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Integrating Flood and Environmental Risk Management: Principles and Practices

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Flood and environmental risk management (FERM) is a new concept recognizing the close connection between managing flood risk and managing risks to the physical environment and biological ecosystems.

The concept aims to address the nexus between flood, waste, and biological ecosystems by applying both structural and nonstructural solutions, and taking into consideration urban−rural and upstream− downstream linkages, in development planning and project implementation. This nexus approach assimilates multisector targets, provides more economical and cost-e·cient development goals, and lessens the risk of applied interventions undermining one another. In other words, FERM promotes spatial (local and river-basin scales), functional, and organizational integration.

Especially important is the fact that FERM also recognizes that other interventions to improve the economic prosperity and social well-being of communities can have an impact on flood risk, the environment, and the sustainability of ecosystems. It is therefore proposed that, during the formulation of a development plan or project with potential impacts on flood risk and on the environment, there should be an assessment to determine those impacts within the targeted area. A development project (including any flood and environmental risk mitigation measures) that physically modifies the environment or changes land use will have a potential FERM footprint in the project location, and could possibly cause upstream and downstream impacts. FERM assessment is not just a responsible course of action during project formulation, it often helps identify opportunities for cross-sectoral synergies that can improve e·ciencies in investments for social betterment. The inherent interconnectedness of interventions and the inevitable chain of repeating cause and e«ect mean that cross-sector projects with multiple objectives generally produce improved outcomes that are more sustainable and enduring.

FERM recognizes the existence of the flood (water)–waste (environment)–biological ecosystem; synergizes the inextricable linkages between flood mitigation, waste management, and ecological conservation; and works with what nature has to o«er. “Water” in this nexus relates to the timing and quantity of available water, and particularly the risk of floods. “Environment” refers to the physical form and condition of waterways, particularly the quality of natural (or modified) systems like rivers, lakes, wetlands, and estuaries. “Biological ecosystem” or “biosystem” refers to the elaborate ecosystem sustained by the physical environment. All the elements of the nexus depend on each other, so it is more appropriate to use an integrated approach, rather than treating each element separately or in isolation.

To promote the mainstreaming of the FERM approach into the formulation of development projects and investment programs, this paper presents the principles underlying FERM and briefly discusses current policies and practices. It also presents three Asian Development Bank case studies from the People’s Republic of China to illustrate what is being advocated. Finally, it also discusses other matters relevant to the integration of FERM into a framework for project appraisal and formulation.

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