How does investing in disaster prevention pay off?

by Sanjin Avdić, Raduška Cupać, Aida Hadžić Hurem i Pavle Banjac

 Cleaning after the floods 2014 (Photo: UNDP BiH)

March 24, 2016

The unprecedented damage Bosnia and Herzegovina saw in the 2014 floods has shown us the devastating effects of deprioritized financing and years of neglect of flood control systems.

Doboj, a northern town in BiH, was among the worst-hit cities. More than 3,500 dwellings were destroyed or damaged by flood water. Urgent rehabilitation of 400 homes conducted under the EU Floods Recovery Programme took several months and cost more than 1.3 million Euro.

Emergency home rehabilitation and its staggering monetary cost may have had been avoided if the 2 kilometer long flood barrier, worth only EUR 300,000, had been put into place before the floods struck the city.

If that were the case, Doboj would surely be a much different community than it is today, and millions of Euros would have been freed for development, rather than the restoration of basic living conditions.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is evidently prone to disasters.

Floods in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010 and especially in 2014 have shown us over and over again that our country is fully exposed to the effects of climate change.

The economic impact of 2014 floods has been estimated at more than 2 billion Euro. It is clear that the country’s natural disaster strategies need to change.

Yet for now, flood risk management in B&H only focuses on emergency response to floods rather than taking a strategic approach to flood risks.

The good news is that the authorities in BiH are becoming increasingly aware of this issue. As UNDP, we have supported them to initiate a EUR 4.6 million comprehensive flood risk reduction initiative in the Vrbas River Basin.

We know that measures aiming to reduce flood risk are most effective when coordinated throughout the whole river basin, so we have designated Vrbas as a pilot site, with the intent of implementing the same approach throughout other river basins in the country.

The pilot will help us develop a methodology for enhancing early warning systems to serve as a model for other basins in country. It consists of four key elements:

  • risk knowledge,
  • monitoring and warning services,
  • dissemination and communication,
  • and response capabilities.

The bottom line is this: We need to address causes, not symptoms, of its vulnerability to disasters.

Without investing in strategic prevention efforts, no development efforts can be sustainable.

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