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An EPIC response: Innovative governance for flood and drought risk management

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Floods and Droughts: An EPIC Response to These Hazards in the Era of Climate Change

“Thousands homeless as Sri Lanka floods death toll hits 17.”

“Brazil on drought alert, faces worst dry spell in 91 years.”

Floods and droughts have regularly made the news in 2021. And the scale of the crisis behind the headlines is stark.

Over the last two decades, floods and droughts – two of the most devastating consequences of the climate crisis -- have affected 3 billion people, with staggering costs in human suffering and economic loss.

Rising global temperatures increase the moisture the atmosphere can hold, resulting in storms and heavy rains, but paradoxically also more intense dry spells as more water evaporates from the land and global weather patterns change. These changes to the hydrological cycle can deliver stronger, longer droughts and floods, and bring these hazards to parts of the globe that have not seen them in living memory. It is difficult to point to a region or country that will not face more challenges managing these extremes in the very near future.

Societies need to adapt, and governments must prioritize, accelerate, and scale up their response mechanisms in this decade. This requires innovative governance and risk management to navigate uncertainty, reduce duplication, make more efficient use of public resources, and protect communities, economies, and ecosystems.

A new report titled An EPIC Response: Innovative Governance for Flood and Drought Risk Management offers guidance on these critical matters. Launched on World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (June 17), the report presents a framework to manage the growing risks of floods and droughts in a changed climate. The framework is known as the EPIC Response, a mnemonic for its key elements:

  • E: an enabling environment of policies, laws, agencies, strategic plans, and information

  • P: planning at all levels to prioritize risk mitigation

  • I: investing in watersheds and water resources infrastructure

  • C: controlling the use of land and water resources to reduce exposure and vulnerability

  • Response: monitoring, responding, and recovering from floods and droughts

An EPIC Response looks at floods and droughts not as independent events but as being inextricably linked, underscoring our collective efforts to build climate resilience and improve disaster risk management.

National agencies must fulfill their specific mandates but also need to collaborate to achieve an EPIC Response. If national agencies are not performing well or if inter-agency collaboration is weak, then there will be significant gaps in a country’s efforts to reduce hydro-climatic risks. An EPIC Response seeks to address these issues with the aim of efficiently reducing the economic, social, and environmental costs of floods and droughts.

An EPIC Response is a whole-of-society effort. National governments must lead a whole-of-society effort to managing hydro-climatic risks. Sub-national governments are the indispensable associates of national agencies in this endeavor. Agencies need to engage with businesses, civil society, and households—and focus on poor and marginalized groups, to ensure effective programs. They need to prioritize education and risk communication, tap into the expertise of research community, and ensure open access to data and information.

The World Bank supports countries in managing floods and droughts more effectively and work across regions to bring robust solutions.

  • In India, we are supporting the state of West Bengal in making more efficient use of surface water, as well as promoting long-term sustainable use of groundwater. The project will benefit some 2.7 million farmers from five districts, covering more than 393,000 hectares of land with better irrigation services and protection against annual flooding.

  • In Somalia, we are providing immediate support to the areas hardest hit by compounding crises, where repeated cycles of flooding and drought occur over many years and swarms of desert locusts threaten food security, against a background of the COVID-19 pandemic and two decades of armed conflict. We are supporting the recovery of livelihoods and infrastructure in flood- and drought-affected areas and helping strengthen the government’s systems and capacity for disaster preparedness.

  • In Afghanistan, the recently approved Drought Early Warning, Early Finance and Early Action Project will complement regular humanitarian relief efforts and provide unconditional cash support and cash-for-work benefits to about 2.2 million Afghans in the 78 districts most affected by food insecurity and drought. The project will provide regular targeted financial assistance to households to build resilience and scale up support across the country before and during droughts.

“We hope that governments, organizations, and practitioners working on climate resilience and disaster risk management will find the EPIC Response framework useful in addressing climate-related challenges, focusing on managing these risks in tandem across the hydrological spectrum while reaping the benefits of an innovative governance approach along the way,” says Juergen Voegele, Vice President for Sustainable Development, World Bank.

“We need coordination, communication, and cooperation in line with the EPIC Response framework. With proactive, national droughts policies and a joined-up approach to manage national resources, we can mitigate the effects of droughts. With integrated land use planning and water management, we can design interventions that address both hazards,” says Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). “If we restore and sustainably manage land and water resources, and work together to implement this new framework, we protect those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”

The report was prepared through a partnership between the World Bank and Deltares. The report was funded by the Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership (GWSP) and received support from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).