate-information systems. This reduces redundancies, ensures smarter programming, and achieves burden-sharing objectives by better leveraging limited humanitarian and development funding – all of which ultimately enable better and more informed decision-making for faster and more effective early-warning and early-action efforts.
The steps in this roadmap will also help donors and international organisations finance disaster response more predictably. A predictable humanitarian financing system based on a set of SOPs and pre-negotiated triggers is critical because it enables climate-vulnerable populations to receive assistance before a disaster strikes. This builds resiliency and reduces the amount of time that impacted populations must wait for assistance, which lessens the impacts of shocks as well as the economic impacts incurred post-disaster.
Tech-adoption roadmap for donors, international organisations and funders
1. Work Collectively and Be Demand-Led
Supporting national ownership of tech-led solutions for effective early warning and early action is critical to empowering LMIC governments to become 21st-century leaders in reducing the impacts of disasters on their climate-vulnerable populations. However, efforts to empower LMIC governments to make risk-informed decisions and deal with climate shocks in a timely, cost-effective way are hampered by the fragmentation of funding and programming from both donors and the international community. Many LMIC governments have multiple early-warning and climate-information systems (funded by a range of different donors and international organisations) that sit siloed in different ministries, employing different kinds of technologies that were not built to be interoperable.
Donors and international organisations must therefore fund and support efforts to streamline and integrate existing systems, and work together to ensure that future programming is better coordinated, that systems are interoperable and that additional funding is not duplicative. Such efforts enable donors and international organisations to use funding more effectively and to leverage other donor programmes. They also strengthen national early-warning and early-action efforts by reducing redundancies, and streamlining investments in the technologies required to allow, and act on, risk-informed decision-making.
While coordination across and between donors and international organisations can be challenging, nationally based coordination bodies led by national governments can support collective action, and efforts by donors and international organisations must become more demand-led.
2. Align Assessments
Many donors and international organisations perform assessments of LMIC governments’ early-warning systems and DRM frameworks to inform funding and programming decisions. Such assessments provide a better understanding of the systems LMIC governments already have in place, and what gaps and areas need additional funding and support. However, having multiple assessments carried out by various donors and international organisations leads to fragmentation – and investment in different siloed solutions across an LMIC government.
Donors and international organisations should therefore prioritise providing technical assistance to LMIC governments so that they can conduct their own assessments of their DRM frameworks and systems, and/or data-collection needs. By supporting these LMIC-government-led assessments, donors and international organisations strengthen the quality of the assessments and ensure that funding and programming are LMIC government-demand led and better integrated into existing national systems.
When donors and international organisations do conduct their own assessments, they should ensure that these assessments are closely coordinated with national efforts, and that they fill in critical gaps not already covered by LMIC government-led assessments. Rather than informing siloed programming efforts, findings from these assessments should feed into LMIC-government strategies for filling and strengthening identified gaps and weaknesses.
3. Prioritise Tech Within Financing Facilities
The transformational impact of investing in early warning and other areas of disaster preparedness is well articulated, with benefits of $162 billion per year from avoided losses and increased economic production. These benefits are underpinned by technology, yet only 2.7 per cent of international climate finance is dedicated to tech-based disaster-preparedness projects.
Regional and international financing facilities provide critical funding and investment for disaster-risk preparedness and response efforts. While private-sector investment tends to focus on short-term returns, financing facilities provide long-term support and allow for large-scale investment. Leveraging regional financing facilities also allows for countries with nascent markets for technology to drive down costs by expanding the market across multiple countries and increasing demand for tech-led solutions.
These facilities should therefore take a “tech-first” approach with their financial instruments, which include soft loans, technical assistance and equity, by integrating tech-led solutions into the key requirements necessary to receive funds. Funding must also be focused on the provision of longer-term operational and maintenance costs for technological solutions, coupled with the necessary human resources. Donors and international organisations should ensure that tech-led approaches to financing for disaster-risk preparedness and response are central to their commitments and contributions to such funds.
Integrate technology into existing regional and international financing facilities
4. Modular Tech Infrastructure
Like LMIC governments, donors and international organisations face tight budgets and must prioritise investments. LMIC governments, therefore, must also take a modular approach to investing in tech infrastructure by leveraging current resources while simultaneously building for the future. A modular approach enables governments to own the overall system and dictate the direction of travel, while enabling donors to complement this system with technologies that can be built upon and scaled over time as additional needs are identified.
Donors and governments must fund and support this modular approach to tech-centred progress. When funding a new technology or approach that supports early-warning and early-action efforts, donors and international organisations must insist that solutions are coordinated and build upon – and are interoperable with – existing national systems. Investments in such infrastructure can also provide additional long-term development benefits and strengthen LMIC governments’ capacities for remote learning and health care.
