21 May 2013 Healthy and well-managed ecosystems reduce the risk of disasters and strengthen our ability to adapt to the effects of climate change, according to a new book launched by the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR).

The role of ecosystems in disaster risk reduction is one of the first volumes to compile latest knowledge and evidence on the links between ecosystems and disasters. It provides case studies from various geographical locations, types of ecosystems and hazards from around the world. The book was co-edited by experts from the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM), and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

“There is no such thing as a natural disaster, only natural hazards that due to a combination of social, political, economic and environmental contexts may cause severe damages to a community and result in a disaster,” says Marisol Estrella, UNEP’s Project Coordinator on Disaster Risk Reduction and the book’s co-editor. “This book shows evidence that restoring ecosystems and sustainably managing natural resources can play an essential role in strengthening people's ability to prevent and recover from such events.”

During the past few decades the number of disasters and their impacts on communities worldwide has increased. As a result of climate change, this trend is set to continue, with an increase in the number of extreme weather events.

In many circumstances, healthy and well-managed ecosystems such as wetlands, forests, mangroves and reefs reduce this risk and act as physical protection for the people and the environment that are exposed to it.

“This book scientifically demonstrates what local people around the world intuitively know: that healthy ecosystems offer protection and resources for resisting and surviving disasters,” says Karen Sudmeier-Rieux of IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management and one of the editors of the book. “This is why it is better to work with, rather than against nature.”

“Ecosystems allow us to address all the dimensions of risk: they can reduce the intensity and frequency of some environmental hazards and minimize the vulnerability of communities and their exposure," says Fabrice Renaud, Head of Section at the United Nations University Institute for Environment and lead editor of the book. "There is increasing evidence for this and examples are provided in the book.”

In the Chinese Hubei Province, a wetland restoration programme has reconnected lakes to the Yangtze River and rehabilitated 448 km2 of wetlands with a capacity to store up to 285 million m3 of floodwater. The local government subsequently further reconnected eight lakes covering 350 km2. In addition to contributing to flood mitigation, restored lakes and floodplains have enhanced biodiversity, increased income from fisheries by 20-30 % and improved water quality to drinkable level.

In Argentina, extensive areas of natural forest are protected for flood control, which is seen as a low-cost alternative to infrastructure, with added biodiversity benefits.

European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland and the Eastern European countries bordering the Danube River aim to mitigate floods by removing built infrastructure such as concrete river channels and restoring wetlands and rivers to improve their water retention capacity.
Many forests in the Alps protect people and their assets from rock falls, avalanches, erosion, landslides, debris flows and flooding. The management of these forests is five to ten times less expensive than the construction and maintenance of technical measures. In monetary terms, this risk reduction corresponds to approximately 1,000 Swiss francs per ha per year.

The book was written by 59 professionals from science and practice communities from around the world, representing state of the art knowledge, practices and perspectives on the topic. It was launched yesterday at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction taking place in Geneva, Switzerland.

More information on the book is available here.

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