March 18, 2009

Forum Warns Of Increasing Water Disasters

According to the 5th World Water Forum, nations should begin building defense systems to fight floods and drought which could be multiplying due to climate change.

The group warned that water-related catastrophes are becoming more frequent and powerful.  Greenhouse gases are believed to be causing the problems.

"Global warming is intensifying these disasters," said Avinash Tyagi, director of the climate and water department at the World Meteorological Organization, to the AFP.

Tyagi added that temperatures have risen by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century, but have increased sharply over the last 50 years.

This temperature change has coincided with changes in rainfall, causing water based catastrophes.

According to Tyagi, researchers fear that disasters will worsen as climate change continues to get poorer.

"The projections point to the 21st century as the century of floods or the century of droughts," said Tyagi. "But it could be a century of floods and drought, a mixture of extremes."

"Floods are on the rise. The damage is increasing by five percent per year, while the number of big floods is also increasing," said Chris Zevenbergen, professor at the UN's Institute for Water Education.

Leaders from the Caribbean and Central America said they are in a very vulnerable position.

"Central America is very vulnerable to the impact of climate change," said Tomas Vaquero, Honduran minister of the environment.

"There is every likelihood of droughts on the Pacific side (of Central America) and floods on the Caribbean side. There are also likely to be changes in the large marine current and salination of our coastal areas."

Experts believe dams and dikes can be used to collect water for times of drought, while levees can be made to protect cities.

They also hope to employ strategies like rainwater harvesting, better irrigation, and "climate alert systems" to fight the tragic events.

The experts are suggesting that authorities map vulnerable terrains, create water drainage models, and outlaw construction in at risk areas.

According to Zevenbergen, only five percent of development in the world's cities is currently planned. 

Japan is already working on plans for climate-related water disasters, says Toshio Okazum, senior official for water management at Japan's ministry of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism.

At the beginning of the century Japan averaged 3.5 days a year with rainfall over eight inches.  Since 1978, that number has increased to 5.1 days per year.

Over the next century, Japan is expecting an increase in rainfall of 10 to 30 percent.

Other leaders, including prime minister Han Seung-soo of South Korea, suggested strategies to fight water catastrophes.  The South Korean prime minister recommended developing civil preparedness, emergency water supplies and sanitation to fight the disasters.

The World Water Forum is held every three years, and includes over 27,000 policymakers, activists, experts, and corporate leaders.  The conference will conclude in Istanbul on Sunday.


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