The UN 2020 Water and Climate Change report identifies several water-related effects of climate change, including heat waves, unprecedented rainfalls, and thunderstorms and storm surges from cyclones, typhoons, or hurricanes. These disasters can lead to political and socio-economic instabilities that then degrade peoples’ livelihoods. Human society is increasingly vulnerable to water-related disasters. The report suggests that the best way to address this is through climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.
The report identifies two types of measures: “hard” and “soft” for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Hard measures involve physical infrastructure and the environment, whereas soft measures deal with the ability of humans to plan ahead. Hard and soft measures should be complementary. For example, to diversify crops (a hard measure), countries need policy environments (a soft measure) that will make crop diversification possible.
The report focuses on climate-proof infrastructure and nature-based solutions identified as hard measures. To create climate-proof infrastructure, the report recommends risk assessments that factor in the frequency and intensity of the climate hazard, the extent to which humans are exposed to the climate hazard, and the vulnerability of what is at risk. The report highlights two types of risk assessments: bottom-up, which investigates a community’s exposure and current vulnerability, and top-down, which relies on climate modelling and predictions. Climate-proof infrastructure should then be based on these risk-assessments.
Nature-based solutions, which are inspired and supported existing ecological processes to manage water, are another hard measure for which the report advocates. Specifically, the report talks about ecosystem-based adaptation, which uses biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of the overall adaptation strategy.
Recommended soft measures include forecasting and early warning systems, flood and drought insurance, urban planning, and contingency planning. All of these soft measures can prepare an informed public and government, which can allow people to plan ahead and make informed decisions in light of an impending water-related disaster.
The report also advocates for integrating disaster risk reduction in different sectoral policies and plans as a form of mitigation. This will require stakeholders to come together and share responsibilities in disaster risk reduction and building their stakeholder capacity to prepare for emergencies. Decision-making should include gendered considerations, since women are more at risk from water-related disasters. Unity of stakeholders is particularly important regarding water-related disasters or water sources that cross-country borders.
Finally, the report sees opportunities in artificial intelligence, ‘big data,’ sophisticated climate and hydrological models, advanced remote sensing technologies, NBS, and social media for strengthening global climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction efforts. To maximize the benefits of these opportunities, policy makers and practitioners must come together and fill in the gap between scientific knowledge and action.
Written by: Gari De Ramos, DSH former intern