Impact-based early warnings build drought resilience in Papua New Guinea CREWS Impact Feature, May 2020

In 2015-2016, the Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea suffered severe droughts affecting about 40% of the nation's nearly nine million inhabitants, causing widespread and life-threatening food shortages. This "small island developing state" is increasingly threatened by extreme weather due to the impacts of climate change. The dangerous 2015-2016 droughts were caused by a strong El Niño – a weather pattern that occurs in the Pacific Ocean, during which unusual winds cause warm surface water from the equator to move east. While a typical El Niño brings more rain to eastern Pacific nations, the winds can create significant drought situations in Papua New Guinea, and are occurring more frequently with the world's changing climate.

This video by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) detailing the severe 2015-2016 El Niño illustrates what causes this weather scenario to occur and its impacts.


Warmer than normal surface air temperatures and lower levels of precipitation have already been predicted for 2020 in Papua New Guinea (highlighted in box).

While the threat of drought is significant, the people of Papua New Guinea will now have increased resilience, through efforts supported by the Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative to launch an "impact-based" early warning system.

The CREWS Papua New Guinea project leverages and strengthens the capacities of its multi-sectoral partners to reduce the impacts of drought on communities across Papua New Guinea through delivery of advanced forecasting and warnings such as seasonal forecasts.

The project seeks to create an end-to-end early warning system focused on reducing drought impacts. It builds the capacity of the national meteorological agency and strengthens its cooperation with key sectoral ministries, departments and other stakeholders for agriculture, disaster management, energy and infrastructure.

Other hazards related to droughts such as frost and bush fires are also indirectly addressed, while at the same time providing a foundation for flooding early warning systems.

Impact-based forecasting goes beyond providing good weather forecasting, to include information on the impacts of predicted weather and what action people should take to prepare in order to ensure their safety and protect their property. As such, impact-based forecasting builds life-saving resiliency in vulnerable communities.

In February 2019, the concept of impact-based drought forecasts and associated risk-informed warnings was introduced at a CREWS supported workshop in Papua New Guinea. Experts demonstrated how impact-based forecasts assist with improved decision making. Feedback from stakeholders from agriculture, disaster risk reduction, energy, health, water and other sectors was collected, and recommendations produced to include information on likely impacts into drought and frost warnings.

This was expanded to gather broader user needs through a series of six additional stakeholder workshops. Further assessment of the national capabilities on drought forecasts was then conducted. Based on input from stakeholders, recommendations for improvement of the available drought forecasts products were then produced.

With CREWS support and cooperation with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Papua New Guinea issued its first advanced seasonal forecast in 2019.

Through the project, a rolling assessment of user needs will be updated at least once a year to ensure proper tracking of how user requirements are fulfilled.

how impact-based forecasting builds resilience in Papua new guinea

Early drought warnings enable communities across the nation to build resiliency through advanced actions. This is particularly useful to vulnerable communities in the high plateau regions of the country and small-scale farmers -- as agriculture provides a subsistence livelihood for 85% of the population, or 7.6 million people.

With advanced warnings, communities are able to prepare by:

  • Cultivating drought resistant crops to reduce the risk of widespread famine
  • Stocking up on basic goods to avoid significant price increases during periods of drought
  • Managing water to ensure availability of safe drinking water and clean sanitation
  • Anticipating hydro-electricity needs to lessen use of costly and environmentally unsustainable diesel power generators
  • Developing business contingency plans to minimize local job losses
  • Planning in international sectors such as aviation, shipping and tourism to protect these important economic sectors.

CREWS supported collaborative action

The CREWS Papua New Guinea project is funded through the CREWS Trust Fund. It is implemented by WMO in partnership with Papua New Guinea's Department of Transport and Infrastructure, National Weather Service, Department of Environment and Conservation, Department of Agriculture and Livestock, Department of Forestry, and Department of Commerce and Industry, together with the Bureau of Meteorology of Australia and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research of New Zealand.

The project addresses improved weather observations, climate data management of historical data for the monitoring of drought, climate data rescue, state-of-the-art seasonal forecasting coupled with monitoring and advisories for drought, and a more efficient distribution of alerts and information suitable for decision making at the national and local levels.

It is currently delivering the following:

  • Assessment and user requirements
  • Improvement of observations and databases
  • Weather and climate monitoring and forecasts
  • Drought and preliminary assessments on flood and flash flood support to early warning system development
  • Institutional strengthening
  • Support process in the management and monitoring and evaluation activities

In 2019 alone, CREWS supported training on:

  • Preparing and interpreting forecasts
  • Multi-channel forecast and warnings communication systems
  • Climate data management and data rescue
  • Climate extremes monitoring and drought forecast

Bob Stefanski, CREWS Papua New Guinea Project Manager, and WMO Chief of Agricultural Meteorology provides an update:

The CREWS Papua New Guinea project is also building upon a number of parallel projects including the South Eastern Asia Oceanic Flash Flood Guidance initiative, the Papua New Guinea Capacity Development Project funded by the Australian Government and the Climate and Ocean Support Program for the Pacific.

Photos and videos courtesy of: Rod Sollesta, WMO, Asian Development Bank, WMO, Gail Hampshire, CREWS, Bob Stefanski, NASA.

Made possible through the generous support of these CREWS Members:

The Government of Canada also provides support for CREWS projects directly to WMO.

CREWS Implementing Partners:

CREWS also partners with and/or contributes to:

© 2020 Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems (CREWS)