DOHA (AlertNet) –Efficient infrastructure work and good governance will be key to reducing the impacts of worsening climate-linked flooding around the world, water experts and officials told a water management conference at the UN climate talks.
Faulty construction and poor governance systems so far have multiplied the impacts of disasters, causing avoidable loss of lives and livelihoods, they said.
Mats Eriksson, programme director at the Stockholm International Water Institute, said that decision-making, transparency and accountability needed to be improved in order to reduce flooding risks through better planning, construction and maintenance of flood mitigation infrastructure.
Climate and water-induced disasters have shown a sharp rise in number since the 1980s, he said. Over the last 30 years, floods have been the most frequent disaster communities around the world have had to battle, he said.
Eriksson said there was an urgent need to build disaster-resistant water storage structures around the world to better manage water. And he warned that inaction would only exacerbate already growing damage from flooding, a problem that will intensify as climate change impacts unfold in decades to come.
“Inadequate monitoring and maintenance of water storage structures (has) … one of the highest destructive potentials,” he said. Dams for irrigation, for instance, need to be rebuilt to make them resilient to disasters, he said.
One problem is that infrastructure development spending is often vulnerable to corruption, he said.
“Currently, 5 to 20 percent of construction costs ($18 billion a year) are lost to corruption,” Eriksson told AlertNet.
Fred Boltz of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) said that the connections between water and climate change remain little explored by many for-profit institutions and discussions of climate change in the private sector largely have been focused on mitigation measures rather than adaptation.
“The realisation that water is embedded across energy, transport, agriculture, and infrastructure networks means that climate impacts on the water cycle potentially expose many new and hard-to-foresee threats,” he said. He noted that climate change’s private sector impacts have been masked as energy shortages, infrastructure failure, and supply chain gaps.
Boltz told AlertNet it is crucial that water expertise and water management knowledge is readily available to face the new threats and to inform decisions in programmes and mechanisms under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Building resilience in managing fresh water will be key, Boltz said. In most countries he has seen, he said, water infrastructure and resource management have been designed for today’s climate or what is imagined just ahead.
Instead a variety of different climate scenarios must be considered when constructing water-related infrastructure, he said. That means building in resilience to different economic and ecological scenarios.
At a country level, national adaptation plans have - in many cases - resulted in increased investments in water infrastructure by governments, he said. But poor governance and corruption mean some projects have led to worsening, rather than reduced, risks. For instance, cataclysmic floods may breach poorly build embankments, worsening the risks topeople who felt they were safe inside them.
Including the voices of local communities in projects can improve governance and lead to more sustainable maintenance of larger water-related infrastructure, he said.
Karin Lexen, director and focal point for international cooperation on climate policy processes at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), said that water is a cross-cutting resource, critical for almost all functions of society. But it has no special place in the UNFCCC process.
She said it was crucial that water perspectives are made part of all adaptation decisions and measures under the UNFCCC.
She said that water management must be integrated in any possible programme on agriculture under UNFCCC and also integrated into National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs).
Water as a resource and a hazard also should be explicitly recognised in proposals to create a work programme under the UNFCCC on “loss and damage” from climate impacts, and made a priority in the Green Climate Fund and other financial mechanisms, she said.
But Pervaiz Amir, a negotiator for Pakistan at COP18, said he had little hope that water problems would be taken seriously at the deadlocked UN climate talks in Doha.
“By supporting and developing sustainable water management plans and integrating them into climate adaptation plans, we can develop resilience against the impacts of climate change. Thus, it is really central that water management perspectives become an integrated part of climate frameworks on all levels – from policy down to implementation.”
Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Karachi, Pakistan.