Volume 58(3) - July 2009

Disaster risk reduction, climate risk management and sustainable development

by Margareta Wahlström*

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Introduction

Disaster risks have risen over recent decades, and more extreme weather conditions in future are likely to increase the number and scale of disasters.

At the same time, the existing methods and tools of disaster risk reduction, and climate risk management in particular, provide powerful capacities for substantially reducing risks and adapting to climate change.

Climate change is no longer in doubt. The science has been thoroughly elaborated and assessed in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), [1,2] even if some details remain to be researched. Furthermore, new evidence is accumulating of changes around us, such as Arctic ice melting that is happening faster than was predicted by the IPCC reports. It seems that the more we know from new evidence, the more serious and challenging our future is.

Over the period 1991-2005, 3 470 million people were affected by disasters, 960 000 people died and economic losses amounted to US$ 1.193 billion [3]. Poor countries are disproportionately affected, because of intrinsic vulnerabilities to hazards and comparatively low capacities for risk-reduction measures, and they will suffer the most from climate change. Small countries are also particularly vulnerable: Grenada’s losses of US$ 919 million as a result of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 were equal to 2.5 times its gross domestic product (GDP). By contrast, the largest and wealthiest countries have diversified economies and risk transfer mechanisms and while losses may amount to billions, such economies can cope overall, as was the case with the USA and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Over the last two decades (1988-2007), 76 per cent of all disaster events were hydrological, meteorological or climatological in nature; these accounted for 45 per cent of the deaths and 79 per cent of the economic losses caused by natural hazards.

According to the landmark Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction Risk and Poverty in a Changing Climate [4], which was launched on 17 May 2009, our exposure and vulnerability to weather and climate hazards are growing, resulting in continued rises in the numbers and costs of disasters. Disaster risk is accumulating largely as a result of unplanned settlements and environmental degradation, though climate change is also beginning to show its hand. The poor have the most to lose in a disaster, both as individuals and as countries, as they lack the information, resources, capacities and social safety nets needed to protect their assets and livelihoods.

 

multi-hazards1
 
multi-hazards2
Multi-hazard map of Asia (United Nations Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (2009), page 23)

Concentrations of people and assets are growing in urban areas, often in high-risk areas such as storm-exposed coasts, flooding river deltas, earthquake-prone valleys and volcanic slopes. Cities may not have proper drainage and flood protection, may not apply effective building codes and are often dependent on vulnerable sources of essential water and energy supplies. Environmental buffers may be badly damaged and overuse of natural resources can lead to their depletion and pollution. When a major hazard event strikes, this concentration of vulnerability can cause severe impacts and the destruction of hard-won development gains. These, in turn, may destabilize public order, leading to political instability. Climate change is the new factor in risk for this millennium and is a direct result of the same processes that have led to the accumulation of disaster risk.

At the global level, there is concern by humanitarian actors that the demands and costs for response actions are increasing beyond their capacities to effectively assist, and that this will worsen with climate change. A record number of 13 international humanitarian “flash appeals”, mostly for climate-related events, were made in 2007. These appeals to donors are initiated by the United Nations in response to disasters and other sudden humanitarian crises. The humanitarian community has two roles—firstly, to respond to crises and disasters when they occur and, secondly, to work to reduce the root causes of crises and disasters. There is a new commitment by humanitarians to pay attention to disaster risk reduction and climate change, and some donors have targeted 10 per cent of their humanitarian budgets for investment in disaster risk reduction.

Disaster risk reduction is defined in the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) terminology as “action taken to reduce the risk of disasters and the adverse impacts of natural hazards, through systematic efforts to analyse and manage the causes of disasters, including through avoidance of hazards, reduced social and economic vulnerability to hazards, and improved preparedness for adverse events” [5]. It is therefore tailor-made to help counteract the added risks arising from climate change.

It is human nature to be somewhat resistant to change as long as people are comfortable in their current situations. We do not want to believe or accept changes that might bring us uncertain or possibly negative impacts. Even if affected by some anxiety, we tend to think until the last moment that our house and family and we ourselves, will be all right and that it will be others who are affected. This tendency is quite common in most cultures, but it is an enemy of action to adapt to changing environments and risks, both at the individual and collective levels.

