Adapting to climate change and managing the risks of natural and technological hazards in transboundary basins has become critical, as the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events - such as floods, droughts, landslides or storms - are on the rise in the wake of the changing climate. Timely actions and clear policy and governance responses are needed, and more than ever in a coordinated manner.
This was the topic of the side event organized by UNECE, in partnership with the UNDRR Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia and Armenia, during the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction. Featuring speakers from Armenia, Ghana and the Netherlands, as well as the Danube and Mekong River basins, the hybrid event “Governance of climate and technological risks in transboundary water bodies” attracted representatives from the water, industrial safety and DRR communities worldwide, spanning national authorities, river basin organisations, academia and operators.
Setting the scene, Mr. Niels Vlaanderen, Co-chair of the Task Force on Water and Climate Change of the Water Convention, the side event’s moderator, stated: “The effects of disasters and climate change are primarily felt through the water cycle. Last year, we saw devastating floods, resulting in economic losses of almost 17 billion dollars in the Henan Province in China and more than 20 billion dollars in Germany. These extreme weather events combined with conflicts, economic shocks and the COVID-19 pandemic have undermined decades of progress. In this respect, it has become increasingly important for countries to follow a multi-hazard approach to disaster risk reduction, addressing – in addition to natural and biological hazards/risks (such as Covid-19), also technological ones and related interlinkages such as Natechs (natural hazards triggering technological accidents).”
Mr. Bob Alfa, Director of Water Resources Planning at Ghana’s Water Resources Commission, highlighted that “transboundary cooperation is key to addressing the main challenges related to mining and prevention of accidental water pollution in transboundary water bodies.” Indeed, since 60% of the world’s freshwater flows are in shared basins, “holistic transboundary mechanisms are necessary for the management of disaster risks and the mitigation of the impacts of climate change. Cooperation at both the intergovernmental and the local-basin level is essential in this regard”, continued Mr. Alfa. The Ghana-Burkina Faso Joint Technical Committee for Integrated Water Resources Management and the Volta Basin Authority between Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, and Togo are examples of such regional initiatives.
Mr. Bountieng Sanaxonh, Director of the Planning Division at the Mekong River Commission, spanning Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, presented on the development of the Mekong Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan, which aims to strengthen basin-wide resilience. In this context, Cambodia and Thailand established a Joint Project on Flood and Drought to investigate the potential for mutually beneficial transboundary water resource planning and disaster risk management.
The importance of multi-stakeholder cooperation was underlined by Mr. Laszlo Balatonyi, Priority Area Coordinator of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, which aims to strengthen disaster prevention and preparedness among governmental and non-governmental organizations: "In some cases, involving government actors is insufficient. By involving non-governmental organizations, time can be saved in preventing disasters”, mentioned Mr. Balatonyi. In this respect, a Disaster Management Working Group was established, with 25 members from non-governmental and governmental organizations from 9 different countries, providing a forum for joint action in the field of civil protection, managing multiple natural and technological hazards across the transboundary basin.
Throughout their presentations and subsequent panel discussion, speakers and participants discussed approaches to effectively integrate multi-hazard/multi-risk approaches in an effort to effectively manage disaster risks, reduce exposure and vulnerabilities, and adapt to climate change. Therefore, the implementation of existing legal and policy instruments was highlighted as supporting countries achieving these goals. The Water Convention has assisted countries in establishing joint bodies across shared river basins and developing climate change adaptation strategies. The Industrial Accidents Convention has helped countries strengthen technological and Natech risk management. In this context, Ms. Armine Hayrapetyan, Sendai National Focal Point for Armenia and Co-chair of a UNDRR Intergovernmental Working Group, presented on the Roadmap 2021-2030, adopted at the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction (November 2021) – which calls for improved multi-level governance and transboundary cooperation, with an “all-of-society” approach.
The side event was concluded by an agreement among speakers and participants that a better understanding of risks, coherent policies, inclusive and collaborative governance, and multi-level cooperation between all stakeholders are central for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
Further information about the side event is available at: https://unece.org/info/Environmental-Policy/Industrial-Accidents/events/366396