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Reducing exposure to threats

Attempts to conserve water upstream may simply shift the problem downstream - restoration of natural defences is often the best way to decrease overall vulnerability

Source: UNEP, John L. Perret, Topham Picturepoint

Exposure to threats can be minimized by reducing the risk - in other words the probability that damage will occur. In theory, exposure can always be avoided by moving people out of hazardous situations but this is not always feasible in practice. Currently, the prediction of threats is an imperfect science. People will not evacuate their homes and businesses unless absolutely necessary, and a few false alarms will quickly discourage any further response.

Human exposure can be reduced by reinforcing infrastructure - for example, by upgrading building codes, improving flood control, planting trees for soil stabilization or avalanche control, and providing safe havens or shelters. Many of these measures require significant long-term investments.

Better environmental management, improved policies to protect ecosystems and environmental restoration can be effective and practical ways to reduce vulnerability. In the long term, every effort to achieve sustainability in natural resource use, to reduce waste generation and pollution, and to bring society back into balance with the local environment and global systems should reduce human vulnerability. One of the main goals of integrated environmental planning should be the integration of vulnerability assessment and reduction.

Many natural systems evolved in response to specific major environmental threats and have a builtin capacity to absorb them. Vegetation stabilizes stream banks, slows run-off and prevents erosion. Beaches absorb wave energy and protect coastlines. Environmental threats may well increase with the destruction of such natural defences. Their restoration is the best response to the problem because it is usually less expensive and more permanent than artificial defensive construction which sometimes simply moves the threat elsewhere. Many flood control works have aggravated problems elsewhere on river systems and are now being systematically reversed.