Risk and adaptation

The number of human losses and economic damages linked to human practices has been exacerbated by water-related extreme events. Water-related risk might further increase for a number of reasons. On the one hand, the probability of extreme events which cause high impacts to society is expected to increase because of human activities (e.g. deforestation, river draining, reservoir storage and release, and embankment) and/or as a result of climate variability and change. On the other hand, increasing population and economic growth lead to intensive urbanization, often in flood prone areas. Poor water governance coupled with lack of adequate emergency management institutions and infrastructures reduce society’s capacity to cope with extreme events and therefore increase the risk to life and property. Thus, risk management should be improved.

There remains a big gap between the relatively accurate estimates by latest hydrological models and the information required to support decision making based on an evaluation of risk. The relationship between flow volume or rain intensity and expected damages, such as number of casualties, economic losses, and affected area/population, are critical but poorly studied. There is a need to establish methodologies to assess risk, considering the hydro-climatological and social conditions of the area of concern. Integrating pilot case studies on hazard-damage relationships on local/regional scales and developing hazard-damage relationships are essential to providing risk management tools for water managers and policy makers.

Risk communication and stakeholder participation have emerged in recent years as an integral part of strategies for managing water-related risks. The aim of risk communication is to reduce exposure to risk and build resilience and resistance to hazards by enhancing the public’s perceptions of risks, thus influencing behavior in response to them. Risk communication is both a means to facilitate the adoption of risk reduction/prevention measures and part of the measures themselves (especially early warning, risk mapping and land planning) and brings social benefits such as capacity building and trust. Finally, involving informed stakeholders (with access to key information) in the various stages of participatory planning will also result in more socially robust and accepted mitigation measures.