No sustainable development without flood resilience

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Floods affect more people around the world than any other hazard. This blog explains why we need to acknowledge the vital role resilience against floods and other hazards play in countries’ abilities to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. 

In September 2019 world leaders are gathering for the first time since the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to take stock of global progress on all 17 goals. There is cause for celebration. The 2019 SDG Report shows that fewer people are living in extreme poverty, more children live to see their fifth birthday and the vast majority of the world’s population now has access to electricity. 

But climate change and increasingly extreme disasters pose an enormous barrier to reaching the SDGs. If we don’t start taking more ambitious actions to address climate change, we not only won’t reach the SDG goals, we can see important development gains eroded.   

At the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (ZFRA) we focus on floods, as they affect more people globally than any other type of natural hazard. The impacts of floods will only get worse with increases in population, urbanisation, and economic development in hazard prone areas coupled with increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events caused by climate change.  

Floods undermine countries’ progress towards most, if not all, SDGs 

How can we expect to eradicate poverty (SDG 1) or hunger (SDG 2) when floods ruin crops and destroy people’s livelihoods, or for children to receive a quality education (SDG 4) if their school is flooded and school material ruined, or their route there under water? Girls are more likely than boys to be pulled out of school when a flood results in loss of income, undermining gender equality (SDG 5). 

People are injured and killed in floods and they can have long term effects on people’s physical and mental health and well-being (SDG 3), including through the spread of waterborne infectious diseases. 

The high cost of relief and recovery may undercut infrastructure and other development activities (SDG 9). Often, post-disaster funds or initiatives are at odds with the SDGs as they incentivise building back to the pre-disaster state and resuming the status quo, which can reinforce pre-existing vulnerabilities and misses the opportunity to ‘build back better’.

Reason for hope, and reason for action 

To reach the SDGs we need to radically rethink the way we deal with floods and other natural hazards and acknowledge the important role resilience thinking plays in achieving sustainable development. 

These are the Alliance’s recommendations for how we do so: 

  • Increase funding for building resilience. By investing in adaptation, disaster risk reduction (DRR) and strong disaster risk management, governments can build resilience and ensure that their countries’ development trajectories are not derailed by floods or other hazards and they can continue on their path to achieving the SDGs.
  • Integrate DRR into development policies and practices and support climate-smart, risk-informed development as part of strategies to reach the SDGs.
  • Plan for resilient recovery. Reconstruction should contribute to building back better to reduce the risks of the same losses occurring in the future.
  • Leave no one behind. The most vulnerable and the most marginalised must be prioritized for inclusive climate change adaptation and DRR investment and programming.
  • Support local responses and ensure domestic and international funding reaches the community level. The impacts of floods are felt hardest at the local level, investments in adaptation and DRR must reach communities, and incorporate community knowledge and experience into any intervention.
  • Foster partnerships. ZFRA is a great example of what is called for in SDG 17. We’re hoping others can learn from our experiences and create partnerships where knowledge and expertise from different sectors are brought together to tackle complex and global problems. 

This blog was adapted from a ZFRA Policy Brief by Ann Vaughan (Mercy Corps) and Rachel Norton (ISET-International). Read this for more details on the Alliance’s recommendations for reaching the SDGs.

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