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UN officials spotlight need for prevention systems to deal with water-related disasters

Climate-related disasters like flooding are on the rise.
IRIN/Tung X. Ngo
Climate-related disasters like flooding are on the rise.

UN officials spotlight need for prevention systems to deal with water-related disasters

Early warning systems and cooperation among countries are some of the measures needed to increase resilience to water-related disasters, United Nations officials stressed today.

“Preparing for the worst can save lives. That is why we need early warning systems, disaster education and resilient structures,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his remarks to the Special Thematic Session of the General Assembly on Water and Disasters.

The meeting at UN Headquarters, convened by Mr. Ban’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation and the High-level Expert Panel on Water and Disasters, brought together representatives of the international community, governments and civil society to discuss water disaster issues and share experiences and good practices on the subject.

During the past decade, water-related disasters have struck more frequently but have also been more severe, causing political, social, and economic shocks in many countries including Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, the United States and Thailand.

Mr. Ban said that while countries should work to prevent and mitigate disasters, they must also address the fundamental threat of climate change.

“I continue to call on world leaders to keep their promise to reach a global, legally binding climate change agreement by 2015,” Mr. Ban said. “We have to move beyond addressing the damage to investing in a low-carbon, low-emissions future.”

Mr. Ban emphasized that countries must work together to manage this precious resource, and noted that the International Year of Water Cooperation will provide an opportunity for States to forge partnerships that reduce the risks and impacts of water-related disasters.

General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic said that while water-related disasters occur all over the world, it is the poorest nations that bear the greatest burden.

“Low-income countries are generally less resilient to climatic shocks and are slower to recover from resulting disasters,” he said at the session. “The least developed countries and the small island developing States are particularly vulnerable in this regard.”

He stated that it is critical for Member States to consistently implement resolutions in support of disaster risk reduction and reaffirmed his commitment as President of the Assembly to further facilitate discussion and action on this issue.

“It is clear that issues like water cannot be addressed by the efforts of individual nations. The growing stress on water resources can only be ameliorated if every Member State commits to participating in a common effort, whilst recognizing at the same time that water infrastructure modernization is a core national interest.”

The Advisory Board’s Honorary President, Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan, said that better preparedness was key. “By making use of available means and learning lessons from history, I believe we can create a society more resilient to disasters,” he said. “We can turn chains of destruction into chains of recovery.”

Prince of Orange Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who chairs the Advisory Board, noted that while water-related disasters could not be prevented, the world could make sure that there are adequate water and sanitation services for those who are affected, including more than two billion people that still lacked access to sanitation facilities.

“It is time to make the right to sanitation and drinking water a reality,” he said. “We need global objectives to wastewater management and ensure there is a reliable supply of clean water.”