How To Avoid Water-Related Hazards

Be informed and be prepared.

Water-related disasters have disrupted national economies, severely weakened the poor and vulnerable and are now recognised as impediments to sustainable development and reduction of poverty.

Losses caused by natural disasters are particularly depriving countries of resources that could otherwise be used for economic and social development.

The toll of these disasters is much more severe and tragic in the least developed and developing countries and has set back their development goals by decades. Disaster risk reduction is consonant with poverty reduction (see analysis of extreme values in Russian).

Water-related hazards are a consequence of the interaction of extreme hydro-meteorological events and the vulnerable human economic activities in the influence area of such events.

Sometimes the extreme hydro-meteorological events also combine with the geological conditions or events to pose a complex natural hazard.

These hazards are tropical cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons, etc.) and storm surges; floods; landslides and mudflows; avalanches; and droughts (due to the absence of water).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
has indicated in a recent report that climate change and a warmer world mean we will be seeing more of them.

Further, any form of pollution of water due to the direct or indirect release of toxic material into watercourses due to technological disasters or otherwise poses a grave risk to the health and wellbeing. 

Agenda 21 highlighted the need to manage risks to provide security from flooding, for instance. The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) also underlined a shift in flood management through the “improved use of climate and weather information and forecasts, early warning systems, land and natural resource management, agricultural practices and ecosystem conservation”. 

The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/47/193 of 22 December 1992 by which 22 March of each year was declared World Day for Water, to be observed starting in 1993, in conformity with the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) contained in Chapter 18 (Fresh Water Resources) of Agenda 21. 

Each year, one or more agencies of the UN System take responsibility for leading the celebration of World Water Day. This year, the
World Meteorological Organization – Weather, Climate and Water (WMO) and the UN Interagency Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) have accepted to play this role.

WMO in consultation with other interested organizations has prepared an Information Kit to help children avoid drownings This Kit includes a life jacket and a poster on Water and Disasters.

Most water-related natural hazards exist in areas that also present opportunities for human activities and have a large potential to turn into disasters if development activities are pursued without factoring them into account or without adopting prevention and mitigation measures. With the correct selection of life jackets, many of these issues can be prevented.

People have managed catastrophes by anticipating potential hazards based on their experience, and by investing in protective measures. 

Early warnings that reach those at risk fast, and that are effectively acted upon are essential elements of disaster reduction strategies and action plans at all levels.

National Hydrological and Meteorological Services (NMHSs) all over the world play a crucial role in providing vital information on the vulnerability of society to water-related disasters and also provide early warning for impending disasters.

Definition of a clear role for all the agencies involved in the management of Water-related disasters starting from the National Meteorological Services down to the Civil Defense and the community action groups responsible for local emergency response is essential for coordinated and coherent disaster response. 

With climate change and increasing variability ensuring that water-related hazards will not abate any time soon, disaster risk reduction will be called on more and more to build up our capacity to cope. Reducing the risk of water-related hazards means, on the one hand, developing our capacity to monitor their magnitude, duration, timing and location, and on the other, assessing and reducing our vulnerability to them.

Disaster risk reduction involves the creation of a safety culture that demands the involvement of local communities, so that information and experience are shared.

It depends on the level of awareness of risk, which largely depends on the quantity and quality of the available information and on how individuals, communities, agencies and governments perceive risk. People are more vulnerable when they are not aware of hazards.

Disaster management is not merely a technical issue but one that has social, cultural and environmental dimensions.

The disaster management strategies have to be evolved based not only on the technical data but on a strong social and cultural knowledge base.

People’s participation at all stages of the disaster management cycle, in ways that is easy to understand, will reduce their vulnerability and will enable them to participate effectively in any mitigation measures. 

World Water Day 2004, with the theme of “Water And Disasters,” provides an opportunity as well as a challenge to all disaster managers.

The purpose of this campaign is to promote decentralized disaster preparedness, regional knowledge sharing and raising public awareness about the issues related to water-related disasters.

It aims at inspiring worldwide political and community action for preventing and mitigating water-related disasters, and enhance awareness in order to save lives and property, achieve the
Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty and building sustainable development.

Let each one “Be Informed And Be Prepared” to mitigate the adverse impacts of natural disasters and in particular the water-related disasters.