Increasing Resilience to Water-related Risks and Operationalizing Water Security


Climate change affects the availability, quantity, and quality of water resources threatening the sustainable and secured lifestyle of the modern world. Ecosystems, human societies, and economies severely suffer due to the impacts of climate change, and water is the medium that transfers such impacts – through storms, floods, and droughts. Increased variability of water resources manifests itself through more frequent and intense water extremes globally irrespective of the geographic conditions or wealthiness of regions. In 2019 alone, there were close to 325 water-related disasters globally that caused almost 8,500 deaths and economic losses of over USD 100 billion. Floods take a large share of the above casualties and losses. Among the existing risk reduction resources, flood early warning systems are particularly critical for minimizing the adverse impacts; and their development was shown to attract millions of dollars and large human effort. Yet, their effectiveness still need to be significantly improved to be seen as an effective tool for disaster risk reduction (DRR). The same effectively applies to drought early warning systems.

Many major world cities are running out of drinking water, with Sao Paulo (Brazil), Chennai (India), and Cape Town (South Africa), most recently facing acute water shortages. More water-stressed cities with an estimated 90% of future population growth taking place in the fast-growing, and highly vulnerable African, Asian, and Latin American countries. The cities are also vulnerable to various water infrastructure risks. Overall, failure or excessive costs of ageing water storage infrastructure in different regions, unexpected water-related man-induced accidents, and water terrorism are examples of emerging risks that need to be better understood and quantified.

An even more overarching issue for any country is how to accurately measure national water security and how to use such measures in planning for sustainable water- and overall economic development. While some large regions, like Asia and Pacific, have developed such measures over the last decade, others, like Africa, do not have any.

This Project aims to quantify some of the above risks and bring the emerging ones to the attention of policy-makers worldwide. The specific objectives of the Project are to:

  • Analyze the risk of ageing water storage dams globally to identify possible threats from them and solutions
  • Quantify current water security state of African countries through water-related indices’ analysis
  • Develop a conceptual framework for the operational flood early warning systems` ranking for their effectiveness and efficiency in flood risk reduction
  • Develop stakeholder capacity in these areas through need-specific online courses, webinars, seminars, and knowledge-bridging workshops

The Project runs until the end of 2021 and has a global focus, with a specific emphasis on developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The work builds on previous UNU-INWEH research project implemented in 2018-2020 on “Managing Water Resources Variability and Risks for Increased Resilience.”

Photo by Logan Abassi/UN Photo
Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran/UN Photo


United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Switzerland
UN University – Institute for Advanced Studies and Sustainability (UNU-IAS), Japan
UN University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), Germany
World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Switzerland
McMaster University, Canada
University of Ottawa, Canada,
University of New Brunswick, Canada
International Center for Water Hazard and Risk Management (ICHARM), Japan
International Water Management Centre (IWMI), Sri Lanka
University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

Example Outputs

Research publications  

 Policy Briefs:  


Duminda Perera