Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Climate-related disasters are growing in number and severity, taking an increasing
economic toll and impact on lives and livelihoods. Climate change is an additional
stressor, adding a degree of uncertainty to decision-making. This has made the shift from
an emergency response paradigm toward policies and strategies that emphasize
preparedness and prevention of disasters even more urgent. More recently, climate
information providers and research institutes are reorganizing around the concept of
climate services, which aims to inform development and disaster risk management
through the improved use of climate information. In this regard, humanitarian
policymakers/practitioners and climate information providers share a common objective
of protecting lives and livelihoods, which can best be realized by collaboration.
This book has explored the use of climate information for disaster risk management and
stressed the importance of partnerships as a critical ingredient for success. The case
studies and experiences presented in this book draw on a wealth of practical experience in
an effort to capture the current state of knowledge and enable others to profit from
existing experience as the communities together build climate services for disaster risk
The book has employed a problem-solving framework as a practical way to demonstrate
the opportunities and challenges facing disaster risk managers in using climate science in
their work. The steps in this framework include:
1. Understanding the problem. This includes identifying risks and vulnerabilities,
relying on humanitarian expertise (humanitarian is a loaded term in the ‘aid’
world, and particularly given the silo donor and departmental divides between
humanitarian and development work. Moreover it implies external rather than
indigenous/community expertise. So it is only one form of expertise – as the case
study in addressing drought in Kenya exemplifies., and understanding the
relationship between the climate and socioeconomic context.
2. Developing Tools. This includes integrating climate information into existing
decision making frameworks, developing tailored climate information and user
oriented tools in partnership, developing boundary knowledge and ensuring new
knowledge products have technical backstopping to avoid costly misinterpretation
and to build capacity over time.
3. Taking action. The final stage in our problem-solving framework requires
understanding the real opportunities and limitations of the climate information. It
means translating often uncertain information into potential impacts and actions,
overcoming the lack of resourcing for preparedness and prevention. Ultimately it
means taking action based on climate information to reduce climate risk and
mitigate, prepare for and respond to climate disasters.
In each of these three stages, partnerships are essential to successful outcomes. Disaster
risk management and climate science both require very specialized knowledge and skill
sets; disaster managers must draw on both to navigate a way forward. Much of the
process of working together necessarily involves gaining a greater appreciation and
understanding of the needs and limitations confronting both communities.
In this section we distill the lessons learned and provide guidance to disaster risk
managers, climate scientists, and others planning to invest in climate services for disaster
risk management in the future. Many of the lessons are not unique to disaster risk
managers and apply to other climate-sensitive sectors looking to integrate climate
information into decision-making.
Information platforms that help disaster managers quickly and easily
identify and monitor risks and vulnerabilities in a given context are of
paramount importance, especially in the midst of complex emergencies.
Navigating complex and conflicting information is an impediment to the use of climate
information. Trusted “one-stop-shops” (as long as these ‘one stop shops’ are
collaborative, and based on the pooling the best available expertise within the specific
geographical/sectoral/temporal focus, and are accessible to the wider humanitarian and
development community. One stop shops which cater only for a single organisaion or
draw on only a limited pool of expertise may waste resources and expertise and risk
being less than the best which provide a quality-controlled, tailored, easily accessible
suite of hazard and vulnerability information can reduce stress on decision makers and
enable more effective decisions.
In Haiti, a team of scientists and practitioners developed just this kind of one-stop shop to
facilitate decision-making in a complex-emergency. However, because this kind of tool
helps disaster managers to easily access data and information, it would be useful even in
less dire situations to monitor risk and prepare for action.
These platforms could be strengthened by explicitly linking climate
information to possible actions, including through development of thresholds
and triggers for action.
While decision makers in Haiti responded favorably to the information platform,
strengthening the links between early warning information and adequate response would
better pave the way for disaster managers to take action.
