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Building resilience through better water management

Water is the main channel through which climate change influences ecosystems and thus the livelihood and well-being of societies. Water-related disasters are the most destructive of all natural disasters. Since 1992 floods, droughts and storms have affected 4.2 billion people (95% of all people affected by disasters) and caused US$ 1.3 trillion of damage (63% of all damage). But disasters respect no borders and floods often have transboundary consequences.

Transboundary cooperation will become even more crucial than today. Due to climate change, extreme precipitation events will very likely become more intense and more frequent by the end of this century. At the same time, droughts and low flows are expected to increase in number and become more severe. Many transboundary basins are particularly vulnerable to these changes. Building resilience becomes a major issue as climate change affects water quantity and quality, water temperature, water-related ecosystems and the magnitude and occurrence of extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.

The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses (Water Convention) helps countries in shared river basins to jointly adapt to climate change, making them more resilient to disasters and water scarcity. This includes developing some of the first transboundary adaptation strategies worldwide. Over 20 million people in the basins of the Dniester, Neman, Chu-Talas and other rivers will benefit from these strategies supported by UNECE. More than 30 basins covering more than 30% of earth’s ice-free land surface have benefitted from exchange of experiences on adaptation in the Convention’s network.

The UNECE Water Convention addresses climate change adaptation in a comprehensive way by working at the policy and institutional levels as well as implementing concrete adaptation activities on the ground.  This unique legal and intergovernmental framework facilitates the establishment of sustainable river basin organizations and supports mechanisms for climate change adaptation.

The Water Convention, in partnership with the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO), has also created a Global platform for exchanging experience on water and adaptation to climate change in transboundary basins and a Global network of basins working on climate change adaptation. Currently the network includes basins from all over the world, such as Chu-Talas, Congo, Dniester, Mekong, Niger, North-Western Sahara Aquifer System, Rhine and Senegal.

Five pilot projects (“Dauria going dry”, Chu-Talas, Dniester, Neman and Sava basins), most of them implemented in the framework of the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC), have strengthened the capacity of the riparian countries and basins to adapt to climate change, by developing transboundary climate change impact and vulnerability assessments, strategic frameworks for basin adaptation and implementing adaptation measures. The Dniester basin is currently one of the most advanced in the world regarding inter-state adaptation to climate change.