Nevertheless, more people than ever before are aware of the threats associated with climate change and of the need for both mitigation (of greenhouse-gas emissions) and adaptation (to the inevitable changes in the climate). Radical changes in our socio-economic models and behaviour are needed if we are to substantially reduce greenhouse- gas emissions and, for this reason, mitigation occupies the bulk of climate negotiators’ attention at present.

Irrespective of our success at this task, however, the legacy of historical emissions means that we will increasingly face changes in climate and increases in disaster risks in the coming years. For poor countries, which have contributed so little to the problem, but face the largest impacts, the issue of adaptation is a particularly critical issue. Many significant steps need to be taken, with serious commitment and concrete actions, if we are to properly address the climate change problem. It is vital to vigorously propagate the culture “be prepared and have no regrets” in the contexts of climate change and growing disaster risk.

Climate change and adaptation

Main projections for climate change

The projections of future climate patterns are largely based on computer-based models of the climate system that incorporate the important factors and processes of the atmosphere and the oceans, including the expected growth in greenhouse gases from various socio-economic scenarios for the coming decades. The IPCC has examined the published results from many different models and on the basis of the evidence as at 2007 has estimated that by 2100:

  • The global average surface warming (surface air temperature change), will increase by 1.1°C-6.4°C;
  • Sea level will rise between 18 and 59 cm;
  • The oceans will become more acidic;
  • It is very likely that heat extremes, heatwaves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent;
  • It is very likely that there will be more precipitation at higher latitudes and it is likely that there will be less precipitation in most sub-tropical land areas;
  • It is likely that tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical sea-surface temperatures.

How climate change will affect key sectors

In the absence of countermeasures, climate change will affect many sectors that are directly relevant to disaster risks, including water management, food and agriculture, industry, human settlement and land use, health and even national security. The main effects expected are as follows.

Water

Drought-affected areas will likely become more widely distributed. Heavier precipitation events are very likely to increase in frequency, leading to higher flood risks. By mid-century, water availability will likely decrease in mid-latitudes, in the dry tropics and in other regions supplied by meltwater from mountain ranges. More than one-sixth of the world’s population is currently dependent on meltwater from mountain ranges.

Food

While some mid- and high-latitude areas will initially benefit from higher agricultural production, for many others at lower latitudes, especially in seasonally dry and tropical regions, the increases in temperature and the frequency of droughts and floods are likely to affect crop production negatively, which could increase the number of people at risk from hunger, as well as the levels of displacement and migration.

Industry, settlement and society

The most vulnerable industries, settlements and societies are generally those located in coastal areas and river floodplains and those whose economies are closely linked with climate-sensitive resources. This applies particularly to locations already prone to extreme weather events and, especially, areas undergoing rapid urbanization. Where extreme weather events become more intense or more frequent, the associated economic and social costs will increase.

Health

The projected changes in climate are likely to alter the health status of millions of people through, among others, increased deaths, disease and injury due to heatwaves, floods, storms, fires and droughts. Increased malnutrition, diarrhoeal disease and malaria in some areas will increase vulnerability to extreme public health and development goals will be threatened by longer-term damage to health systems from disasters.

Security

The impacts of climate change on security are uncertain and speculative, but may become significant in some circumstances. Potential concerns include: competition for scarce and depleting water resources; particularly in trans-border settings; migration and competition for food-growing land in low rainfall regions; mass migration from flooded coastal zones or small islands; civil disorder associated with severe disaster events, especially in urban areas; and political frustration of groups or countries who perceive they are unfairly affected by climate change.

Climate change and disasters

Natural hazards by themselves do not cause disasters—it is the combination of an exposed, vulnerable and ill-prepared population or community with a hazard event that results in a disaster. Climate change will therefore affect disaster risks in two ways: firstly, through the likely increase in weather and climate hazards and effects of sea-level rise; and, secondly, through the increases in vulnerability of communities to natural hazards resulting from ecosystem degradation, reductions in water and food availability and changes to livelihoods. Climate change will thus add another stress to those of environmental degradation and rapid, unplanned urban growth, further reducing communities’ abilities to cope with even the existing levels of weather hazards.

 

avalancheThere is already evidence of increases in extreme conditions for some weather elements in some regions. The IPCC conclusions on changes in extreme conditions relevant to disaster occurrence are as follows.

