Governments must take account of increase in weather-related flooding, UN says

18 June 2010

After a week of massive flooding in Myanmar, China and south-eastern France, the United Nations agency promoting disaster reduction activities has called on governments to take account of flood risk in their urban planning efforts and urged citizens to avoid building their homes in high-risk areas.

“As many countries and cities are at risk from more frequent and severe weather-related hazards, governments must take increasing measures to reduce the risk for thousands of people living in harm’s way,” said Margareta Wahlström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction. “Every citizen should also know that they are at risk if they build their homes in a flood zone area.”

According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), floods accounted for half of all disasters between 1990 and 2007. Of all natural hazards worldwide, they have the greatest damage potential and affect the greatest number of people – especially the poor in developing countries. They were responsible for 84 per cent of disaster deaths, as well as $50 billion in economic losses each year, the report states.

To reduce the impact, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) has urged governments to avoid building on flood-prone areas in the first place.

While pointing out that “poor people are among the groups most vulnerable to floods,” Ms. Wahlström noted that “rich countries are not immune either.” This week’s flooding, which left hundreds dead and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes, followed severe flooding earlier in the year in Poland, Portugal, India, Bangladesh and the United States.

“Due to economic constraints, they [the poor] often live in high-risk areas such as flood plains, ravines and on slopes, as well as in densely populated urban centres,” said Ms. Wahlström. But rich countries, too, “need to reconsider their urban planning, as too many houses and critical infrastructures have often been built in dangerous flooding zones.”

To strengthen a city’s readiness against floods and other natural hazards, UNISDR has launched the Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready campaign to raise awareness and urge mayors and local governments to invest more in disaster risk reduction.

This includes improving urban planning, infrastructure and building safety; reinforcing drainage systems to reduce flood and storm threats; installing early warning systems; conducting public preparedness drills; and relocating slum areas and making safe lands affordable to low-income groups.

To date, 50 cities and local governments have joined the UNISDR campaign and signed up to take more measures to protect their cities and citizens against disasters.


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