Establishing thresholds for action linked to certain probabilities of the occurrence of
disaster conditions would make it easier for disaster managers to act. These thresholds
can be difficult to establish, first because climate information needs to be correlated to
potential impacts (and so requires a good understanding of the social and economic
context in which the forecast is to have impact), and second because disaster managers
need to weigh the costs and benefits of action and inaction given a certain probability of
occurrence. At a seasonal timescale, one of the challenges is that the forecasts only
provide information on average rainfall during a 3-month period. However, validation
efforts demonstrate a strong correlation between seasonal rainfall forecasts for enhanced
rainfall and realized rainfall in South Africa. In Asia, threshold levels selected by users
(based on traditional seasonal forecasts) suggested that information would only be
actionable in very few cases. However, a more nuanced definition distinguishing
different types of action may allow for these users to take advantage of the value in
information, including for lower-probability events.
Index insurance is a case where correlation is made between a threshold and impact – that
is, wind speed or rainfall amounts are used as proxy information for potential damages. In
the case of the CCRIF, risk-sharing through parametric insurance helps to mitigate
impacts on potential victims of climate-related disasters because resources are
immediately available given a particular trigger. The use of climate information as a
trigger for insurance payouts reduces the lag time in resource disbursement, guaranteeing
resources and thereby enabling immediate and effective action. (what level of guarantees
are there for upfronting money through this mechanism for preventative work? i.e. it is
still difficult to invest in some preparedness measures, if payment is dependent on
observed weather, and if payment can be made on forecast, there will be some areas that
are and are not covered within the forecast.
Integrating climate information across time scales into preparedness systems
can improve response.
Disaster risk managers are constantly managing uncertainty and risk, balancing limited
resources against the potential consequences of disasters. Emergency preparedness is
most effective when it applies a phased strategy where a minimum preparedness level is
established based on a careful assessment of historical requirements for immediate
response to crises. However, once a potential threat is identified based on dynamic
information, more specific contingency planning and preparedness measures are
This process allows disaster risk managers to establish and maintain readiness to respond,
while using early warning data such as such as seasonal forecasts to focus and scale up
preparedness measures as uncertainty decreases. This approach has been found to be
more effective than a constant process of scenario development and contingency planning
for each potential hazard based on the static information in those scenarios.
The monitoring framework developed for the Red Cross’ Asia-Pacific Disaster
Management Unit is an example of this kind of method that allows decision makers to
keep abreast of developing situations. Monitoring changes in weather and climate help
disaster managers to recognize and respond earlier and appropriately to changing risks.
Integration of climate information into user-designed and developed
decision-making frameworks enables the information to directly and
immediately add value to complex decisions.
Disaster risk managers factor a complex array of social, political and other information
into their decisions. When climate information can be seamlessly integrated into
decision-making, rather than as a separate ‘stand alone’ piece of information, the
information can bear on the development of strategies and decisions. Integration of
climate information into decision-making also paves the way for achieving immediate
buy-in from decision makers.
User-developed platforms are advanced in food security, as demonstrated by some of the
tools presented in chapter 2, including the IPC, RiskView, FEWS NET Outlook process,
and Food Security and Nutrition Working Group in Kenya, which incorporate a range of
climate and non-climatic information to produce an analysis of food security situations
and needs – and foster durable relationships between users and producers of climate
information. For these tools to be successful, they must be based on sound principles of
disaster management and on good climate science.
Processes such as training workshops held in Kenya, which brought together
humanitarians and climate scientists, demonstrate the demand for this type of interaction.
The outcome of this workshop was a call for the development of an interagency platform,
led by the humanitarian community, for monitoring and assessing flood risk in Kenya.
Development of trust between climate and humanitarian communities is
paramount to success at regional, national and local scales and is fostered
through capacity building.
Building disaster preparedness capacity, partnerships and policy at regional, national and
local scales is an important step to meeting the challenge at scale. This requires the
capacity to provide credible information, and the capacity to understand the opportunities
provide by the information as well as the limitations. Educating both climate information
users and providers helps each party to understand the challenges associated with
developing effective solutions and can foster trust and ultimately improved outcomes
when expectations are realistic.