5. Anticipatory Action
Most climate-linked disasters can be predicted, and yet most response efforts are reactive rather than proactive. Donors and international organisations largely provide funding and support for response activities only once a disaster has hit and disaster assessments have been conducted. This results in delayed assistance for affected populations and exacerbates economic losses.
Acting prior to the onset of a predictable climate-linked shock is significantly faster and more cost-effective than traditional humanitarian response efforts – not to mention more dignified for those affected by climate disaster. It is critical that donors and international organisations support and invest in anticipatory action. Donors must agree to predetermined action plans, including pre-arranged finance that can be quickly and easily distributed to populations that are predicted to be affected by an impending climate-linked shock. These predetermined plans must be based on a robust, tech-led and forecast-based trigger embedded within a clear decision-making process developed in tandem with LMIC governments.
Thanks to these pre-agreed data- and risk-informed triggers, anticipatory action also contributes to a more predictable and rules-based method of funding response activities, enabling faster, more automated and more predictable humanitarian-response efforts.
6. National Standards and Data Management
Developing and upholding national and regional standards is critical to ensuring that product development adheres to specific technical requirements. This means that solutions can be interoperable and allows databases and instruments to be more easily integrated into existing national systems. Similarly, data management is essential because it ensures that tech-enabled early-warning and climate-information systems provide effective, accurate and timely information from a variety of different sources: public and private, national and international.
To support efforts by LMIC governments to strengthen national standards and data-management practices, donors and international organisations must provide funding and technical assistance to support these activities. Donors and international organisations also need to ensure national standards for product development and data-sharing are integrated into programming and funding agreements with partners. By supporting and adhering to national standards, donors and international organisations ensure systems are interoperable, meet basic requirements, and strengthen the enabling environment for greater private-sector investment and engagement. Integrating data-sharing agreements into existing and new programmes also strengthens data-management abilities and ensures mechanisms are in place for sharing data and preventing its misuse.
7. Technical Capabilities
LMIC governments need to develop the expertise and technical capabilities to tap into existing resources and tools, and to analyse and interpret data to inform effective decision-making.
Being able to predict and monitor climate and weather events provides a greater lead time for effective early warning and early action, saving lives and livelihoods. The ability to monitor these events and to use data analysis and predictive analytics to develop impact-based forecasts is therefore critical to developing a robust and effective disaster-risk management system. Having the capacity to interpret data and therefore know how to act on that information is also equally important to ensuring decision-making is data- and risk-informed.
While LMIC governments can leverage existing capacity-building programmes offered by international organisations and foster partnerships with tech companies for knowledge and skills transfer, donors, international organisations and other stakeholders must invest in programmes that support the development of these kinds of technical capabilities. In particular, donors and other actors should focus their support on building the monitoring, forecasting and interpretive technical capabilities of LMIC governments.
8. Exit Strategies
Funding and support from donor and international organisations in the form of grants and loans is critical to providing seed capital for tech-led early-warning and early-action programmes. However, this funding can distort markets and reduce incentives for private-sector investment. Donor funding is essential to creating markets, and because early-warning and climate-information systems are for the public good, government and donor support will likely always be needed. Yet funding must be programmed carefully. Donors therefore need to integrate exit strategies into early-warning and early-action programmes to ensure plans are in place for grant funding to ease out, and to provide space for private capital, investment and new business models to develop.
Climate-linked shocks have profound consequences for LMICs. Investing in technologies that support accurate, timely and robust early-warning and climate-information systems could save lives and livelihoods while yielding tremendous economic benefits. Technological advances have made it possible to know when a climate disaster is likely to hit, to predict its impact and communicate early warnings to vulnerable people, and to enable faster and more targeted response efforts. Through enhanced data collection and analysis, technology underpins effective early warning and early action, potentially enabling governments to make more risk-informed decisions.
A tech-centred approach to disaster-risk management is therefore imperative. LMIC governments must be the owners of these tech-led systems because they are best placed to know how to utilise and coordinate them within different local contexts. Tech-led systems must be interoperable, employ strong data-management practices to ensure approaches are not fragmented, and have the capability to be integrated into existing national and local systems.
Pulling together detailed research and analysis, our roadmap is the start of an in-depth four-part series that focuses on how the governments of low- and middle-income countries can utilise, access and finance technologies that support effective and cost-efficient disaster-risk management. Yet to truly counter the threats posed by climate change, efforts to strengthen disaster-risk management must be complemented by curbing emissions and achieving net zero, while increasing investments in long-term adaptation and scaling innovations such as carbon sequestration. By using this roadmap as part of the solution, LMICs, their donors and international organisations will be equipped with a tool that will help them work towards building tech-enabled, state-of-the-art disaster-risk management systems for earlier warnings and a more effective response, thereby saving lives and livelihoods.
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