Stronger and more integrated risk management is needed on health and water-related disasters in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, experts heard today at an international online conference held in the presence of the Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako of Japan.
The International Online Conference to Address Water-related Disasters under COVID-19 was jointly organized by the High Level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Tokyo-based National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), and the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD).
“The pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of water, sanitation, and adequate hygiene services—or WASH—which are the primary line of defense against the spread of COVID-19, as well as water-borne and other diseases,” ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said in welcome remarks. “Unfortunately, the hygiene needed to combat disease is a challenge for the 300 million people in Asia and the Pacific who lack access to a safe water supply, and the 1.2 billion who lack access to safe sanitation.”
Water-related disasters significantly compound the risks from simultaneously occurring disasters such as COVID-19. Participants discussed effective ways to address water-related disaster risk reduction (DRR) in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
HELP has launched the Principles to Address Water-related DRR under the COVID-19 Pandemic to tackle this issue. The Principles offer practical advice to political leaders, managers of DRR and COVID-19, and other stakeholders on how to prepare and respond to avoid magnified impacts due to co-occurring disasters. “This vital document contributes timely knowledge, best practices, and guidance for our region; and it informs many of the actions we have adopted in ADB’s water operations,” Mr. Asakawa said.
ADB has programmed up to 2022 more than $6 billion for water supply, sanitation, and wastewater projects and technical assistance, and more than $2 billion for flood risk management. ADB’s WASH activities are being expanded to support improved hygiene, with its cross-sectoral Water and Health Advisory Team working to further incorporate health outcomes in projects.
ADB responded rapidly to tackle the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing in April a $20 billion comprehensive support package. Its water-related disaster risk management and water portfolios are, meanwhile, broadening their focus on resilience to include building robust infrastructure, institutions, and capacity to respond to multiple and simultaneous disasters. ADB has also developed new financial instruments to provide urgent relief for both natural and health-related disasters.
HELP Chair and former Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea Han Seung-soo chaired the meeting. Participants included leaders, government officials, representatives of international organizations and civil society organizations, and experts on DDR, water, and health. Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Angel Gurría and former President of the Republic of Slovenia Danilo Türk delivered keynote speeches, while UN Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin and GRIPS President Akihiko Tanaka gave welcome remarks.
The conference included a high-level panel on Building the World Back Better by Addressing Water and DDR under COVID-19 featuring ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Bambang Susantono, along with Japan International Cooperation Agency President Shinichi Kitaoka and other international experts.