Tools that are incorporated into user-platforms, including the Map Room, have proven
useful in part because of the developed trust between the partners, the credibility of the
institutions, and the capacity of the users to interpret the information and its limitations.
Trust and understanding are earned over time, through back and forth communication and
through iteration of the product.
The development of regional partnerships, e.g. ACMAD/Red Cross partnership in West
Africa, is a step in the right direction. Ultimately replication of these relationships is
also required in other regions, and between a wider range of partners. This is a key
issue This can be a challenge due to information and capacity constraints, but these
relationships are an essential investment to foster the trust that enables effective use of
tools for decision-making.
Problems that stem from the divergence between needs of disaster managers
and abilities of climate science providers are often revealed and solved
through a process of careful collaboration which can result in the
identification of new products and research.
Tailoring of information to meet specific needs is essential for enabling disaster managers
to quickly understand and effectively use to climate information. In some cases, new
research may be required to characterize the problem in order to ultimately contribute to
the development of products and information which can improve prevention,
preparedness or response strategies.
Collaborative engagement can help identify these information gaps, resulting in new
research questions and sometimes the development of innovative products. This is
demonstrated by the IRI/IFRC Partnership to Save Lives, where humanitarians expressed
interest in forecasts of extremes, a product which required new research and (once
developed) refinement. Sometimes, gaps in information can be more easily identified and
solutions produced with little to no new research required, as was the case with the Map
Room product which puts weather and climate forecasts into context.
Boundary institutions help build common ground between disaster managers
and meteorological services.
Boundary institutions typically have expertise in disaster risk management and climate
science and are able to communicate with both communities. Such boundary institutions,
(it’s really good that you put boundary institutions as being either within science
institutes or humanitarian/development organisations. Labelling it as an institution makes
is sound as if it is a separate entity, rather than extending capacity within either within the
climate science or humanitarian/dev side. There are a wide variety of understanding of
what boundary organisations are, and certainly in the UK a history of over reliance on
independent think tank/research policy institutes who are commissioned to take on
climate science/develop appropriate policy and understanding ‘for’ a humanitarian/dev
organisation. Either way there is need to highlight that there is no short cut to enabling a
scientific institution or a humanitarian/dev organisation to develop the capacity to
produce useful climate science or make effective use of this science.which may either be
applications-oriented units in science institutes or science-oriented units in humaitarian
and development organizations, can act as an intermediary by facilitating interactions and
communication between various partners, including scientific institutions, meteorological
offices and the humanitarian community.
Technical backstopping, such as that provided by help desks, demonstrate the important
role that boundary institutions play in translating and distilling climate information and
knowledge to enable better decision making.
Games provide a low-cost opportunity to test knowledge and assumptions,
building capacity of both users and suppliers of information.
Well-designed simulation games that bring together climate and humanitarian
communities allow for decision makers to simulate taking action based on climate
information without cost or consequence. Though the consequences are fictional, the
resulting dialogue can influence the way information is presented by climate scientists
(usually to make information more actionable) and build capacity of humanitarians to
take combine climate information and real world scenarios.
These games allow disaster risk managers and climate scientists to understand the
limitations and potential opportunities of the information. Ensuring that disaster
managers can use and understand the information contained in probabilistic forecasts
helps them feel more comfortable taking actions based on those forecasts. Understanding
of climate information, technical backstopping allows disaster managers to develop
appropriate strategies to respond to climate-related events.
Disaster risk managers realize that effective relief is not enough – they are
equally concerned about reducing disaster risks in the long-term. As a result,
they have begun to focus on resilience building, which targets solutions to the
root causes of vulnerability rather than the immediate impacts of climate
The rising costs and increased number of disasters have made disaster response
efforts unsustainable. Global changes – including population growth and climate
change – threaten to exacerbate the situation. Evidence that preparedness and
prevention can save more lives and protect more livelihoods is growing.
