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					              +Action for the 21st Century: Strategies for coping
                    with water-related natural disasters
                                Mr. Sálvano Briceño, Director
                        United Nations Interagency Secretariat for the
                  International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR)

I. Introduction

        Despite our common efforts to fulfil the vision of the ISDR, namely, to build
disaster resilient societies worldwide, the challenge is now greater and more urgent than
ever. Asia is a disaster prone region, and the recent dramatic disasters that have affected
most countries in the region are painful reminders of the challenges that lie ahead of us.
The presentation addresses the strategies for reducing the impact of water related
disasters as well as presenting the increasing relevance of climate change and variables in
disaster related issues.

       This keynote presentation was made at the Interregional Symposium on Water -
Related Disaster Reduction and Response on the theme of Action for the twenty first
century: strategies for coping with water related natural disasters, Bangkok, Thailand, 27-
31 August 2001.

a) Global trends in disasters

       The number of disasters is increasing, as well as the number of people affected.
Hydro-meteorological phenomena, such as floods, landsides, and typhoons constitute the
main contributory factor. According to the CRED database at the University of Louvain,
Belgium, this type of disasters represent 61 % of recorded events from 1980 to 2001.

        Munich Reinsurance reports that during 1999, economic losses from natural
catastrophes exceeded 100 billion US dollars, the second highest figure ever recorded.
The negative effects in the year 2000 were less severe because the natural catastrophes,
though larger in numbers, happened to affect less densely populated areas.

        It is even more striking, however, that the number of major catastrophic events
over the past ten years has increased three-fold when compared to the 1960's, while the
rate of economic losses associated with them has increased by a factor of almost nine
during the same period.

        Asia has been affected by a number of large scale water related disasters,
including the catastrophic Yangtze flood in China, in 1998, where thousands of people
were killed, millions were displaced, and the cost has been estimated at 30 billion US
dollars. Other events such as the cyclone in the state of Orissa in India, the floods in
Bangladesh, to name just a few have all had severe repercussion on the GNP of the
countries affected. However it is the smaller, but recurrent disasters that receive no media



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attention, which have a pernicious effect on communities and economies, and are seldom
reflected in disaster statistics.

        The cost of disasters is even more significant if we factor in the social and
environmental consequences. Additional threats, particularly climate change, poverty,
desertification, environmental degradation and uncontrolled growth of urban areas,
further increase disaster risk and impact.

        Natural hazards are not confined to particular regions, nor do they discriminate
between developing and developed countries. Nevertheless, it is developing countries
that account for more than 90 per cent of the victims due to disasters triggered by natural
hazards. The World Bank has stated that losses caused by disasters in developing
countries, in terms of percentages of the Gross National Product (GNP), are 20 times
higher than those in developed countries. The victims of disasters are found
predominantly in the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society. This is all the more
reason why special attention will have to be paid to the interests and concerns of
developing countries, in our effort to address natural disasters.

       b) Disasters and climate change and variables

        In addition to the dramatic increase in the social, environmental, and economic
impact of natural hazards, another specific parallel trends has developed during the final
decades of the 20th century - an increase in energy consumption has resulted in higher
atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, resulting in global climate change. The
link between these two trends is still the subject of research, but the recent findings of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provide a worrying picture for the
future.

        The projected changes in climate will adversely affect many regions, in particular
tropical and sub-tropical regions of the planet. When dealing with the complex issue of
climate change there are some observations that can now be accepted as facts. We know
for sure that temperatures are increasing globally, although these increases are not evenly
spread out around the planet. We also know that these changes in temperature and
related local rainfall variations affect: (1) the environment, through accelerated
degradation and desertification, (2) socio-economic processes, such as health, agriculture,
fisheries, (3) sea levels, and (4) climate extremes.

