International experts address growing global threat of flooding at Mozambique conference

Eight months after floods devastated Mozambique, displacing almost one million people and devastating that nation�s economy, the Preparatory Secretariat of the Third World Water Forum and the Government of Mozambique convened a meeting of international experts on floods and flood prevention in Maputo, Mozambique.

Next World Water Forum to convene in 2003

MAPUTO, Mozambique, Jan. 8, 2001 — Eight months after floods devastated Mozambique, displacing almost one million people and devastating that nation�s economy, the Preparatory Secretariat of the Third World Water Forum and the Government of Mozambique convened a meeting of international experts on floods and flood prevention in Maputo, Mozambique.

From October 25th to 28th the International Conference for Mozambique Flood brought policy-makers together with technical experts in addressing the causes of the Mozambique flood, as well as considering increasing flood disasters throughout the world.

The World Water Forums, convened by the World Water Council, are part of an international multi-stakeholder process addressing a growing global water crisis, including both threats of flooding and inadequate water supplies. Second World Water Forum Chairman HRH Prince of Orange hailed the Conference for Mozambique Flood as �a critical first step in its strategy of addressing global water crises through coordinated regional action.� The Conference brought together 10 countries, including 7 high ranking Ministers, to address the regional actions needed to prevent future flooding disasters in Mozambique.

The Prince of Orange joined the President of Mozambique, H.E. Joaquim Chissano and the Chairman of the Preparatory Secretariat for the Third World Water Forum Hideaki Oda in convening the Conference. The Second World Water Forum, held in The Hague, in March 2000, involved over 120 Ministers from nations around the world and over 6,000 participants.

Participants, including representatives of nations, non-governmental organizations, academia, and the private sector, cited increased flooding in virtually every region of the world as a critical emerging water crisis. The Forum called for enhanced international cooperation and regional coordination to best address the growing flood crises.

In addressing the Conference on Mozambique Flood, President Chissano noted that �flood management strategies need to be developed in the context of international river basin management.� The President thanked conference participants for providing �strategies that will ensure that we will be better able to cope and protect Mozambique should a similar disaster strike again in the future.�

HRH Prince of Orange concurred stating that �bringing international experts and decision-makers together in Maputo underlines the commitment of the international community to act to try to prevent the widespread devastation flooding disasters can cause.� Noting the transboundary nature of the challenges posed by flooding, the Prince of Orange noted that the floods in Mozambique, as is the case for flooding in most countries around the world, �call for cross-border strategies to reduce the impact of natural disasters in the future.�

Chairman Oda cited �the opportunity to bring technical experts together with policy-makers in forging regional solutions to the growing threat of flooding� as a critical benefit of the Conference and the World Water Forum process.

The Mozambique Conference continues the tradition of the worldwide consultations of stakeholders who contributed to the World Water Vision presented at the Second World Water Forum to address the growing global water crisis. This crisis includes dangers to the environment caused by excessive withdrawals of water for human use, inadequate access to safe drinking water as well as the dangers posed by flooding caused by excessive amounts of water. The World Water Vision was conceived to build a consensus among professionals and stakeholders to design management plans that avert further water crises.

Through a participatory process, by March 2000 the Vision process had involved approximately 15,000 women and men at local, district, national, regional, and international levels in developing strategies for practical action towards the sustainable use and management of water resources. A series of conferences and meetings, including the Mozambique Conference, will be held regularly in the period leading up to the Third World Water Forum in be held in Japan in 2003.

Conference Recommendations

The experts present at this international conference agreed on a range of important points arising from their deliberations. Flooding, as a natural disaster cannot be managed in isolation. Attention must be divided between the various measures necessary for flood control. Escape routes and safe havens must be established in the affected areas to allow people to take refuge in the event of a flood.

It should however be noted that man-made infrastructures could give the population a false sense of security. They went on to emphasize the necessity of involving local people in developing grass-roots flood-coping and prevention strategies, noting that women with their understanding of family needs have a key role to play in developing such strategies.

The capacity of water resources institutions needs to be strengthened and this calls for cooperation in a national, as well as a Southern African regional context. Flood preparedness should be seen in the context of integrated water resource management.

A long-term collaboration of forecasting through the standardization of hydro-meteorological networks assist in the collection and dissemination of data. Flood plain zoning, and timely warning systems provided through satellite maps, graphical information and field warnings such as radio or sky-shouts, are vital in the protection of life and livelihood.

However, this type of institution building must be designed in the context of cross-border strategies. A strong recommendation was given to build inter-regional capacities for flood management. Education and training and research programs are necessary, aimed at raising awareness and consultation with local communities.