Many long-term precipitation trends (1900-2005) have been observed, including significant increases in eastern parts of North and South America, northern Europe and north­ern and central Asia, and more dry conditions in the Sahel and southern Africa, throughout the Mediterranean region and in parts of southern Asia. The frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most land areas, which is consistent with global warming and the observed increases of atmospheric water vapour.

More intense and longer droughts have been observed over wider areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. Higher temperatures and decreased precipitation have increased the prevalence of drier conditions, as well as contributing to changes in the distribution of droughts. Changes in sea-surface temperatures, wind patterns and decreased snow pack and snow cover have also been linked to changing drought occurrence.

Widespread changes in extreme temperatures have been observed in many regions of the world over the last 50 years; most notably the higher frequency of high-temperature days and nights.

There is good evidence for an increase of the more damaging intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, which is correlated with increases in tropical sea-surface temperatures. However, according to the IPCC, there is no clear trend evident to date in the global annual number of tropical cyclones.

It is difficult to provide projections of all the disaster-related effects of climate change, owing to the intrinsic uncertainty in the climate projections, the diverse and rapidly changing nature of community vulnerability, and the random nature of individual extreme events. However, there is a great deal of information from past events that can be extrapolated to the conditions projected by the IPCC to estimate the likely disaster-related consequences in general terms, as follows:

  • More heatwaves will increase the number of deaths, particularly among the elderly, the very young or among people who are chronically ill, socially isolated or otherwise especially vulnerable;
  • Increased drought in some regions will likely lead to land degradation, damage to crops or reduced yields, more livestock deaths and an increased risk of wildfire. Such conditions will increase the risks for populations dependent on subsistence agriculture, through food and water shortage and higher incidence of malnutrition and water- and food-borne diseases, and may lead to displacements of populations;
  • Increased frequency of high precipitation in some regions will trigger floods and landslides, with potentially large losses of life and assets. These events will disrupt agriculture, settlements, commerce and transport and may further increase pressures on urban and rural infrastructure;
  • Possible increases in the number and intensity of very strong tropical cyclones will affect coastal regions, with potentially additional large losses of lives and assets;
  • Sea-level rise, coupled with coastal storms, will increase the impacts of storm surge and river flooding and damage livelihood systems and protective ecosystems. Low-lying settlements may become unviable, which may result in increased potential for movement of population and loss of infrastructure;
  • Higher temperatures and melting glaciers may cause glacial lake outbursts that could flood downstream settlements.

With a view to providing a better definition of future disaster risks and of the available methods to manage and reduce them, the UNISDR and the Government of Norway jointly developed a proposal over 2008 and 2009 for a new IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation [6]. The IPCC decided in April 2009 to go ahead with this report process. The Special Report will provide an authoritative assessment of disaster risk reduction and management policies and practices, including their effectiveness and costs, and will provide a sounder basis for action on adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Its preparation will involve hundreds of experts worldwide and will be completed by mid-2011. The meteorological and hydrological science communities are encouraged to actively contribute to this assessment process.

Disaster risk reduction in the UNFCCC process and the Bali Action Plan

The Bali Action Plan, agreed at the 13th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Bali, Indonesia, December 2007, provided the guide for the negotiations on the global climate agreement that is expected to apply from 2012 [7]. Its directions for adaptation call for the consideration of:

Risk management and risk reduction strategies, including risk sharing and transfer mechanisms such as insurance; Disaster reduction strategies and means to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

The inclusion of these concepts is a major advance that will have positive repercussions for reducing disaster risks and improving risk management in the future. The ISDR system partners and Secretariat assisted this step through inputs to the internal UN preparatory processes coordinated by the UN Secretary-General in 2007 and to the activities of the UNFCCC Secretariat. Many of the general principles and requirements for adaptation that are listed in the Bali Action Plan are also highly relevant to reducing disaster risk, particularly vulnerability assessments, capacity-building and response strategies, as well as integration of actions into sectoral and national planning.

In support of the Bali Action Plan, and based on consultation with ISDR system partners and UNFCCC Parties, the UNISDR has arranged for the participation of developing country disaster risk experts in the UNFCCC meetings and, similarly, has invited climate change experts to participate in sessions of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction. At the 14th session of the Conference of the Parties in Poznan, Poland, December 2008, UNISDR was invited to provide a presentation on disaster risk reduction at an official workshop of UNFCCC Parties held on these issues. At the national level, UNISDR has identified and promoted the following two tasks that are particularly relevant to National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.

