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Jeroen F.Warner: Disaster is the warning of nature, human beings should wake up in time

Updated: Jan 7

Jeroen F.Warner

Professor Jeroen F.Warner is currently with the Disaster Research Group, Social Sciences Group, Wageningen University. His research interests focus on natural disasters, water conflicts, and hydrologic politics and governance. His recent research includes Silence as a Policy: The Interaction of Power between Bangladesh and India in the Brahmaputra River in the Middle East, Migration from a Dynamic Perspective in the Context of Climate Change, and Introducing Adaptive Flood Risk Management in England, New Zealand and the Netherlands: "The Impact of Administrative Traditions," and "Critical points of Adaptation to urban flooding in the context of Climate change and urban growth: The Case of dacate Megacity."

Disaster is the warning of nature, human beings should wake up in time

1. Based on the rate we are consuming water, when do you think the water crisis will be top on the agenda? What innovative and possible solutions will be adopted to deal with it?

I'm sorry, the idea that we are in a global water crisis is misguided, as is the current hysteria over water wars and environmental/climate mass migration. There is plenty of drinking water to go round, the crisis is mainly one of governance. Scarcity is induced by social, economic, political decisions leading to misallocation, resource degradation, wastage and lack of proper buffering to tide us over droughts and fluctutaions. The hydrosocial cycle approach that is currently in vogue may help us understand its mechanisms.

We have to realise that many water problems are neither generated nor sol;ved only in the water sector, meaning we need to step out of our hydrocentricity and seek much better coordination with other sectors (agriculture, industry, energy, social policies)

2. As China plays an increasingly important role in the world, it has stepped into the center of the world stage. What cooperation do you think countries have in the field of climate change and water resources security? Which countries blocs can we focus on in the future? What role can China play within them?

China's approach to water is somewhat schizophrenic - on the one hand CHina is a commendable frontrunner in clean water technology and climate adaptation policy, on the other China is also still using wasteful and polluting technological systems such as coal, which are believed to contribute to the 'greenhouse effect.

Also, China's One Belt One Road investments abroad show the same bifurcation; China (co)invests in clean modern environmental technologies but also in polluting infrastructure, as well as large (and often uneconomic) infrastructure such as large dams, which are now globally presented as climate buffers but whose environmental benefits are debatable. China's investments and alliances have changed the geopolitical map, and China could use the leverage that comes with it to push sustainable policies,. technologies and systems. However, China is right to rely on its considerable 'soft power' to promote such goals, rather than impose them coercively. China's more resposive stance on the Lancang-Mekong in response to environmental objections from downstreamers is a good example of this cooperative face promoting sustainable relations and water management.

While accelerated climate change is a long -term hazard, cleaner and more sustainable water management serves short-term interests benefiting our health and living environment. In this context your next question (#3) is also a powerful argument for investing in and pushing for more sustainable water systems serving everybody's health.

3. In the context of the COVID-19 outbreak and the natural disasters that much of the world is experiencing as a result of climate change, the issue of water resources has become even more urgent, leaving people without access to safe drinking water. In addition to water shortage, developing countries face a more serious problem of water pollution. Do you think water security will have a significant impact on the economic situation of developing countries in recent years? What do you think developing countries can do to deal with water shortage and water pollution?

Sorry, the idea that climate change c a u s e s disaster is plain wrong. Disasters are generated where hazards (anything that may cause harm) meets vulnerable elements at risk, such that the coping capacity is overwhelmed. Disasters thus have an external elements (earthquakes are heard to prevent) and internal elements (we settle in earthquake prone areas and fail to properly protect our buildings and infrastructure against entirely foreseeable disaster potential). Climate risks may over time create problems, but many of us have time to adapt and better protect ourselves, as well as benefit from the benefits that climate change is expected to bring for some in terms of rainfall and biomass production. The problem to focus on in terms of natural hazards and disaster is climate variability - the sudden extremes we may not be able to properly adapt to, such as the extreme temperatures and cloudbursts in Western Europe we have been experiencing lately. We can learn from China, a disaster-prone country that successfully evacuates millions of people at risk in a short time preventing thousands of casualties.

To return to the issue of COVID as noted under #2 we create a lot of problems ourselves. For example, many poor people, especially in developing countries, living in crowded accommodation not have the option to socially distance and lack access to clean and sufficient water. Especially if these people have no legal status or abode, they may not be eligible for water service and depend on corruption or makeshift illegal pipeline extensions. Developing countries will have to see sense; if you don't serve everyone in your territory, legal or illegal, communicable diseases like COVID will continue to spread. Also fostering a behavioural culture of hand-washing and environmental protection and fostering sustainable livelihoods will go a long way. Richer countries can aggressively support such campaigns and livelihoods financially and politically.

Editor Assistant Research Fellow: Xianglin Gu

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