Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Increasing Access to Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems: Promoting Climate Change Adaptation in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region

| August 2020

Executive Summary

More than one billion residents of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region will be at risk of exposure to increased frequency and intensity of natural hazards due to climate change and land-use changes. Natural disasters not only take lives and disrupt livelihoods, but also compound the marginalization of women, lower castes, and other vulnerable groups. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), an intergovernmental organization representing the eight member countries of HKH (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan), has been working at the nexus of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction to mitigate natural hazard threats.

Our Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) aims to help ICIMOD, in partnership with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), close a knowledge gap that serves as a barrier to climate adaptation: a lack of access to early warning systems for multiple hazards in the HKH region. This knowledge gap constitutes one of sixteen knowledge gaps prioritized by the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya region for the Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative (LAKI).

Our research and interviews interrogated this knowledge gap through two main research questions:

1.  What are the main barriers to access to multi-hazard early warning systems in HKH?
2. What are potential solutions to such barriers, drawing from HKH and non-HKH real-world examples?

We combined multiple research methods (e.g. literature review, desktop research, key informant interviews) to address this policy problem. We used ICIMOD’s Community Based Flood Early Warning System (CBFEWS) as a lens to understand how ICIMOD overcame barriers to access in early warning systems for floods and flash floods. We conducted in-country interviews with more than 40 individuals involved in CBFEWS sites near the Nepal and India border to get first-hand knowledge of its mechanics, benefits, and challenges. Furthermore, we talked to subject-matter experts from ICIMOD and regional NGOs to gain insight into the most consequential barriers impacting access to early warning systems. Leveraging categories established by the UNDP, we identified and prioritized barriers to access to early warning systems (EWS) as follows:

Ultimately, we recommend that HKH stakeholders, who work with ICIMOD, expand their collaborative efforts focusing on floods to multiple natural hazards (i.e., droughts, landslides, debris flow, and earthquakes). We recommend that HKH stakeholders work towards regional approaches to a coordinated multi-hazard early warning system. This work would build off ICIMOD’s community-based model and existing efforts with a regional or transboundary focus that ICIMOD has pioneered, including the disaster risk reduction work on the Koshi Basin Initiative and the HKH Hydrological Cycle Observing System (HYCOS) initiative.

There are some immediate next steps that HKH stakeholders can take to address the barriers to effective, multi-hazard early warning systems. We propose short-term recommended actions for each enabling solution that HKH stakeholders could pursue. Each of these solutions addresses one or more barrier that emerged from our desktop research and community-based interviews.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Bicknell , Daniel, Colleen Narlock and Reine Rambert. “Increasing Access to Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems: Promoting Climate Change Adaptation in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region.” Paper, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, August 2020.

The Authors

Colleen Narlock

Reine Rambert