The first is to improve the interactions and coordination within countries to link disaster risk reduction and adaptation policies. This can be assisted, for example, through such things as: convening inter­departmental and national consultation meetings with personnel and experts from disaster risk reduction, climate change and development fields; formally cross-linking the national platform for disaster risk reduction and the national climate change team through systematic dialogue and information exchange; and conducting joint baseline assessments on the status of disaster risk reduction and adaptation efforts.

The second is to prepare adaptation plans drawing on the Hyogo Framework. Based on the assessment of needs and gaps, this task could include the joint development of a disaster reduction plan and an adaptation plan. These activities should capitalize on National Adaptation Plans of Action where present and other adaptation initiatives and should use the concepts and language of the Hyogo Framework where appropriate, ideally with action on all five of the Hyogo Framework’s priorities (see “Priorities for action and practical examples”, below) to ensure a comprehensive, integrated and systematic approach to adaptation.

Risk transfer mechanisms including insurance are noted in the Bali Action Plan as potential elements in a new climate agreement. Insurance and other risk transfer mechanisms have been long used to manage risks that would be too large for individual people and companies to bear on their own, by transferring some exposure to third parties with a more stable financial basis in exchange of a premium. Among the poor, however, especially in developing countries, insurance is not widely used. One question is whether insurance can be used as a tool to encourage risk-reducing behaviours. A recent study of the linkages between insurance and disaster risk reduction by a group of leading experts has been published by UNISDR [8].

There is some experience in developing countries with index-based climate micro-insurance, for example among low-income households, with financial coverage for climate risks, in Bolivia, Ethiopia, India, Malawi, Mongolia and Sudan. A multi-country index-based catastrophe insurance pool has recently been established among Caribbean island States. Index-based systems usually require a basis of quality meteorological data for calculating the risks and deciding on payout thresholds.

While these insurance schemes indicate some potential to provide improved security to vulnerable people and countries facing climate change, few programmes to date have a disaster reduction perspective or specific incentives to reduce disaster losses. Moreover, insurance and other risk transfer methods will be challenged by the increasingly frequent and intense events and hence growth of potential losses, and are unlikely to be able to deal with slow longer-term foreseeable changes like sea-level rise and desertification.

Nevertheless, collaboration between the insurance industry and public sector authorities can potentially help to promote risk reduction through, for example: data sharing; joint awareness raising and risk education; cooperation to ensure accurate risk pricing; collaborative improvement of enabling conditions and regulations such as legislation and financial oversight and monitoring; and the joint development of specific risk-reducing activities by policy-holders as a prerequisite for insurance cover.

Adaptation through disaster risk reduction and the role of the Hyogo Framework

The Hyogo Framework for Action

The Hyogo Framework for Action provides the global foundation for the implementation of disaster risk reduction [9]. Agreed at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in January 2005, in Kobe, Japan, by 168 governments, its intended outcome for the decade is “the substantial reduction of losses, in lives and in the social, economic and environmental assets of communities and countries”. It specifically identifies the need to “promote the integration of risk reduction associated with existing climate variability and future climate change into strategies for the reduction of disaster risk and adaptation to climate change...”.

Mixed progress is being made in implementing the Hyogo Framework. A reporting process developed by UNISDR has resulted in systematic reports from about 100 countries. These have been summarized in the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, which provides a comprehensive assessment of disaster risk, its relation to poverty and the progress towards implementing the Hyogo Framework. In general, progress has been greatest in the areas of institutional development and early warning and preparedness, and for middle- and higher-income countries. Progress has been least in the areas of environmental and sectoral concerns (which are often the sources of vulnerability and risk) and among the lowest-income countries (where the intrinsic risks are often highest). This shows that much needs to be done to address the real causes of risk and to integrate risk reduction into ongoing development policies and programmes.

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction is the main global multi-stakeholder forum on disaster risk reduction. At its second session in Geneva, 16-19 June 2009, it brought together 1 500 representatives of governments, UN agencies, regional bodies, international financial institutions, civil society, the private sector and the scientific and academic communities with the following aims: to raise awareness of disaster risk, to share experience, and to provide guidance to the ISDR system on how to better support countries to implement the Hyogo Framework for Action. The session reviewed a number of key issues, including the status of disaster risk, progress on its reduction, the reduction of disaster risk in a changing climate, achieving safer schools and hospitals, improving early warning systems, building community resilience, and the financing of disaster risk reduction.

