Increasing Resilience to Water-related Risks


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 regions’ geographic conditions or wealthiness. In 2019 alone, close to 325 water-related disasters globally 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 great human effort. Yet, their effectiveness still needs to be significantly improved to be seen as an effective disaster risk reduction (DRR) tool. 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 in the fast-growing, 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 threats that need to be better understood and quantified.

An even more overarching issue for any country is how to measure national water security accurately and how to use such measures in planning for sustainable water- and overall economic development. While some large regions, like Asia and the Pacific, have developed such actions 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
  • Develop a georeferenced global database for dams
  • Quantify current water security state of African countries through water-related indices’ analysis
  • Assess the water-related security threats to the megacities around the world
  • 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 webinars, seminars, and knowledge-bridging workshops.

The Project runs until the end of 2023 and has a global focus, with a specific emphasis on developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The work builds on the 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, CanadaYork University, 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

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