        Unfortunately, these factors have a compound effect on the occurrence and impact
of disasters; on the one hand, they affect the intensity and frequency of extreme hydro-
meteorological events and on the other hand, they increase the vulnerability of societies -
the main factor responsible for the growing socio-economic costs related to disasters. The
Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the changes in temperatures,
precipitation and run-off world-wide. As we know, change in precipitation patterns, soil
moisture and vegetation cover, are linked to the occurrence of floods, droughts, but also
landslides and debris flow; and, of course, slight rises in the sea levels are expected not
only to submerge small island sates, but also to increase significantly the flood risk in low



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lying coastal areas and result in more devastating storms, and hurricanes in the same
coastal zones. The only hazards that are not directly influenced by climate change are
possibly volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

       The efforts carried out by the international community through, inter-alia, the
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), its Kyoto Protocol, the IPCC,
the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and other relevant programmes, in order to
diminish and reverse the current trend in CO2 emissions, need to gain momentum.
However, the obstacles in the recent UNFCCC/COP6+, held in Bonn, Germany, and the
lag time necessary for any agreement to actually reverse the current trend, highlight the
necessity of the international community to strengthen their action to deal with the very
concrete effects of a changing climate on vulnerable communities around the world.

        Other climatic factors that affect the occurrence of natural disasters are the
irregularly recurrent climatic variables, such as the El Niño and La Niña phenomena.
Atmosphere-Ocean circulation models project that as the Earth's climate warms over the
next 100 years, it is likely that a more El Niño-like condition may persist, leading to an
increase in the incidence of floods and droughts in many parts of the world. Both the
1981-82 and 1997-98 events, the strongest ever recorded, had disastrous impacts on
Pacific Rim countries, and the effects were felt as far away as Africa. IPCC projections
suggest that climate change may induce a more permanent El Niño state in the Pacific.

II. Water related disaster reduction and response strategies

       a) What have we learnt from the International Decade for Natural Disaster
          Reduction (IDNDR - 1990-1999)?

        In the past, there has been a long record of coordinated emergency relief
following natural disasters, and a remarkable degree of generosity has been shown by
individuals, governments, and by both inter-governmental and non-governmental
international organizations with regard to alleviating related suffering and destruction
through humanitarian assistance. Over the years the concept of emergency response and
natural disaster relief has been broadened to include elements of disaster preparedness
and early warning, as well as the mitigation of impacts through integrating such disaster
management concerns into operational development and technical cooperation.

        During the decade, new forms of natural disasters of great complexity, of regional
trans-boundary character, of unprecedented magnitudes of impact, and, consequently, of
extreme proportions of economic damage and social disruption have demonstrated the
limitations of the traditional, reactive approach. The recent consequences of natural
disasters are of a level that can barely be rehabilitated, irrespective of the amount of
reactive investment into disaster relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction. In addition,
natural disasters are still often viewed as powerful, random, capricious and unpredictable
events in nature that cannot be prevented. This view is wrong.




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        A natural disaster is the consequence of the occurrence of a natural phenomenon
affecting a vulnerable social system. Natural phenomena themselves, do not necessarily
lead to disasters. It is only their interaction with a constructed socio economic
environment that generates impacts which may reach disastrous proportions. While
natural and similar phenomena that adversely affect the environment are inevitable
events, human behaviour can be influenced and vulnerability can thus be reduced.

       In this regard, demographic change, the process of urbanization and the existence
of widespread poverty continue to force large numbers of people to live in disaster prone
and geographically unstable environments, significantly increasing their vulnerability. On
the other hand, human creativity in terms of application of new technology in the area of
forecasting can improve early warning systems, which will in turn lead to a significant
reduction in the impact of hazards.

