Water-related disasters inhibiting global sustainability

The global population living in flood-prone river basins has increased 114% in the last 40 years, while the number of people located on coastlines exposed to cyclones has risen almost 200%, according to experts.

In a meeting on risk reduction at the Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters, convened in New York by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the session looked at how disasters reverse development gains and inhibit sustainable progress.

Speaking at the meeting, senior vice president of AECOM, Scott Edelman, stated: “Data collected from global storm databases indicate that water-related disasters have killed 1.3 million people and caused $2 trillion worth of damages since 1992.”

The Crown Prince of Orange, Willem Alexander, who will ascend to the Netherlands throne next month, said: “One water-related disaster can wash away years of progress, inhibiting the ability of communities to reach their Millennium Development Goals (MDG) targets.”

The President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić, highlighted the role of ‘risk drivers’ that are changing the nature of disasters.

“The impact of extreme weather events is being multiplied by unplanned urbanization, increasing population pressures, and declining eco-systems,” he said.

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) Chief Margareta Wahlstrom added that “governments alone cannot be held responsible for addressing risks; the imperative lies with all societal actors including communities and businesses.”

Edelman also stressed the importance of the private sector’s role in identifying and assessing risks, and then communicating them effectively to communities so that mitigation efforts are strengthened.

Leigh Stringer

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