The outcomes of the session provide important stepping stones to the deliberations at World Climate Conference-3 (WCC-3), Geneva, 31 August–4 September 2009. Together, these two events offer a valuable opportunity to develop concrete plans to address today’s pressing needs for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. There is clearly a need for a new thrust to build a coordinated global mechanism that can reliably provide accessible and usable climate information for risk assessment, risk management and risk reduction at all levels of society.

Priorities for action and practical examples

Based on a review of past successes and failures in reducing disaster risks, the Hyogo Framework sets out five priorities for action, as follows, each elaborated into a number of specific areas of attention where concrete risk-reducing adaptation measures are required. Each one requires the engagement and inputs of the meteorological and hydrological communities.

Indian Himalayan state of HimachaPriority for action 1: Ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation

This priority is important for both adaptation and risk reduction. Suggested actions toward achieving it include: encouraging a core ministry with a broad mandate including finance, economics or planning, to be responsible for mainstreaming climate change adaptation policies and activities; organizing a national high-level policy dialogue to prepare a national adaptation strategy that links with disaster risk reduction strategies; formalizing collaboration and the coordination of climate-related risk reduction activities through a multi-sector mechanism such as a national platform for disaster risk reduction; and developing mechanisms to actively engage and empower women, communities and local governments in the assessment of vulnerability and impacts and the formulation of local adaptation activities.

Priority for action 2: Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning

Important steps under this priority include developing and disseminating high-quality information about climate hazards and their likely future changes; conducting assessments of vulnerability and specially vulnerable groups; preparing briefings for policy-makers and sector leaders; reviewing the effectiveness of early warning systems; implementing procedures to ensure warnings reach vulnerable groups; and undertaking public information programmes to help people understand the risks they face and how to respond to warnings.

Priority for action 3: Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels

This principle applies equally to adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Specific steps should include collating and disseminating good practices; undertaking public information programmes on local and personal actions that contribute to safety and resilience; publicizing community successes; training the media in climate-related issues; developing education curricula on climate adaptation and risk reduction; supporting research programmes on resilience; and improving mechanisms for knowledge transfer from science to application for risk management in climate-sensitive sectors.

Priority for action 4: Reduce the underlying risk factors

This covers the many environmental and societal factors that create or exacerbate the risks from natural hazards. Measures can include incorporating climate risk-related considerations in the development planning processes, macro-economic projections and sector plans; requiring the use of climate risk-related information in city planning, land-use planning, water management and environmental and natural resource management; strengthening and maintaining protective works such as coastal wave barriers, river levees, flood ways and flood ponds; requiring routine assessment and reporting of climate risks in infrastructure projects, building designs and other engineering practices; developing risk transfer mechanisms and social safety nets; supporting programmes for diversification of livelihoods; and instituting adaptation activities in plans for recovery from specific disasters.

Priority for action 5: Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels

Actions include revising preparedness plans and contingency plans to account for the projected changes in existing hazards and new hazards not experienced before; building evacuation mechanisms and shelter facilities; developing specific preparedness plans for areas where settlements and livelihoods are under threat of permanent change; and supporting community-based preparedness initiatives. Resilience building and early warning systems also contribute to this priority.

Examples of adaptation and disaster risk reduction by sector

In most sectors that are relevant or sensitive to climate change, the role of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services is crucial, both for provision of data and expertise and for collaboration on design and implementation of policies and programmes. Some examples of cost effective actions are given below [10].

Agriculture and food security:

Well-known measures include altering crop strains to enhance their resistance to drought and pest, changing planting times and cropping patterns and altering land topography to improve water uptake and reduce wind erosion. Diversification is an option, for example, by combining food crops, livestock and agro-forestry. The introduction of insurance schemes can help people cope with crop losses. The options would be fewer, of course, without dependable climate information provided by National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.

