Boost nature to stave off natural disasters



Flood in Mekong

Credit: Wikimedia

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Investing in nature can reduce the impact of natural disasters on people and the environment, according to a new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Each year more than 200 million people around the world are affected by natural disasters. While most of these upheavals occur in areas less prepared to face them, improving the health of local ecosystems can assist with the related disaster management and recovery, while potentially lessening the impact of the initial event, the IUCN has said.

"If we want to build resilience to natural disasters, we need to manage our natural resources better and in a more sustainable way," said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN.

Well managed mangroves, for example, "can not only provide protection for coastal communities against storm surges, but also provide additional benefits for people from fisheries and other uses, and provide habitat for many important species," she said.

"The steady rise in the number of natural disasters and in the number of people whose lives and property are affected by them is now increasingly recognised as a result of poor governance leading to environmental degradation," said Neville Ash, Head of IUCN's Ecosystem Management Programme.

"What we need to do now is make sure the disaster risk community puts ecosystem-based management at the heart of all preventive and disaster-relief policies."

Healthy ecosystems for human security, IUCN's latest publication, looks at what constitutes a healthy ecosystem and how it helps to reduce disasters and poverty.

Various case studies illustrate the cost-effectiveness of well-managed watersheds, forests, and coastal habitats. The guide also provides practical advice for local and national authorities on how to bridge the gap between ecosystem-based management and disaster risk reduction policies.

From reforestation of the degraded slopes of the Tacana volcano in Guatemala and Mexico after the tropical storm Stan in 2005, to restoration of the Komagudu Yobe River's water flow in Nigeria, IUCN projects have enabled local communities to sustainably manage natural resources and become less sensitive to extreme weather events.

"Investing in ecosystems to reduce the risk of hazards and support livelihoods is key to building resilient communities," said Jeff McNeely, IUCN's Chief Scientist.

"Disasters kill people but they also have immense environmental impact on affected areas. In order to reduce biodiversity loss, we need healthy and diverse ecosystems, which are more robust to extreme climate events."

Panelists at a four-day meeting of the United Nation's Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, taking place in Geneva from 16 to 19 June, are currently continuing to discuss such links between climate change adaptation, poverty and disaster risk reduction.