        Natural disaster reduction is therefore a strategic concept aimed at reducing the
loss of life and property, as well as the social and economic disruption resulting from
natural disasters. Disaster reduction, which encompasses management of risk and
vulnerability, should therefore be seen as an integral part of social and economic, i.e.,
sustainable development strategies. The concept of disaster reduction complements, not
opposes, that of disaster relief, it integrates effective response as an indispensable
element of concerted long-term preventive strategies.

       b) Strategies for disaster reduction and response

        Disaster reduction is an ongoing process and not limited to a singular disaster
event. It motivates societies at risk to become engaged in the conscious management of
risk, beyond traditional response to and defence against the impact of natural phenomena.
Disaster reduction is multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary in nature and comprises a wide
variety of interrelated activities at the local, national, regional and international levels.

        The ultimate goal of the ISDR is to enable all societies to become resilient to
natural hazards and related technological and environmental disasters, in order to reduce
environmental, human, economic and social losses.

        When we take the lessons from the IDNDR, mainly, the Yokohama Strategy
established in 1994, as well as the strategy produced at the final event of the IDNDR the
Geneva Programme Forum in 1999, entitled a “Safer World in the 21st Century”, four
overriding objectives were formulated in order to fulfil the ISDR goal:

    Objective 1 is increasing public awareness. This involves programmes related
     to informal and formal education and needs to be addressed through public
     information, education and multi-disciplinary professional training. Needless to
     say that media and school systems around the world have a crucial role to play.

    Objective 2 obtaining the commitment from public authorities is intrinsically
     linked to the first objective. This objective needs to be addressed through an



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      increased inter-sectoral coordination at all levels, risk management strategies, the
      allocation of appropriate resources including development of new funding
      mechanisms, for example it is important that disaster risk reduction be included as
      a cross-cutting issue in the follow-up to Agenda 21.

    Objective 3 is the stimulation of inter-disciplinary and inter-sectoral
     partnerships and the expansion of risk reduction networking amongst
     governments at national and local levels, greater involvement of the private
     sector, academic institutions, NGOs and community-based organisations (CBOs).
     This calls for strong coordination mechanisms, such as appropriate institutional
     structures for disaster management, preparedness, emergency response and early
     warning, as well as the recognition that disaster reduction is a sustainable
     development issue.

    Objective 4 relates to a better understanding and knowledge of the cause of
     disasters through the transfer of experience and greater access to relevant data.
     The issues to be addressed in this context are the assessment and analysis of the
     socio-economic impacts of disasters, cohesive disaster databases, strong coping
     strategies, early warning as a process, as well as the promotion of scientific
     research and the development and transfer of knowledge and technologies.

       In order to achieve these objectives there are a number of areas of common
concern, which include:

1) The special vulnerability of the poor. We need to consider that floodplain
   management in developed countries is unsuitable for many of the less developed
   countries, where rapidly growing cities containing large number of poor migrants
   exclude the use of regulatory strategies due to large informal sectors in which
   individual decisions are taken out of necessity.

2) Risk assessment and management, which needs to address both the potential
   hazards, when possible, and more importantly the complexity of vulnerability and
   social issues. These comprehensive risk assessments should translate into risk maps
   and disaster management plans;

3) Legislation at all levels -local, national, regional and interregional- with respect to
   disaster reduction is crucial to back and organize the commitment of decision makers
   and the public. Legislation needs to be provided, of course, with mechanisms for its
   application and enforcement;

4) Structural measures based on risk assessment and risk mapping aiming at
   strengthening disaster resilience of human settlements and key public infrastructure,
   as well as to contain the potential impact of natural phenomena on socio-economic
   and environmental systems;




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5) Land use planning needs to include hazard awareness, vulnerability analysis, and
   risk assessment with the participatory involvement of local authorities and
   communities;

6) Integration of disaster prevention is also needed into national development
   planning, including the establishment of effective risk management capacities;

7) Application of scientific knowledge and technology for disaster prevention,
   preparedness and mitigation, including the transfer of experience and greater access
   to relevant data;

8) Decentralisation of operational responsibilities and budgetary resources for risk
   management, which will empower local communities to act with a greater degree of
   self-reliance and improve their resilience to natural disasters.

        c) Early warning

        An area of concern that requires particular attention when dealing with hydro-
meteorological hazards, is early warning. The objective of early warning is to empower
individuals and communities exposed to disaster risk to act in a timely and appropriate
manner to reduce the probability of suffering, personal damage, death and property
losses.