Water sector

Adaptation measures include actions on both water supply and water risks, such as protecting water supply infrastructure and traditional water supply sources, developing flood ponds, water harvesting, improved irrigation, desalination, non-water-based sanitation and improved watershed and transboundary water resource management. Integrated water resource management provides the accepted framework for such actions. It has been reported that China spent US$ 3.15 billion on flood control between 1960 and 2000, which is estimated to have averted losses of about US$ 12 billion, and that the Rio de Janeiro flood reconstruction and prevention project in Brazil yielded an internal rate of return exceeding 50. Needless to say, the roles of national hydrological institutes are critical for water management.

Health sector

Measures include early warning systems and air-conditioning to address extreme weather events; systematic action on water- and vector-borne diseases to raise public awareness of watershed protection, vector control and safe water- and food-handling regulations; the enforcement of relevant regulations; and support for education, research and development on climate-related health risks. As one example, Philadelphia (USA) developed an excessive heat event notification and response programme to reduce the number of fatalities caused by future heatwaves in response to the heat-related deaths during the summer of 2003. This could be only done with the meteorological information generated by the National Weather Service.

Awareness raising and education

Measures include curriculum development for schools, supply of information to community groups and women’s networks, radio and television programmes, public poster campaigns and leadership by national figures and celebrities. Awareness-raising for strategic intermediaries such as teachers, journalists and politicians and support to technical experts and groups are also important. Among other things, National Meteo­rological and Hydrological Services can provide sound scientific and technical knowledge to support these activities, including by providing clear understanding of basic concepts and terms, such as weather, climate, climate change, disaster risk, etc.

Environmental management

Healthy ecosystems provide risk reduction services with significant benefits for resilience, livelihoods and adaptive capacity. Measures can include strengthening of environmental management in areas at greatest risk from weather hazards; protecting ecosystems, such as coral reefs or mangrove forests, that shield communities from coastal hazards; supporting transitions of livelihoods away from those that degrade environments and aggravate risk; and enforcing regulations concerning these practices. As one example, a mangrove-planting project in Viet Nam aimed at protecting coastal populations from typhoons and storms was reported to yield an estimated benefit/cost ratio of 52 over the period 1994-2001.

Early warning systems

National Meteorological and Hydro­logical Services play an obvious key role here. New emphasis can be put on measures to improve existing systems to cover the changed hazard circumstances, to ensure dissemination of warnings to all affected people in a timely, useful and understandable way, with advice on appropriate actions to take upon receiving warnings. A comprehensive UN survey of early warning systems identified major gaps in coverage for some hazards and some countries: much more action is needed to address these shortcomings, especially given the important role of early warning as an adaptation policy. [11]

Development planning and practices

Adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures need to be made a formal part of development processes and budgets and programmed into relevant sector projects, for example in the design of settlements, infrastructure, coastal zone development, forest use, etc., in order to avoid hazardous areas, ensure the security of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and communications facilities and to achieve sustainable land management. Again, National Meteo­rological and Hydrological Services and associated research institutes need to be active partners in these policy and planning processes.

Water and disaster: new recommendations for actions

The United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) is tasked with raising awareness and building common understanding of global water issues, promoting cooperation, and encouraging responsible and sustainable water management practices. In order to develop concrete follow-up actions for disaster risk reduction following the Hashimoto Action Plan, UNSGAB established the High-Level Expert Panel on Water and Disaster in September 2007, led by the Founding Chair Han Seung-soo, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea. The Panel subsequently produced its report with 40 concrete actions under six urgent imperatives [12]. These included the following three cross-cutting initiatives that are particularly relevant to National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, where the Panel decided to:

  • Call on national governments to declare hydro-climatic data as public goods to be shared at all levels (regional, national and local) in order to assist in disaster risk reduction, and seek United Nations General Assembly endorsement;
  • Call on the delta States to establish a Large Delta States Network to jointly tackle the negative impacts of sea-level rise associated with ongoing climate change;
  • National and international hydro­logical institutes must take the initiative to identify underlying analytical and data requirements to meet climate changes that are likely to be highly uncertain and so as to support structural and non-structural measures for disaster risk reduction.

The Panel’s recommendations offer specific concrete actions on water risks and disasters that deserve close support and follow-up. The Panel has proposed specific responsibilities for monitoring progress on the implementation of the actions, including for UNISDR and WMO.

