A Low-Cost, Low-Tech Climate Solution that Saves Lives
Women make up half of the volunteer force, Achala Navaratne, the Bangladesh country representative for the Red Cross, told me. That’s important for gender equity, but also to make sure women hear from other women. “Ensuring early action is the critical factor,” he said. “Having community volunteers from their own community helps.”
Bangladesh has long been vulnerable to cyclones that form over the Bay of Bengal. Climate change can intensify the strength and frequency of cyclones.
There are more than 5,000 permanent cyclone shelters in Bangladesh. Twice as many shelters had to be established during Cyclone Amphan, which barreled toward Bangladesh in May 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. More space was needed for physical distancing. All told, 2 million Bangladeshis were evacuated from their homes, along with 500,000 cattle and goats. Livestock is often a rural family’s main source of livelihood and asset — their paycheck and their savings account. They, too, have to be accounted for in early warning efforts.
The World Meteorological Organization cites the Cyclone Amphan precautions as a model of effective early warning. The death toll was limited to 72 people in Bangladesh.
“Bangladesh can share multiple lessons to other countries on good preparedness,” Navaratne said.
The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, recently tasked the W.M.O. to come up with a global plan to cover everyone on earth with early warning systems.
A third of the global population is not covered, and that share is far higher for the people of Africa. “This is unacceptable,” Mr. Guterres said, “particularly with climate impacts sure to get even worse.”
Just creating an early warning system isn’t enough, though.
Take the case of Brazil. In February, meteorologists failed to forecast the extraordinary rains that pummeled the hills above Rio. In three hours came 10 inches of rainfall on the city of Petrópolis, the highest rainfall since records began in 1932. The mudslides that followed killed more than 200 people, Marcelo Seluchi, who coordinates modeling and operations for the country’s early warning system, told my colleague Manuela Andreoni. By contrast, accurate predictions of extreme rains in Minas Gerais and Bahia states, also this year, limited the death toll to about 20 in each state.