Margareta Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction (file)
Margareta Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction (file)

The United Nations says reducing risks from weather-related disasters such as floods and droughts can help nations adapt to climate change.  The United Nations is urging greater action to reduce climate-related risk and vulnerabilities through measures such as early warning.

Scientists predict global warming will lead to more intense and frequent extreme weather events, including storms, high rainfalls, floods, droughts and heat waves.

They say the poorest countries and poor people in wealthy countries will suffer first and most, because they have few means to adapt to increasing disasters brought on by climate change. 

Margareta Wahlstrom is Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.  She says nations will make a serious error if they do not take urgent action.

"The disasters are there.  There are more of them.  More people are affected," Wahlstrom said. "It is costing more money.  It is having longer term effects on poverty and on peoples' ability to generate even minimal wealth for improving their lives."  

In any given year, Wahlstrom says at least 70 percent of natural disasters are created by climate and weather.  For example, she says too much water, which results in severe flooding or too little water, which causes drought, spell disaster for millions of people worldwide.

She notes one billion people live under the poverty line.  She says studies show an increase of temperature of plus two degrees could plunge another 400 million into poverty within the next 20 or 30 years.

"If nothing is done about global warming, the agricultural output in many countries would drop ...  It could drop by 25 percent in some of the main wheat-growing and rice-growing countries today ...  That would have a huge impact on livelihood, nutrition and food security issues," Wahlstrom said.  

All regions of the world will be affected by global warming.  The United Nations reports Africa is one of the continents most vulnerable to climate change and least able to adapt to future disasters.  It says drought will be the main issue for Africa.

In Asia, one of the biggest problems will be the availability of fresh water.  In North America, scientists predict rising temperatures will further reduce mountain snow and increase evaporation, changing the seasonal availability of water.

Wahlstrom says there are concrete solutions, which can enable countries to adapt to climate change.   For example, she says measures can be taken to conserve water in agriculture.

"There are well tested methods of much more water sensitive agriculture-it is drip irrigation," Wahlstrom said. "It is classical watershed management schemes.  It is reusing water instead of consuming water ...  Critical infrastructure is another area that you have to look at ...  You should know your environment.  If your bridge is taken away by floods one year, you can firmly expect it is going to happen again, so do not rebuild it in the same place."  

In January 2005, 168 governments met in Kobe, Japan and agreed on a 10-year plan of action for reducing disaster risks.  This includes actions to reduce climate related risk and vulnerabilities through early warning, education, public awareness, as well as better urban and land use planning measures.

Wahlstrom says the plan also calls for the integration of risk reduction and climate change adaptation strategies.