In addition, the adoption of a river basin approach is necessary, drawing on the experiences of other international river basins, in accordance with existing protocols. A follow-up strategy should focus on multi-country endeavors to reach agreements on the sustainable use and management of shared water resources. The experts agreed that only through such initiatives, can sustainable flood and drought management be effective. Further, the balance between structural and non-structural measures and a drive towards increased public participation and awareness will assist in the move towards developing collaborative strategies.

The Mozambican disaster has proven to be a lesson for future effective cooperation between regional and national governing bodies, as well as with the international community. The experts and politicians present called upon the international community to assist in funding these life-saving measures. This collaboration has the potential of saving valuable infrastructure while allowing vital emergency relief and food security systems to operate to maximum effectiveness.

The presence at this conference of experts and decision-makers at international level will prove to be vital in the active implementation of these recommendations in the countries of Southern Africa. The government representatives endorsed this plea and agreed with HRH the Prince of Orange that ��we have to learn to live with floods instead of struggling against them��

William Cosgrove, Vice President of the World Water Council and former Director of the Council's Water Vision Unit, applauded the work of the Mozambique Conference. "Understanding the root causes of flooding and the opportunities for flood mitigation provides benefits for the people of Mozambique as they rebuild their damaged infrastructure and lives. It also draws attention to flooding issues worldwide and the need to develop strategic approaches to attenuating their impact. These will be discussed further at the Third World Water Forum to be held in Japan in 2003.�

Mozambique Conference
The four-day conference included a mixture of field inspections, official briefings, plenary sessions, and expert discussions. Conference topics included: key causes of flooding; land use and flooding and conflicts in promoting flood prevention between sector interests such as agriculture, energy (hydro), forestry, industry and environmental protection/reserve.

Solutions discussed for flood preparedness included flood warning systems; improving international and regional coordination; availability of and objectives for meteorological forecasts. The conference also looked for lessons from the Mozambique flood and from other regions to develop forward-looking action plans and recommendations.

Key attention at the conference was on integrated watershed management. "Dealing with floods is one of the most important problems in water management, but it is an area that has been relatively neglected and under-resourced," says Margaret Catley-Carlson, Chairperson of the Global Water Partnership (GWP). GWP, a network linking hundreds of leading water management professionals around the world, sees tackling the management of floods as one of the world's most urgent water priorities.

As the nature and effects of floods are strongly related to the management of land and water, the sectors which deal with this problem should do so in association with each other rather than independently.

The Mozambique Conference was an important opportunity to advance efforts to establish better flood management plans to reduce the dangers to the people living on the flood plains. These dangers are especially acute in developing countries where so many of the poor people living on flood plains are entirely dependent on scarce water supplies for their livelihoods and well being.

Understanding and Addressing Threats Posed by Flooding
Flooding is essentially a human problem. The occasional inundation of flood plains is a natural process—a part of the function of the river as the drainage route for excess runoff. Flooding becomes a problem when it conflicts with the use of the flood plain for settlement, agriculture, industry, and other human purposes.

Most countries have developed institutional and physical infrastructure for reducing the effects of floods. Indeed, in many countries there is a long history of flood mitigation. In Hungary there is documentary evidence of flood defense as early as the 13th century and in the United Kingdom legislation seeking to address flooding can be traced back to 1531.

However, with increasing social and economic development bringing pressure on land use within the flood plains of rivers, the potential for flood damage is increasing in many countries. Added to this is growing evidence that flooding is increasing in frequency and severity, with increasing belief that this is possibly induced by changes in the Earth�s climate.

It is not possible, however, to address the increasing flooding by applying generic causes and/or generic solutions to specific basins. The causes of the Mozambique flood, as well as floods around the world must be examined in a local context, against the backdrop of increasingly uncertain global meteorological patterns. There are three critical stages to addressing flood mitigation: pre-flood activities; operational flood management; and, post-flood activities.

Pre-flood activities begin with improved land-use and water management. Planning must take into account the entire flood plain and inappropriate development must be discouraged in such regions. Flood prone communities should establish and maintain working flood defense infrastructure.

Prior to flood incidents, disaster contingency planning should establish a process for responding to an emergency and the public should be educated on flood risk and actions to be taken in case of an emergency.

Operational flood management should be considered as a sequence of four activities. First detection of the likelihood of a flood forming and providing solid forecasting; secondly, forecasting of future river flow conditions; a warning must be issued to the proper authorities and the public on the extent, severity and timing of a flood; and, the authorities and public must respond appropriately.

Post-flood activities will depend on the severity of the flood. A first priority must be on the needs of those affected by the disaster. Recovery and regeneration of the environment and support for rebuilding and economic recovery must also be addressed. But also critical will be taking the opportunity to learn from an event in order to improve the planning and process in the future.

Historically civilization has sought to tame floods through the construction of embankments and reservoirs to provide security for occupants of the flood plains. However nonstructural measures, such as flood plain zoning, development control, infiltration standards for new development and flood warning, recognize that flooding will continue to occur as part of the natural process within a river basin. Non-structural methods are more consistent with a policy of sustainable flood plain management.

