13 Nov 2023

Recording and cataloguing hazards and their impacts: balances, challenges and perspectives

Increasing countries’ capabilities to collect, analyse, manage and use data about high-impact meteorological events is essential for building robust databases that can provide the information needed to assess risk, vulnerability, capacities and exposure. These data are central to the scientific and operational work of the governments, academic institutions and humanitarian organizations involved in disaster risk management. However, despite some progress in recording and cataloguing high-impact events, many countries continue to experience institutional, technical and conceptual challenges.

Recently, there has been growing interest in recording not only the scale of high-impact meteorological events, but also their geographical impacts and consequences on social dynamics. For example, these parameters are being incorporated into risk analyses that form the basis of anticipatory action programmes. Information on the damage caused by high-impact events can then be incorporated into predictions of future severe weather events, for example verifying forecasts, integrating potential impacts into alerts and warnings, and elaborating risk-management plans.

During a recent community conversation on this theme, a panel of international experts shared some of the challenges, lessons learned and future perspectives from their work to record and catalogue the impacts of extreme meteorological events. This blog shares some of the case studies presented.

Towards an integrated database for meteorological hazards and their impacts in South America

Countries in southern South America have been working towards collecting all the information about hazards in one database. Paola Salio from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, explained how different universities, together with national meteorological services, have been trying to generate a methodology for achieving this. To date, the database contains reports from 2018 to the present, but she explained how there is also  information that goes back as far as 1930 for some regions.

The usefulness of the impact data available in various data repositories

Faith Mitheu, a project manager assistant and an early warning early action expert at the CIMA Research Foundation, and co-chair of the Future Leaders Network on Early Warning Early Action, highlighted some of the gaps identified through a case study of floods in East Africa. Studies on the use of disaster-impact data for forecast verification in Kenya and Uganda have revealed a need for more reliable and increased quantities of observed and impact data; such data could come from diverse sources, for example river gauges and databases, respectively. She also noted how a single data repository cannot provide full coverage of a meteorological event; the various databases that are available for a specific location must be used to ensure that there is sufficient impact information available to verify forecasts and predict their likely impacts. 

The importance of impact-based forecasting

"Why impact-based forecasting?” asked Juan Bazo from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. “In our learning, one of the main reasons for anticipatory action is to determine what the weather or climate might do. What impact might it have? That’s why we included this kind of methodology [impact-based forecasting] in trying to implement early action and be able to mitigate human suffering.”

The Climate Centre does this by working with local actors, such as meteorological services and national disaster management offices, to be able to implement this type of forecasting. “[This] can give us some lead time [and also helps us] to identify what the impact would be on the communities likely to be affected by a hazard,” he added. 

DesInventar: an inventory of disaster impacts 

Virginia Jiménez of La Red (Red de Estudios Sociales en Prevención de Desastres en América Latina) presented DesInventar, an inventory of disaster impacts. This was created in 1994 by La Red and the Colombian seismological observatory in response to the total absence of systematic, homogeneous and comparable records on disaster typologies. “There were global records… on major disasters,” she noted, “but there were few records on the more everyday elements [of disasters]”.

Reflections from the Early Warning Early Action Future Leaders Network committee for Latin America and the Caribbean

The community conversation highlighted the progress that has been made in recording and cataloguing hazards and their impacts. It also reflected the growing interest in how the impacts of disasters are recorded and catalogued. However, there is still much more to be done. For example, dimensions such as exposure and vulnerability to hazards present theoretical and methodological difficulties. Matias Menalled, a regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean within the Future Leaders Network and a PhD candidate at Uppsala University in Sweden, noted that “we must continue to analyse, discuss and build concrete advances, based on scientific knowledge and evidence”.

Vito Galligani, a scientific researcher at CONICET in Argentina, reflected on the need for better data on hazard impacts for global initiatives such as Early Warnings for All. “What possible biases can arise in the process of calibration, validation and/or training of early warning systems that do not have local and quality information on hazards and impacts?” Vito asked.

The speakers considered other challenges around how to record and catalogue this data, while also making recommendations for improving the quantity and quality of data, especially in localities where there is a paucity. “A greater emphasis on improving hazard and disaster repositories can strengthen early warning and early action, thus safeguarding lives and livelihoods ahead of disasters,” concluded Christal Benjamin, a regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean within the Future Leaders Network and a researcher at the Association of Caribbean States in Trinidad and Tobago.

This blog recaps the community conversation ‘Recording and cataloguing threats and their impacts: balances, challenges and perspectives’, which was held on 16 August 2023 and organized by the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Committee of the Future Leaders Network on Early Warning Early Action.

You can watch a recording of this webinar here. The Future Leaders Network is grateful for the support provided by the Anticipation Hub, the German Red Cross and the National Meteorological Service of Argentina for this event.

Lea aquí la versión en español de este artículo.

Main photo © Stefan Schweihofer / Pixabay