Extreme flooding must be ‘turning point’ on disaster response – UN official

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

25 June 2013 – A United Nations senior official today stressed that this year will be a “turning point” in how governments view and respond to extreme weather events, and floods in particular, which are currently affecting several countries across the world.

“India, Nepal, Canada and many countries in Europe have experienced huge losses over the last two months due to intense precipitation events which have triggered extreme flooding affecting millions of people’s well-being and livelihoods,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström.

Monsoon rains in India this year are believed to be the heaviest in 80 years, according to media reports, which noted that some 7,000 people are still stranded in the mountains after flash floods and landslides. More than 600 people are confirmed dead so far, while 80,000 have been rescued.

“The shocking loss of life in India underlines how vitally important it is that we start planning for future scenarios far removed from anything that we may have experienced in the past,” Ms. Wahlström said.

In the Canadian province of Alberta, more than 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes this month as floods triggered by torrential rains hit the region. The floods have washed away roads and bridges, cut off electricity and submerged hundreds of homes.

“When we look at the worldwide escalation in economic losses from disasters over the last five years, it is clear that our exposure to extreme events is growing and this trend needs to be addressed through better land use and more resilient infrastructure as we seek to cope with population growth and rapid urbanization.”

According to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), some 250 million people have been affected annually by floods over the last 10 years, and floods are the single most widespread and increasing disaster risk to urban settlements of all sizes.

Major contributing factors include poor urban planning which increases flood hazard due to unsuitable land use change, increases in paving and other impermeable surfaces, poorly maintained drainage, sanitation and solid waste infrastructure.

“Flood management systems need to be designed so that even if they are overwhelmed by floodwaters, the failure is not catastrophic,” Ms. Wahlström said, adding that UNISDR emphasizes the need for early warning systems, reduction of social vulnerability through land use planning and leadership at local government level.


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