Increased Flooding a Critical Aspect of Global Water Crisis
Addressing the problems of floods is a critical, but often neglected aspect of water management. The Second World Water Forum was held as the consequences of the disastrous Mozambique flood were being assessed. At the Forum, most discussion focussed on issues of water scarcity. However conferees also addressed the question of the growth in frequency and severity of flooding in recent decades. Forum discussions centered on six principal reasons for the recent increases in flood catastrophe:

� Population trends globally and in exposed regions;

� Increase in exposed property values;

� Increase in the vulnerability of structures, goods and infrastructure;

� Construction in flood prone areas;

� Failure of flood protection systems; and,

� Changes in environmental conditions.

Participants in the Second World Water Forum and ongoing series of meetings that will lead up to the Third World Water Forum are focusing on these issues related to increased flooding as an integral part of addressing the current global water crisis. The Conference on Mozambique Flood provides a critical next step for the Forum to investigate, in a timely fashion, one of the decade�s most disastrous floods.

Flooding Wreaks Havoc in Mozambique
The February flood in Mozambique was the worst in that region in over fifty years. The destruction caused by the flooding of rivers in southern Mozambique, exacerbated when tropical Cyclone Eline struck Mozambique�s central provinces, was devastating. Roads and bridges were destroyed, crops ruined, and close to a million people were left homeless or unable to return home. Relief agencies predict that it will take at least two years for Mozambique to recover.

As Mozambique struggles to restore its economy, citizens of that impoverished nation are seeking to identify strategies to reduce the impact of flooding in the future and to avoid the recurrence of this disaster.

Flooding a Growing Global Problem
The people of Mozambique are not alone in the world in facing this problem. The United Nations estimates that by 2025 half the world�s population will be living in areas that are at risk from storms and other weather extremes. Floods include both excess water caused by rainstorms that subsequently lead rivers to flood over their banks, and by severe coastal storms or cyclones that can lead to excess water largely through tidal surges.

In the 1990s, severe flooding devastated the Mississippi basin, and thousands of lives were lost from flooding in Bangladesh, China, Guatemala, Honduras, Somalia and South Africa. A flood on the Yangtze River in China in 1998 resulted in serious flood damages and affected eight million people.

According to the International Association of Hydrologic Research (IAHR), �flood disasters account for a third of all natural catastrophes throughout the world (by number and economic losses) and are responsible for more than half of the fatalities.� Most disturbing, according to the IAHR, is that trend analyses reveal that major flood disasters and the resulting human and economic losses caused by them have increased dramatically in recent years.

During the decade that ended in 1997, floods caused approximately 215,000 deaths and $235 million in economic losses. The economic losses from the great floods during these years are 10 times those in the 1960s in real terms. The number of disasters has increased by a factor of five.

There has been a 37-fold increase in insured losses since the 1960s.

However, the Prince of Orange, chair of the Second World Water Forum noted, �it is the millions of uninsured women and men, and their children who suffer the most. They are generally at greater risk to physical harm and often lose the meager savings of a life�s effort.�

Recent Floods in Regions around the World in 2000
In just the past several weeks, floods have had devastating impact:


In September-October, the West Bengal region experienced the worst flooding in several decades. Over 1,000 people were killed, 15 million stranded and much of the region inundated. Additionally, most standing rice and vegetable crops were destroyed. At the same time heavy rains and water rolling down from the flooded areas in India consumed large areas of neighboring Bangladesh, leaving more than 500,000 people homeless.


People living in the Mekong River delta in the Vietnam have just experienced the worst and longest-lasting floods in the last 60 years. More than 5 million people in southern Vietnam were affected and, according to latest updates, at least 460 people were killed. Some 670,000 people have either been relocated or are in urgent need of relocation. While the Vietnamese Government has made every possible effort to alleviate the impact of the disaster, its relief capacity was overwhelmed, requiring a concerted international relief effort.


In mid-October, floods and landslides swept through Switzerland and Italy. On October 17th, Italian authorities had to rush to rescue more than 15,000 people from the path of two raging rivers. The death toll was at least 25 in Italy with an additional 21 people believed missing. Emergency crews were forced to evacuate entire towns and authorities estimated the economic damage to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Within each of these examples are lessons about improving flood plain management. The Conference on the Mozambique Flood is just one in a series of meeting scheduled to take place on flooding and other components of the global water crisis in the years leading up to the Third World Water Forum, to be held in Japan in 2003.

Hideaki Oda, Chairman of the Preparatory Secretariat for the Third World Water Forum, saluted the success of the Conference saying �the output from the Conference on Mozambique Floods will provide important input for the Forum.� He concluded the conference by stating that �the most important thing is to bring people together to promote commitment and action in addressing the growing world water crisis.�

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