A Vison Paper on the Integration of Pandemics into a Multi-Hazard Early Warning (MHEW) Environment for Sri Lanka

Dilanthi Amaratunga, Richard Haigh, Thushara Kamalrathne, Nishara Fernando, Naduni Jayasinghe, Chandana S. A. Siriwardana, Ravindu Udayantha Jayasekara, Hemantha Herath, P Ranaweera, U Ariyasinghe, L. Kodithuwakku, S. Rathnayake, C. Rupasinghe

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Early warning (EW) systems are an essential component of disaster risk reduction (DRR). An EW system aims at providing timely warnings to people with the objective of minimizing the physical, social and economic losses and damages caused by disasters. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR), the current global framework for DRR, advocates the development of Multi-Hazard Early Warning (MHEW) systems and increasing access to disaster risk information in target (g) of its seven global targets. A MHEWS has the ability to address several hazards and/or impacts of similar or different types in situations where hazardous events may occur alone, simultaneously, cascading or cumulatively over time, and taking into account the potential interrelated effects.

The world had experiences with pandemics such as the Spanish flu, the Asian flu, and the Hong Kong flu in the 20th century. The definition of ‘risk’ has been extended to incorporate biological hazards in the SFDRR, taking heed of the above and more recent experiences of epidemics such as MERS, SARS and Ebola. Most recently, the world saw the rapid transmission of a Coronavirus (COVID-19) that soon developed into a large scale pandemic, not only causing a myriad of effects that transgressed boundaries, but also interacting with other parallel hazards (e.g. natural hazards) rendering conventional response measures obsolete. This shows that local, national and international EW systems for pandemics are largely underdeveloped, while also indicating pandemic response could significantly benefit from such a system. Existing EW systems tailored to natural hazards, such as floods, earthquakes and landslides, may seemingly lack applicability in contexts of pandemic response because unlike natural hazards that require persons at risk to move away from a crisis point, biological hazards (e.g. epidemics and pandemics) require people to minimize movement to reduce transmission. Nevertheless, MHEWS seek to convey risk, which in the present discourse on DRR means all forms of risk (including biological hazards), in a comprehensible format while also ensuring credibility and transparency.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherGlobal Disaster Resilience Centre
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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