They increasingly affect communities across the planet. The toll in human suffering and in economic costs is staggering.
Societies have long struggled to prepare for and respond to floods and droughts – two hydrological extremes that can happen to the same country and at the same time. Climate change is driving more moisture into the atmosphere, resulting in ‘hyper-charged’ storms, heavy rains, and more intense dry spells. In many parts of the world, these changes to the hydrological cycle mean stronger and longer flood and drought periods, and in other areas, individuals are experiencing these hazards to a significant degree for the first time in living memory. Worldwide, it is difficult to point to a region or country that will not face more challenges managing these extremes in the years to come.
Countries can harness the power of water for development while avoiding the human suffering, economic losses, and ecological degradation that is associated with the hydrological cycle on overdrive. And societies can learn how to embrace the inevitability of floods and droughts, and the drastic alternations between them. This requires innovative governance and risk management approaches that navigate uncertainty, protect communities, economies, and ecosystems, reduce duplication, and improve efficiency of public resource use.
The EPIC Response Framework presented in a new report co-authored by the World Bank and Deltares “An EPIC Response: Innovative Governance for Flood and Drought Risk Management” offers a path forward for governments to manage these risks more comprehensively and systematically. It prioritizes the need for a “joined-up” government effort – one that does not rely on a single national lead agency and that does break siloes of single agencies mandated to address isolated parts of the interrelated challenges of floods and droughts.
This means more effective public participation, and greater government effort to absorb citizens’ views, especially those who are systematically underrepresented, such as women, minorities, elderly, and the poor. Floods and droughts typically hit groups in vulnerable situations the hardest. Traditionally, loss of assets or reduction in GDP are the measures of impact. But the poor have few assets and are underrepresented in this calculus.
We hope that governments, along with the countless individuals and organizations working on adaptation and resilience to climate change and disaster risk management, will find the EPIC Framework useful to meet their rising resilience challenges. We also hope that it serves as a rallying cry for governments and other development partners to focus on managing these risks in tandem across the hydrological spectrum and reaping the benefits of this innovative governance approach along the way. This is not to say that implementing the EPIC Response Framework will be easy. Far from it. But the way forward is to invest in strong partnerships and cooperation, at all levels, to stimulate the exchange of knowledge, tools, and resources to systematically prepare for and respond to floods and droughts in the coming decades.
So, while climate change and COVID-19 are compounding many challenges, they also present an unprecedented opportunity. Amid record spending to spur a recovery from the pandemic, we have a chance to leverage these investments towards green, resilient, and inclusive development that reduces rather than further exacerbates our societies’ vulnerability to climate risks. Let’s seize that opportunity.