Brussels, 15 Jun 2004
The number of people living under the threat of devastating floods is set to double from one billion today to two billion by 2050 unless more attention is paid to prevention and prediction, according to researchers at the United Nations University (UNU).
The scientists attribute the increased flood risk to human activities. They say that global warming has led to rising sea levels and increasingly frequent cyclones, which threaten the inhabitants of small islands and coastal lowlands, while deforestation, particularly in mountainous areas, has increased the chances of river flooding.
In response to this and similar threats, the UNU has opened a new institute for environment and human security (UNU-EHS) in Bonn, Germany, dedicated to researching natural disasters and improving countries' response capacity. The institute's founding director, Dr Janos Bogardi, said: 'The growing frequency and magnitude of extreme environmental events worldwide has intensified research interest in natural disasters as well as regional vulnerability and response capabilities.
'Most urgently needed to adapt to the growing risk of flood disasters is greater global capacity to monitor and forecast extreme events,' Dr Bogardi continued. 'Armed with better information, superior early warning systems and infrastructure can be installed, and new planning strategies devised.'
Each year floods claim around 25,000 lives worldwide, and many more people must endure the homelessness, disease and crop failures that are left in their wake. Developing countries are most at risk from flooding, particularly in Asia where, in the decade between 1987 and 1997, 228,000 people died and the economic cost was estimated at 136 billion USD (112 billion euro).
Dr Bogardi believes that such loses could be reduced if more attention and spending are focused towards flood prediction and prevention. He points out that while countries are generous with post-disaster relief, they are less forthcoming when it comes to pre-disaster preparedness, spending 100 euro in relief for every one euro in preparedness. 'There needs to be a shift in the international mindset - from reaction and charity to anticipation and pre-emption,' he said.
'The thousands of tragic casualties from flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic in recent weeks underline the extreme vulnerability of developing countries,' Dr Bogardi concluded.
In Europe, the European Commission has invested some 58 million euro over the last decade in various research initiatives in this area, and is currently developing the European flood alert system (EFAS).