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International Conference on Flood Management includes special session on Mega-Disasters

flood The tsunami's wave crashed over a street in Miyako in northeastern Japan
©Mainichi Shimbun

Flood-related disasters this year in Australia, Colombia, Indonesia, Japan, Sri Lanka and the United States of America – to name but a few – have yet again highlighted that all nations are susceptible to the damaging effects of major storms and flood events. Population growth, urban development and environmental degradation in coastal areas, combined with the impacts of climate change, are expected to increase the risks.

But, in addition to death and destruction, floods can also promote economic development. Societies in many parts of the world consequently rely heavily on agriculture, fisheries and other activities in rivers and flood-prone delta areas.

"Floods: From Risk to Opportunity" is the theme of the Fifth International Conference on Flood Management in Tokyo, Japan, 27-29 September. This reflects the growing understanding of how to make use of the opportunities provided by floods and flooding, and collectively deal with the risks as part of an all-embracing integrated flood management package.

The International Conference on Flood Management is organized by the International Centre for Water Hazard and Risk Management (ICHARM) under the auspices of UNESCO. ICHARM was established within the Public Works Research Institute (PWRI) in Tsukuba city. WMO is one of the co-sponsors.

The conference also includes a high-level International Forum on Mega-disasters - infrequent but highly destructive intensive disasters. These include, for example, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005; the 2010 earthquake in Haiti which reportedly killed 222 517 people; the 2010 floods in Pakistan which affected an estimated 20 million people and – most recently – the earthquake and tsunami off the East coast of Japan which killed more than 20,000 people and triggered a nuclear emergency.

“Even with a culture of preparedness already in place and fully integrated into public policy, as well as most early warnings issued in good time, the nature of the ultimate hazard was unpredictable at the earliest stages of the emergency, showing how rapidly one disaster category can turn into another, or again into a third,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in reference to the multiple disaster in Japan.

“These and other events endured in recent years have underscored the importance of fully-integrated multi-hazard early warning systems,” he told the Forum.

Unprecedented advances in climate sciences over the last decade have paved the way for new opportunities in climate services which can contribute decisively to disaster risk reduction, said Jarraud. He said the new Global Framework for Climate Services aimed to ensure that these services reach the most vulnerable.

The World Meteorological Congress (16 May-3 June 2011) agreed that over the next four years, the initial GFCS priorities shall be disaster risk reduction, food and agriculture, health, and water. The achievement of these priorities will be supported by appropriate capacity building.

“Once fully implemented, the GFCS shall be a vital new element for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and it will also contribute to increased disaster resilience,” said Mr Jarraud.

From Emergency Response to Risk Management

Over the past few years there has been a paradigm shift in disaster risk management from emergency response to a comprehensive and strategic approach encompassing preparedness and prevention strategies.

A similar shift in approach is taking place from flood control with physical barriers to a more comprehensive approach which emphasizes flood management to minimize risks and maximize opportunities. This approach is embodied by the Associated Programme on Flood Management now in its tenth year, which is a partnership between WMO and the Global Water Partnership.

The International Conference on Flood Management was previously called the International Symposium on Flood Defence. The change in title reflects the shift in emphasis from flood control approaches to flood management which aims to maximize economic and social benefits and minimize risk.

The conference embraces a wide spectrum of issues: from flood management policy to strategic planning that streamlines the climate risk management; flood risk assessment based on inundation mapping and vulnerability assessment to communication of flood risks; land use regulation to flood insurance; enhanced hydro-meteorological monitoring, for flood forecasting and early warning; and flood disaster preparedness, emergency management and recovery.

There are still wide gaps in our understanding, knowledge, policy planning and capacities needed to reduce the loss of life and flood-related risks. There is need for greater thrust in international efforts to share new, innovative developments in flood risk reduction methodologies; and to bridge the gaps that exist between the flood research and development community on one hand and the flood professionals responsible for responding to and mitigating the adverse impacts of major flood events on the other.

WMO statement at the opening of the 5th International Conference on Flood Management, by M. Jarraud, Secretary-General of WMO, (Tokyo, 27 September 2011)

High Panel Discussion: Safeguarding and recovering from mega-disasters
Building global solidarity to safeguard nations and the people
, by M. Jarraud, Secretary-General of WMO, (Tokyo, 27 September 2011)

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