        Early warning is critical. But it will achieve little unless it is viewed as more than
a technological instrument to detect, monitor and submit warnings/alerts. It needs to
become part of a management information system for decision-making in the context of
national institutional frameworks for disaster management and as part of national and
local strategies and programmes for disaster risk reduction. Early warning is part of a
process, including risk assessment and combines efforts by all sectors to plan ahead and
build up people’s capacity to respond rapidly at the local level.

        An effective early warning system requires a good understanding of the
particularities of the needs of the recipients of the warning, as well as a good awareness
from the community of the risk to which it is exposed.

       d) Terminology

        It has become increasingly important when addressing disaster reduction issues
that we use the same terms when addressing specific issues. The ISDR Secretariat has
been assessing how various disaster risk reduction terms have been used in various
sectors, regions, decision-making documents and compiled all these various glossaries.
We are also suggesting, for the sake of coherence, a set of definitions that take into
account the results of this broad consultation. This glossary is available on our website
www.unisdr.org.




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III. Disaster Reduction and Response and the United Nations System

        Since 1971, with the establishment of the then Office of the United Nations Relief
Coordinator (UNDRO), the United Nations has provided a platform for concerted
international approaches in the field of disaster management.

       In recognition of the increased threat posed by natural, environmental and related
technological disasters and based on the belief that adequate scientific knowledge and
technology was available to reduce the negative impact of natural phenomena, the United
Nations General Assembly established the International Decade for Natural Disaster
Reduction (IDNDR) by resolution, on 22 December 1989.

       In keeping with the theme of the Decade, the World Conference on Natural
Disaster Reduction was convened in Yokohama, Japan, in May 1994. The conference,
which brought together more than 2000 participants from governments, the United
Nations system, and non-governmental organisations, adopted the Yokohama Strategy
for Disaster Reduction. Similarly, the Programme Forum which was organised in Geneva
in June 1999, as the culminating event of the Decade, adopted the Geneva Mandate
which endorsed the principles embodied in the Yokohama Strategy and the Strategy for a
Safer World in the 21st Century: Disaster and Risk Reduction.

        Against the background of these developments, the International Strategy for
Disaster Reduction (ISDR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly, as the successor
arrangement to the IDNDR as of 1 January 2000. The Strategy is premised on the need to
proceed from protection against hazards to the management of risk through the
integration of risk reduction techniques into sustainable development. At the institutional
level, the General Assembly established the Inter-Agency Task Force for Disaster
Reduction and the Secretariat for the ISDR as the main mechanisms for the
implementation of the Strategy.

        Encouragingly, most of the United Nations organisations and agencies, including
the World Bank, UNESCO, WMO, UNEP and UNDP, the Economic Commissions are
currently strengthening their disaster reduction capacity in their respective areas of
competence.

        As a result, disaster reduction has been highlighted as a priority in several global
strategies of the United Nations system in the social and economic fields and has been
recognised as an element of sustainable development. This has been confirmed by the UN
General Assembly1, by the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), in
relevant chapters of Agenda 212, in UN Conferences3, as well as in the Secretary-
General's report on the work of the Organisation A/54/1.

1
 For example ECOSOC resolution E/1999/63 of July 1999 and UNGA resolution A/RES/54/219 of
December 1999
2
    Chapters 3, 7, 13, 17



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       Disaster Reduction needs to be dealt with as a cross-cutting issue in the World
Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD, September 2002), in order to be reflected
in the Plan of Action, and in this context disaster reduction needs to appear in the
appropriate manner in the national, regional and global processes leading up to the
WSSD.

