India

The devastating impact of floods in India—and what can be done

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The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of our global systems when it comes to environmental, health and economic issues. As the crisis continues, there is an increasing recognition of how multiple economic, social and institutional drivers exacerbate environment risks, including global heating, resilience and human health.

India is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, with hydrological (water-related) disasters being among the most frequent and having high mortality and damage costs.

Nature-based solutions offer some of the best ways to mitigate the impacts of flooding.

Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR) is an approach where the regulatory functions of ecosystems (such as forests, wetlands and mangroves) are systematically harnessed to mitigate, prevent, or buffer against disasters.

Eco-DRR recognizes that ecosystems can provide disaster risk reduction services as well as offer other ecosystem services of productive and cultural value, which also contribute to building local resilience to disasters and climate change.

Thanks to funding from the European Commission, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in collaboration with Partners for Resilience, is focusing on scaling-up Eco-DRR interventions and promoting large-scale implementation of Eco-DRR in Kerala, southern India.

The focus is on developing capacity to undertake ecosystem restoration for DRR as part of the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guaranteed Scheme, a nationwide programme which employs 2.6 million women in Kerala. The project entails developing training modules, a handbook and undertaking training on ecosystem restoration for DRR with local government technical staff, elected officials and local technical staff.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority will act as the main institutional counterpart for UNEP. The Kerala Institute of Local Administration will lead the development of the training materials, handbook and training workshops, drawing on the expertise of national and international experts.

The main aim of this project is to develop different models for demonstrating implementation of Eco-DRR, which can be scaled up using existing programmes, which advance implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Agenda.

The project, which runs from 2019 to 2021, will be managed by UNEP’s Crisis Management Branch which also houses the secretariat of the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction, a global alliance of 24 international agencies, non-government organizations, and specialist institutes.

“One of the project’s aims is to catalyse public and private investment for scaling up Eco-DRR approaches for poverty alleviation, development, risk reduction and climate change mitigation/ adaptation,” says UNEP’s Country Head Atul Bagai.

Floods account for more than half of climate-related disasters in India and have cost the country over US$50 billion since 1990, according to new research by the Asian Development Bank.

The country had 278 floods from 1980 to 2017 affecting more than 750 million people and causing about US$58.7 billion in losses, according to the International Disasters Database, EM-DAT, 2018.

“Extreme precipitation and flooding cause large-scale impacts on people, and are further intensified by rapid urbanization, infrastructure expansion, and large numbers of people residing in informal settlements in destitute conditions,” says the study Impacts Of Natural Disasters On Households And Small Businesses In India.

The research analyses the impacts of extreme precipitation on vulnerable households and small and medium-sized enterprises in Mumbai, Chennai, and Puri district and highlights the heterogeneity of flood impacts and their potential to push the poor into a debt trap and further poverty.

“Investments in climate-friendly actions, such as in Kerala, stimulate economies, create employment opportunities, and increase resilience to recurrent environmental and health threats,” says Bagai.

The *UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners such as the Africa Restoration 100 initiative, the Global Landscapes Forum and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Help us shape the Decade.*

For more information, please contact Atul Bagai: Atul.Bagai@un.org