Droughts, the ‘Most Devastating’ Disasters, Set to Increase, Warn Climate Change Experts

from UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
Published on 22 May 2013 View Original


Proactive Strategies, Water and Land Conservation, Early Warning Systems and Data-sharing Advocated

GENEVA, 22 May (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) ‑ Every one-degree rise in temperature means a 20-fold increase in global conflicts, Wadid Erian, a specialist in arid zones and dry lands, told a meeting on drought resilience this morning.

He and other speakers warned that, with droughts set to become even more frequent and intense, food shortages, water shortages and conflicts will also increase. Drought resilience, through awareness-raising, conservation measures, capacity-building and local community involvement, was the way ahead, they said.

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization, moderating the session on drought resilience in a changing climate at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that drought was affecting more people than any other disasters. Because of climate change, the frequency and intensity of drought was changing the entire planet. In many parts of the world the approach was reactive rather than proactive. That had to change, but fortunately the requisite knowledge and experience were on hand.

Saidou Sidibé, Director of the Cabinet of the Prime Minister of Niger, said that the recurring droughts in his country caused widespread famine, malnutrition and disease. Drought affected people’s income and weakened their health, and Niger needed to address the problem. It had a certain amount of experience and an information system extending from the regional and subregional level to communities. A broad irrigation programme was also being developed.

Abdi Gedi Hussein, 786 Disability Awareness, Kenya, said the joint impact of climate change and of losses from disasters, 50 per cent of which were not usually reported or recorded, had compromised the lives of communities, necessitating the development of disaster risk reduction. Kenya, an agro-pastoral country, had tried to educate communities through awareness-raising initiatives. It worked with the insurance industry on cattle insurance and was striving to build community networks so that disaster contingency measures would be in place. There were also peace networks, which engaged with border communities in times of risk.

Juan Manuel Caballero, Head of the National Meteorological System of Mexico, said that drought was the biggest extreme weather event and generated the most serious consequences, including for cattle, crops, food security, health and the environment. Both the United States and Mexico were facing drought-related challenges, which were being addressed thanks largely to regional cooperation. The Mexican Government had taken a number of initiatives, such as launching a national policy to tackle drought and revising legislation to penalize the inappropriate use of water. Knowing that droughts would only increase in intensity, Mexico had been doing what it could to protect against drought and its consequences, taking preventive measures earlier than in the past.

Wadid Erian, Head of Land Resource Studies, the Arab Center for the Study of Arid Zones and Dry Lands, Damascus, Syria, said that the Centre had introduced satellite imagery to examine transboundary areas and land degradation, among other phenomena. Estimating crop losses, which was currently difficult to do because of insufficient national data, would be important, as it would facilitate better evaluations of drought. Water scarcity, food security and conflicts were also related to drought. Immediate action was needed, and should include greater preparedness by building resilience, understanding natural resources and making better use of them.

Mathewos Hunde, Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), said that because their social and economic impacts lasted longer, droughts were by far the most devastating disasters. Ethiopia had already shown its capacity to withstand and mitigate the effects of the 2010-2011 Horn of Africa drought. Recent achievements there included the formulation of a disaster risk management policy and an early livelihood assessment instrument, which was used to trigger activation of a contingency plan; an early warning system was also under development.

Javier Pava, Director-General, Fondo de Prevención y Atención de Emergencias, Colombia, said that Bogotá was normally considered to be rich in water resources but had recently gone from “a year of success to a year of scarcity”, i.e., from floods to fire and energy-related disasters. A national water management policy addressed water scarcity from the perspective of supply and demand. Colombia was looking to reduce water pollution and to manage its water efficiently through water basin management plans. Water resources would also be brought to low-risk areas, and a resilience plan had been developed for aqueducts.

To a question about how to expedite responses to early warning systems, which often came too late, Mr. Hunde said that steps were being taken to address the problem. Preparedness had to be instituted at the local level, so that responses could be jump-started at the right time. Coordination was also important, as it allowed a number of actors to pool resources.

Mr. Sidibé said that a coordination system was indeed crucial. Niger had such a system in place at the local level. There was a need for structured programmes, but Niger could not do this alone.

Mr. Caballero said that Mexico was working to improve the information from weather forecasts that fed into early warning systems. In the past it had been more reactive, seeking funds every time a drought occurred, but was now trying to work more proactively. It was also looking into involving the Armed Forces and the media in these efforts.

Asked how to get more resources allocated to basic data-gathering for planning and decision-making, Mr. Erian said that each one-degree rise in temperature produced a 20-fold increase in global conflicts. Conflicts were increasing, and countries endowed with adequate rainfall could experience drought. No one was ever very far from drought, but if the global consequences were understood, positive action could be taken.

Mr. Pava said that information, research institutes and national funds were needed for monitoring and early warning systems, which were already in place in Colombia. Bogotá also had a risk management fund, financed by taxes.

Mr. Sidibé said that what was needed was to build capacity and give more responsibility to the local level, both of which would require financial support. The lack of reliable data was one of the greatest threats to rural communities. Local communities had to be empowered to handle disaster risk reduction, and reliable data were crucial for reducing disaster risk and increasing resilience.

Mr. Caballero said it was very important that each country develop cross-cutting development policies, not just through government bodies but through universities and the rest of society, including the private sector. Water scarcity affected everyone.

Mr. Erian called for more attention to be paid to dry land and people living in fragile communities. Solutions required people with more vision, as well as more science and technology.

Mr. Hunde said that good practices were already in place to influence policies. Communities must always be at the centre of policies, as they were the ones suffering the effects of drought. Efforts should be linked to government policy and strategy. Coordination, increased political commitment and investment in disaster risk management were important as well.

Mr. Pava said that combating drought should entail a holistic approach to water, which all countries were concerned with providing for both present and future generations.

For information media • not an official record