Early warning systems for natural hazards from an international viewpoint – UNESCO experience
Soren T. Malling1, P. Bernal2, F. W. Eder3, A. Szollosi-Nagy4
As a specialised agency of the United Nations, UNESCO’s mandate and ability are addressed and a short description of the agency's experience is given.
Specific early warning systems promoted by the Organisation, for flooding, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, are addressed from various places in the world. Also, the many difficulties, uncertainties and pitfalls in giving early warning alert signals are briefly discussed.
Two specific and similar disasters (the volcanic eruptions of the volcano Pinatubo, the Philippines in 1991 and that of the volcano Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia in 1986) are described, including some background information, where in both cases it was possible to give ‘early warning’ signals. However, the end result was very different.
One of the cases could be considered as a ‘failure’ (Nevado del Ruiz) the other as a ‘success’ (Pinatubo volcano) on the part of UNESCO. No attempt is made to enter into excuses and luck, which, of course, may explain the very different outcome. Rather, the lessons rendered by the two disasters to UNESCO are discussed and an emphasis on a ‘culture of prevention’ strategy is suggested as probably the most sound and efficient basis for successful early warning operations.