WWF Report Says Environmental Protection Is Vital to Reducing Impacts of Natural Disasters

May 21, 2008
4:10 PM

 CONTACT: World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Erika Viltz
WWF Report Says Environmental Protection Is Vital to Reducing Impacts of Natural Disasters
BONN, GERMANY – May 20 – Environmental degradation is a key factor in turning extreme weather events into natural disasters, according to a new report from World Wildlife Fund.

Natural Security: Protected Areas and Hazard Mitigation, prepared with environmental research group Equilibrium, examines the impacts of floods in Bangladesh, Mozambique and Europe, heat waves and forest fires in Portugal, an earthquake in Pakistan, tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina in the United States to illustrate the potential of environmental conservation to prevent and mitigate natural disasters.

“It is deforestation and floodplain development that most often link high rainfall to devastating floods and mudslides,” said Liza Higgins-Zogib of the WWF’s Protected Areas Initiative. “Extreme coastal events cause much more loss of life and damage when reefs are damaged, mangroves are removed, dune systems are developed and coastal forests are cleared.”

The World Bank estimates that more than 3.4 billion people, or more than half of the world’s population, are exposed to at least one natural hazard and according to the report, over the past 50 years the severity of impacts from natural disasters has increased, due in part to the loss of healthy ecosystems in the regions affected.

The report shows that wave energy in the Seychelles has doubled as a result of reef destruction and sea level rise, and a continued increase is predicted over the next decade. The loss of 70 percent of floodplains in the Danube River and its tributaries is contributing to an increase in the frequency and severity of floods. Changes in vegetation and land use are shown to alter natural fire regimes and increase devastation from wildfires.

“While large-scale disasters cannot be entirely avoided, the report identifies specific ways we can mitigate the devastating impact of disasters through better ecosystem management, including the establishment of protected areas”, said Jonathan Randall, senior program officer for WWF’s Humanitarian Partnerships program and co-author of Natural Security.

In one success story outlined in the report, the investment of $1.1 million in mangrove replanting saved some Vietnamese communities an estimated $7.3 million a year in sea dyke maintenance.  During typhoon Wukong in 2000, the area remained relatively unharmed, while neighboring provinces suffered significant loss of life and property.

Similarly, the report shows how managing Swiss forests can provide protective services valued at up to $3.5 billion per year, mainly for their protective functions in reducing avalanches, landslides and flooding.

WWF is working with governments to create suitable protected areas and to maintain natural ecosystems, such as coastal mangroves, coral reefs, floodplains and forests, which may help buffer against natural hazards.  Traditional cultural ecosystems, like agroforestry systems, terraced crop-growing and fruit tree forests in arid lands have an important role in mitigating extreme weather events as well.

 “We recognize that there have been many international agreements and declarations linking the preservation of ecosystem services with the mitigation of disasters, but note that in many cases it is only the permanent and well-managed setting aside of land and sea as protected areas which can provide the stability and protection so often called for,” said Randall.


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