Conclusions

The linkages between climate change, disaster risk reduction, national development and sectoral management are plain to see. Significant relevant knowledge and technical capacities exist, along with necessary international strategies and frameworks for action. Yet these assets have not been brought together in a coherent and effective way, with the sustained participation of all fields of expertise and responsibility, to achieve systematic global reduction in risks. Many problems remain, as is clear from the continued growth of vulnerabilities and disaster impacts. Developing countries are the most at risk, but all countries are exposed and none can ignore this whirlpool of issues.

National Meteorological and Hydro­logical Services need to be fully engaged in these processes. They are well placed through their specialist expertise and years of experience in dealing with weather impacts, climate variability and sector partners, and can provide key capacities to help integrate across the range of time­scales from short-term hazards and daily risk management to longer-term variation and change of the climate.

Suggested areas for attention include: applying best practice for tropical storm predictions and public response; implementing monitoring and response systems for high rainfall, flash floods and landslides, especially in urban and other populated areas; drawing lessons from, and improving the management of, El Niño/La Niña and other seasonal impacts; monitoring and managing regional-scale drought and multi-year anomalies; and contributing data and associated spatial and temporal modelling for national risk assessments. Achieving more globally systematic data collection and dissemination for climate research and sector management is an important priority. National Meteorological and Hydrological Services can also play a leading role in actively supporting the development of institutional mechanisms to link disaster risk reduction and adaptation policy-making at national level.

International mechanisms, such as the WMO system, the IPCC, the ISDR and the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery, together with their various frameworks and forums, in particular the Hyogo Framework, the Global Platform for Disaster Risk reduction and World Climate Conference-3, are important crucibles for the new ideas, commitments and coordination that are needed. These are not ends in themselves, of course, but are essential means to devise and guide accelerated concrete action where it counts, namely, supporting the permanent reduction of vulnerability and risk for all countries and all people.

References and bibliography

[1] IPCC, 2007(a): IPCC Fourth Assess­ment Report, Working Group I Report The Physical Science Basis, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg1.htm

[2] IPCC, 2007(b): IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group II Report Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. http://195.70.10.65/ipccreports/ar4-wg2.htm.

[3] Disaster statistics and summaries are available from: (a) Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) http://www.cred.be; (b) Munich Reinsurance, http://www.munichre.com/en/ts/geo_risks/natcatservice/default.aspx; and (c) UNISDR http://www.unisdr.org/disaster-statistics/introduction.htm.

[4] United Nations, 2009: Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. www.preventionweb.net/gar09.

[5] UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2009: UNISDR Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction. Available in the five UN languages http://www.unisdr.org/eng/terminology/terminology-2009-eng.html.

[6] Proposal for an IPCC special report on managing the risk of extreme events to advance climate change adaptation, Government of Norway and UNISDR, 2008. IPCC-29, Document 6. http://www.ipcc.ch/meetings/session29/doc6.pdf, and http://www.preventionweb.net/english/professional/publications/v.php?id=8150. See also IPCC Press statement, 23 April 2009 http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/press-releases/ipcc_pr_antalya_april_2009.pdf

[7] Bali Action Plan, 2007. Agreed at the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP), Bali, December 2007. FCCC/CP/2007/6/Add.1*, Page 3, Decision 1/CP.13. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2007/cop13/eng/06a01.pdf#page=3.

[8] Warner, K., N. Range; S. Surminski, M. Arnold, J. Linnnerooth-Bayer, E. Michel-Kerjan, P. Kovacs, C. Herweijer, 2009: Adaptation to Climate Change: Linking Disaster Risk Reduction and Insurance. UNISDR, Geneva, 20 pp.

[9] Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters (HFA). http://www.unisdr.org/eng/hfa/hfa.htm.

[10] UNISDR, 2008: Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction. UNISDR Briefing Note 01. http://www.unisdr.org/eng/risk-reduction/climate-change/docs/Climate-Change-DRR.pdf

[11] UN, 2006: Global Survey of Early Warning Systems, an assessment of capacities, gaps and opportunities towards building a comprehensive global early warning system for all natural hazards. United Nations. 46pp. www.unisdr.org/ppew/info-resources/ewc3/Global-Survey-of-Early-Warning-Systems.pdf

[12] The High-Level Panel on Water and Disaster/UNSGAB, 2009. Water and Disaster, Prevention and Action to Minimize Death and Destruction. http://www.preventionweb.net/files/8609_WaterandDisaster.pdf.

 

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* United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action

 

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