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Target E: Water-related Disasters

Target E: Reduce mortality by x% and economic loss by y% from water-related disasters.


Floods, droughts and windstorms are the most frequently occurring natural disaster events and account for almost 90% of the 1,000 most disastrous events since 1990. The number of people affected and estimated damages from water-related disasters continue to increase  and are a constant feature of news reports. Governments are obliged to take disaster risk reduction measures to protect, respect and fulfil the human rights guaranteed by international human rights instruments. The Rio+20 outcome document highlights that they also pose huge economic risks with costs estimated at USD 1 trillion from 2000 to 2010. Climate change is anticipated to increase the frequency of heavy precipitation over many areas of the world, and to intensify droughts in some seasons and areas. Water management and development strategies have a pivotal role in reducing the exposure and vulnerability of people and assets to water-related extremes. The proposed target is thus closely linked to the water resources management targets discussed above, in particular the governance target.

The target is formulated as “Reduce mortality by x% and economic loss by y% from water-related disasters”. This is accompanied by the following elements at national level:

  • Increased knowledge and understanding about communities at risk from water-related disasters, especially those likely to arise from climate change;
  • Adoption of integrated disaster risk management, including an appropriate mix of structural and non-structural approaches, to reduce mortality and economic losses from water-related disasters;
  • Adoption and implementation by countries of monitoring and people-centered early warning systems for communities most at risk from water-related disasters; 
  • Application of an end-to-end preparedness approach to water-related disaster management which sees the needs of user communities being met, to the last mile. 

The proposed target elements focus on actions to build resilience in order to reduce losses of human life and economic damage. The target includes risks from a wide span of water-related disasters, including natural hazards of storms, floods, and drought, as well as anthropogenic hazards such as releases of hazardous materials and other forms of serious water pollution.


The target builds on abundant evidence that planning, preparedness and coordinated responses greatly improve the resilience of communities to natural hazards and should thus form the basis of cost-effective investment strategies to meet the targets. To avoid preventable losses associated with disasters, the focus of communities, governments and development partners should be on shifting resources from disaster response and relief to enhanced preparedness. The proposed targets follow proven disaster risk reduction strategies endorsed by the internationally agreed Hyogo Framework for Action. The keynotes of the proposed approach are community-level participation and preparedness, with facilitation and support from national policies and basin-wide cooperation.

Four core indicators are proposed; firstly, mortality due to water-related disasters, broken down by vulnerable groups and by gender; secondly, the estimate of direct economic losses from water-related disasters, as a percentage of GDP; thirdly, the proportion of at-risk communities with effective people-centred early warning systems for water-related disasters; and finally, the percentage of all countries that have assessed their risk of water-related disasters and have  set up plans and strategies for integrated disaster risk management, including monitoring systems and preparedness. Links between these elements and a number of the other water targets can readily be drawn. For example, the impact of serious drought on plans to expand drinking water coverage, or the effect of serious flooding on the spread of water contaminants such as raw sewage.  

Amongst other things, use of these indicators will require modeling of demographic changes and remote-sensing to determine land-use and estimate exposure to water related hazards.  Agreement will need to be reached on a common system for classifying the severity of water-related hazards, such as floods. Indicators for drought risk will need to consider socio-economic as well as environmental factors, and disaggregate the relative weights of these factors. Appropriate baselines (e.g. on a counterfactual level of mortality) will need to be developed . Generating these and other kinds of data will pose statistical challenges in the early years of monitoring progress against the goal.


Photo credits: Rical Rodriguez, Nicki Sanchez; Erik K Veland

Last update:06 Feb 2014