SEATTLE, Washington — Taiwan hopes to help Belize in its mission to reduce the human and economic costs of natural disasters. With the International Cooperation and Development Fund, Taiwan helped develop an early warning system for flood mitigation efforts and preparedness. The program’s goals are to prepare efficiently, coordinate a response plan and undertake successful recovery efforts. The initiative began on June 15, 2020, but the ICDF had originally launched the Belize Urban Resilience and Disaster Prevention Project in 2019. This is a three-year initiative that will cost roughly $1.2 million to help Belizeans prepare for disasters.
Belize: A Developing Nation in the Tropics
Belize’s location in the tropics puts it at risk for hurricanes and tropical storms. These bring the threat of storm surge flooding along the coast and heavy rains, leading to river flooding and mudslides further inland. Roughly 70% of the country lives in low-lying areas. As a result, Belize loses about 7% of its GDP each year due to floods and hurricanes.
Taking into account topography and the various features that influence Belize’s weather, warning times for floods are often minimal, according to Dr. Konstantine P. Georgakakos, Hydrologic Research Center director. Dr. Georgakakos spoke to The Borgen Project in an interview about the project. Among the climatological struggles that Belize faces are problems with abundant moisture from the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, slow-moving storms that saturate the soil and make it harder to absorb runoff and rainfall enhancement due to mountains, which leads to mudslides and landslides.
Belize is no stranger to devastating flooding events. A tropical system in 2008 caused severe flooding that affected more than 16,000 people. In 2000, Hurricane Keith led to river flooding increasing the water level to almost 20 feet above normal in some places. Taiwan, similarly, faces typhoons, mudslides and threats from storm surges. In 2009, Typhoon Morakot dropped more than 6.5 feet of rain on parts of the island and killed more than 500 people.
The disaster potential both countries face gives them an opportunity to address these concerns jointly and develop infrastructure to protect people. While there are geographic and social differences between the two nations, they both see the importance in preparing and informing people.
Importance of Early Warning Systems
The project takes into account climate as well as geographical and hydrological variables to map out flood zones, including communities with no existing data. Data collection and application will be a continuously evolving technology, complete with monitoring stations, data monitoring and observations, including flood simulations. This will help the government make decisions related to preparations.
Dr. Hannah Cloke, University of Redding Hydrology professor, spoke to The Borgen Project. She said that early warning systems are important to saving lives and protecting ways of life. They give clear information on the upcoming risk so that government authorities, humanitarian agencies and communities can prepare.
Flood mitigation and early prevention measures can be a short or long-term effort, according to Dr. Cloke. They range from community efforts such as a river level alarm system to the global use of forecasting models. Besides technology, they can include evacuations, moving livestock, installing flood barriers and providing water purifiers.
The Climate Technology Center and Network claims that early warning systems are also crucial to surrounding ecosystems. Early warning systems give timely warnings on when and how much water should be released behind gated dams. Consequently, such measures would reduce overall environmental damage in a flood event.
Early warning systems are crucial to protecting all facets of communities. However, there is more to disaster preparedness, according to Dr. Cloke. These systems must take into account the long-term risks associated with flooding and preparing by having evacuation plans and infrastructure to mitigate the effects of flooding. “Early warning systems can only ever be one part in preparing for floods,” she said.
Early warning systems encompass a holistic approach that ranges from local to global resilience to geographic, environmental and economic approaches. Each community is empowered to prepare as threats, technology and knowledge evolve.
The Future of Early Warning Systems
As the population grows, more people and property will be at risk from natural disasters. Disseminating information and promoting locally involved initiatives for disaster prevention will be key to saving lives. For developing countries, advancements in infrastructure are crucial to flood mitigation, according to Georgakakos.
According to Dr. Cloke, warmer ocean temperatures could play a role in floods. Heavier rainfall could lead to flooding in coastal zones, especially due to tropical cyclones. Early warning systems will become more important with more people living in flood zones and areas prone to water level rise, especially for vulnerable populations. That is why, Dr. Cloke said, environmental variables and hazards have to be considered at the same time as human actions. “Analyzing the danger from environmental hazards has to go hand in hand with supporting those most vulnerable to them,” Dr. Cloke said.
– Bryan Boggiano