        Of course the United Nations is not alone in the disaster prevention field. But it
has a special leadership role thanks to its universal character, its broad policy agenda, its
capacity for acting as an honest broker and its vital role as a forum for global dialogue.
The ISDR Secretariat is currently working with an increasing number of partners to
review disaster reduction initiatives and trends worldwide. The first of these global
reports is expected to be published in the coming months.

        Real progress will require Member States, the private sector, NGOs, academic
institutes and international organizations to work together on advocacy, networking and
consensus building, creating a sort of global coalition.

IV. Areas requiring further development

        Future priorities include the strengthening of the key institutional arrangements at
all levels to harness the concerted efforts of the community in meeting the challenges.
Prevention policy is too important to be undertaken by governments and international
agencies alone. Much has been learnt from the creative disaster-prevention efforts of
poor communities in developing countries. To succeed we must also engage civil
society, the private sector and the media. We know what has to be done. What is now
required is the political commitment to do it.

        The scientific community, in particular, now has a better understanding of the
importance of the connection between natural disasters, climate change and land use. The
challenge now is to communicate this understanding more effectively to citizens and
policy makers. Among our most pressing tasks is to create clear guidelines for future
action at all levels.

        As mentioned previously, early warning is crucial as an integrated process,
including monitoring; mapping; impact prediction; the communication of early warning;
education and professional training; public information and awareness raising; as well as
interface between the public and private sectors and retrospective evaluation of the
effectiveness of early warning systems.



3
 Yokohoma World Conference on Disaster Reduction, 1994, International Conference on Population and
Development, Cairo, 1994, World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen, 1995, World Conference
on Women, Beijing, 1995, United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, Istanbul, 1996, World Food
Summit, Rome, 1996, Rio+5, 1997, Third United Nations Outer Space Conference, Vienna, 1999, the
Geneva Programme Forum, 1999, and more recently the United Nations Conference on LDC's in Brussels,
2001


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        Improved international cooperation to reduce the impact of climate variables,
such as El Niño and La Niña is another pressing challenge. This process recognises the
potential of applying existing science and technology in the field of climate variables, in
order to more effectively prevent natural disasters caused by future ENSO occurrences.

         Guidelines and methodologies are needed which enable local authorities,
institutions and communities to carry out risk assessments using local knowledge and
capacities as well as raising the awareness of decision makers to the need for the strict
application of risk reduction legislation and land-use planning.

        Continued research is necessary regarding the relationship between climate,
natural hazards and related vulnerability as well as the coordinated application of the
results generated by research programmes at the national and international level.

       Integrated risk management and vulnerability reduction with particular emphasis
on networking strategies and partnerships between communities at risk, need to be
engaged. This approach would involve community-oriented strategies in the context of
the implementation of Agenda 21 and is relevant to both North-South and South-South
development cooperation.

        Population concentrations and urban hazards present a special challenge for future
disaster reduction, in view of the fact that global population is projected to increase to
about 12 billion by the middle of the twenty-first century.

        The relationship between risk reduction and globalisation will constitute a major
challenge in the formulation of future disaster reduction strategies. In particular, more
effective capacities and methodologies for assessing the economic impact of natural
disasters will have to be developed. This will require ongoing analysis of the
implications of such impact on the economic competitiveness of national economies. In a
globalising world, risk reduction is an essential element in building competitiveness and a
basis for sustainable development.

        Unfortunately, as many of us know, disaster reduction continues to receive
insignificant attention in resource allocations both by governments and the international
community. Only approximately 1% of resources by international community for disaster
management is directed towards disaster reduction measures, and most of that is spent in
the developed countries.

        There is an overriding need for a common approach to disaster reduction activities
throughout the world; achieved through the implementation of a global strategy to guide
efforts and initiatives at all levels. Disaster reduction, needs to be promoted as an urgent
priority on the international development agenda.

*** Bangkok presentation final/270801




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