It is 19 years since the world first met to discuss global early warning for natural hazards in Potsdam, Germany. Since then events have only underlined how important early warning systems are for saving lives across the globe. 

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The infrequency of tsunami events in the Indian Ocean explains why there was no such system in place while one had been installed in the Pacific Ocean 55 years earlier in 1949, following the Aleutian Island earthquake which resulted in 165 casualties.

Filling obvious gaps can justify the expense of a single hazard early warning system as in the case of Bangladesh which has lost hundreds of thousands of lives to cyclones but has reduced the death toll significantly in the last two decades thanks to an effective community-based cyclone preparedness programme.

However, it is often the case, particularly in developing countries, that a multi-hazard approach makes more sense economically, and operationally, especially in parts of the world exposed to many different types of hazard.

That is one key reason why the Mexican Government, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with many partners, are organizing the first-ever Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference.

This is timely in the context of extreme weather events that have doubled over the last 40 years and continue to claim many lives and cause huge economic losses particularly in countries which struggle to maintain viable climate and weather information services.

Multi-hazard early warning systems are essential to achieving reductions in loss of life, the numbers of people affected by disasters, economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure – targets which Governments have agreed to under the global plan for reducing such losses, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

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