WFP’s Food For Assets program in Kenya is an example of a shift in investment
strategy towards programs emphasizing building the capacity of communities to
mitigate future drought and building infrastructure to protect them against climate
hazards. This step was taken because it was clear that food distribution was not
addressing the cause of the district’s food security problems, and the community was
experiencing more frequent drought. The program allowed people hardest hit by
chronic food shortages to be given food in exchange for participation in risk-
reduction and resilience-building projects.
Initial efforts to integrate climate information into disaster risk management
should focus on immediate opportunities and potential quick wins. Practical
engagements can be fostered by initially focusing on areas with relatively
good seasonal forecast skill that can influence humanitarian decisions that
provide relatively strong and immediate returns on investment.
Historically, disaster risk management has not systematically benefited from climate
information or interactions with climate scientists. However, changing mandates of both
communities, coupled with increasing impacts of disasters and the additional burden of
climate change, has necessitated more interaction. Learning to solve problems together,
as we have seen, takes time, but can be ultimately rewarding.
By starting with a quick win, for example, putting weather and climate information into
context for decision makers in a map room, the IFRC was immediately able to see the
benefits and challenges of improved information. Building on this, new innovations and
applications have been identified and developed, as well as clarifying improvements on
the initial map room. Processes that bring together partners to discuss needs,
opportunities and limitations, are important initial steps, and if successful, can foster
longer-term sustainable relationships and improved outcomes.
To ensure that disaster managers can use climate information in their daily
activities, information should be integrated into decision-making platforms.
Integration of climate information into user decision making frameworks and platforms
results in information directly adding value to decisions, and places it within the context
of the decision maker. This approach has been successfully demonstrated in the Food
Security Outlook forums in (I thought the example was from East )West Africa, as well
as in the integration of the IRI/IFRC map room into the IFRC’s global information
More attention should be paid to understanding of the relative contribution
that seasonal, decadal, and long-term trends make to current and future
climate is imperative to informing strategic decisions. Climate change
strategies that do not take these different dynamics into account may be
Just as weather varies from day-to-day and week-to-week, climate varies over longer
time scales (e.g. from season to season, year to year and from decade to decade). Climate
variations over decades are particular to certain parts of the globe, and some areas exhibit
the potential for prediction. While the science is a ways off from being able to predict
climate for a particular place over the next 30 years, for example, looking at past climate
records can help us understand how and why climate varies at annual, decadal and
century (climate change) time scales. Gaining an appreciation of these dynamics is
important, because it can help disaster managers better understand what may be in store
in the (relatively near) future.
For example, disaster managers, wary of climate change, should understand that
variations at annual and decadal time scales will have more impact on climate variability
over the next few decades, than climate change. This impact could either serve to
enhance or counter the expected impacts of climate change, depending on the
characteristics of the climate in their particular region.
In the case of Syria disaster risk managers, concerned with drought, wondered what was
causing the current increase in droughts, and whether they were expected to worsen as a
result of climate change. Climate scientists were able to demonstrate that climate change
did have a discernable influence on drought today, which was expected to worsen. This
allowed disaster managers to re-orient their strategy towards increasing drought,
instituting educational campaigns to help Syrians understand what they can do to prepare.
Meteorological services must increase their interactions with users, with the
goal of providing climate services to support disaster risk management and,
ultimately, development at scale.
Support for climate services as an important contribution to development, climate change
adaptation, and disaster risk management agendas is growing. Building on the idea of
weather services, the goal of climate services is to provide the public with targeted
climate information to improve decision-making in a variety of sectors, including health,
agriculture, water management, and disaster risk reduction.
Climate services encompass a range of activities including generating and providing
information on past, present and future climate and on its impacts on natural and human
systems. Climate services include the provision of simple information like historical
climate data sets, as well as more complex products like predictions of weather elements
on monthly and seasonal timescales or projections of climate under different greenhouse
gas emissions scenarios.
Donor efforts must shift accordingly, to support preparedness and
prevention efforts. This may include more systematic funding for
preparedness based on relevant climate information.
