Secure water to reduce disaster risks, say experts

March 19, 2009
The High-Level Expert Panel on Water and Disaster here at the 5th World Water Forum identified six specific priorities and forty actions guidelines to prevent, prepare for, manage and recover from water-related disasters. It then called on governments of all nations to endorse and adopt these measures immediately...

• High level panel at Water Forum calls for "six urgent imperatives"

ISTANBUL, Turkey, Mar. 17, 2009 -- The High-Level Expert Panel on Water and Disaster here at the 5th World Water Forum identified six specific priorities and forty actions guidelines to prevent, prepare for, manage and recover from water-related disasters. It then called on governments of all nations to endorse and adopt these measures immediately.

Failure to act would turn a grave situation even deadlier. In 2008 alone, 321 disasters killed 235,816 people, affected 211 million others and cost US$ 181 billion. Scientists say climate-related disturbances like drought, hurricanes, floods and heatwave are on the rise, from Hurricane Katrina to Australia's 1,000 year drought. But while natural hazards are inevitable, argued members of the panel, high death and destruction tolls are not.

Water is life but the excess or absence of "water is also a threat to life," warned Han Seung-soo, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea. "The growing occurrence of extreme weather conditions has increased the risk o water-related disasters both in terms of their frequency and severity. Numerous lives have been taken away and societies and economies are suffering from the damaging effects of the disasters."

Han chaired the High-Level Expert Panel, convened in 2007 by the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation in response to unprecedented damage. Today the panel launched Prevention and Action to Minimize Death and Destruction: Building Resilience Toward Sustainable Development a report that urges nations to:

• Galvanize and mobilize before disaster strikes;
• Prioritize systems to forecast, inform, alert and evacuate;
• Incorporate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation as integral to development planning;
• Improve disaster response;
• Provide safe water and toilets quickly when disaster/conflict strikes; and
• Work together on crosscutting initiatives such as data sharing, vital analyses and responses by delta states.

The natural risk of to communities escalates whenever and wherever more extreme events cut off access to water. But with preparedness and planning, fatalities and destruction can be decreased, said the panel's co-moderator Loic Fauchon, President of the Marseilles-based World Water Council, which co-convenes the World Water Forum.

"We will reduce disasters through better coordination and evaluation," said Fauchon, who has advocated creation of a cadre of skilled "water blue helmets" and who has urged rescue efforts to prepare in advance by linking global resources with local expertise in a clear-cut manner. "Our mission is to improve our emergency response, especially where it is difficult to assess disasters. Those first 24 hours are crucial for rescue operations."

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