This recommendation is, in itself, dependent on a/ being able to demonstrate the potential
and actual benefits of effective use of climate information and b/ donors recognizing that
while they are investing a lot in climate science, and a lot in humanitarian, disaster risk
reduction, climate change adaptation and development work, they are not affording
sufficient funding for the required dialogue between climate scientists and humanitarian
and development policymakers.
While several reports and agreed international policies clearly state that risk reduction is
a cost-effective intervention in countries vulnerable to disasters, risk reduction remains a
relatively low priority within donors’ humanitarian and development planning and
programming budgets. This is a persistent obstacle to the development of a preventive
culture, in which risk reduction is accepted as a necessity in disaster-prone regions, and
should be changed.
One aspect is the funding for disaster risk reduction as part of development strategies.
But it also applies in the context of humanitarian relief funding mechanisms.
International humanitarian agencies are looking for new mechanisms to enable access to
donor resources given advanced warning. The use of seasonal forecast information to
support appeals for donations in advance of a disaster is a new development. While in
some cases the hazard occurred and damages were mitigated as a result of early action, in
other cases it has been more difficult to demonstrate the benefits. So far, emergency
appeals based on climate information have not been very successful in garnering
preparedness funding - although they may be good steps in a process to access internal
On the other hand immediate response accounts and common humanitarian funding pools
(e.g. the CERF) can be reliable mechanisms to fund preparedness driven by good early
warning - which can be improved and provided longer in advance with good climate
information, offering new and better opportunities for more cost-effective disaster risk
management, with lower cost and better humanitarian outcomes. Donor, and other
organizations, could benefit through expansion of preparedness funding windows to
include more systematic integration of the climate-informed early warning.
Disaster risk managers should enhance their understanding of the potential
and limitations of climate information. The development of realistic
expectations is vital to good decision making, as well as, maintaining trust
with information providers.
Improved understanding and capacity of how weather and climate information can be
used for prevention, preparedness and response activities is vital. While in some cases,
the climate information could be simplified in its presentation or better communicated by
climate scientists, at the core, disaster managers also need to invest in a better
understanding of the limitations, opportunities and uncertainties associated with the
Lives and livelihoods are at stake. In many cases where disaster managers failed to use or
communicate relevant climate information, they and the communities at risk have been
caught off-guard. However, unrealistic expectations can also prove harmful.
Expectations about climate change, which do not fully appreciate historical variations in
the climate, may lead to inappropriate strategic decisions. Conversely, opportunities can
be missed if climate information is not well understood and disaster managers fail to take
the information into account in decision-making. Dialogue between disaster risk
managers and climate scientists, including capacity building workshops, games and
iterative production of knowledge products and tools, can serve to build the capacity of
Partnership between climate scientists and disaster risk managers should be
fostered, as their interaction provides a vital opportunity for feedback, which
can reveal low-hanging fruit, but also identify new information needs and
define questions for further research that can help improve future
operational disaster risk management. Where are communities at risk
within this partnership? Where is the bridging with indigenous knowledge?
It is mentioned within the examples cited from Kenya and the Pacific, but not
fully integrated across the discussion.
Dialogues between disaster risk managers and climate scientists can lead to the
identification of opportunities for using existing knowledge, as well as gaps in existing
knowledge. In some cases, the climate information that is most useful to disaster risk
managers is simply not available and further research must be done. Disaster risk
managers in East Africa Humanitarian workshop expressed an interest in longer lead time
weather forecasts, on the scale of 4-10 days. IRI/Red Cross interactions led to the
discovery that a very useful piece of information would be seasonal forecast of extremes.
Throughout the book, examples have demonstrated that in partnership, disaster risk
management can be enhanced through integration of climate information into disaster
prevention, preparedness and response. Careful and iterative interaction leads to better
tailored information and understanding of needs and limitations, mutual capacity
development, enhancement of credibility and building of trust. At the same time,
partnerships can help to overcome unwarranted expectations of the value of the
information, by helping to build capacity and correct interpretation of the information.