Water risks, disasters and climate change


BUTTON Water risk, disaster and climate change2


The OECD identifies for major risks related to water: risk of too much, too little and too polluted water; and disruption to freshwater systems. In addition, lack of access to water supply and sanitation can be considered as another water-related risk. The OECD argues that investing in water security is a condition for sustainable growth and development.

Managing water-related risks requires improved policy coherence across sectors, such as climate change adaptation, water management and disaster risk reduction. The OECD analyses best policy responses. Specific work focuses on water in the context of adaptation to climate change. The Roundtable on Financing Water ambitions to expedite investment that contributes to water security and sustainable growth.




This flagship report of the High-level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP) was launched at the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York. The OECD drafted the chapter on financing water-related disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Despite the strong economic case for investing in water-related DRR, there is evidence of a general under-investment in ex ante risk reduction and a clear tendency to rely on ex post response. A number of options can be considered to mobilise additional sources of finance for water-related DRR, including improving systematic reporting and disclosure of water-related risks by asset owners and operators, and making investments in water security more attractive to investors (for instance, using policy instruments to capture the value of investments in risk reduction, and identifying and measuring co-benefits). Governments have an important steering function to align incentives in favour of DRR.


PREVEnting the flooding of the seine in the paris - ile de france region

Action to prevent the risk of major flooding in Paris and the Ile de France region has improved in recent years – particularly after the Seine burst its banks in May and June 2016 – but urban and territorial planning needs to be better adapted, governance strengthened and long-term funding clarified, according to the OECD. Further improvements needed to manage major flood risk in Paris and Seine basin, says OECD.

The Progress Report, which was presented today to the Direction Régional et Interdépartementale de l’Environnement et de l’Énergie d’Ile de France, also questions whether the flood prevention funding structure is sufficiently ambitious and assured over the long-term.


WATER security for better lives

The OECD contends that managing these risks is a driver for sustainable growth and development. The four risks need to be addressed in conjunction, as focusing on one can increase exposure or vulnerability to others.


Managing water-related risks and disasters

The critical policy challenge is how to best prioritise investments suited to different risks.  It also requires effective co-ordination across levels of government, ensuring local level knowledge and needs are integrated in higher level prioritisation of water-related investments. If coordinated effectively, these efforts can set an incentive structure that delivers more resilient societies. The Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted by governments at the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March 2015, integrates risk governance as one of its main priorities.

The OECD, through its Reviews of risk management policies, assists governments in developing tailored policy responses to these challenges. As an example, the OECD Review on the resilience to Major Floods from the Seine in Ile-de-France led to the establishment of a new governance structure for institutions in charge of prevention policies and emergency preparedness to work better together towards reaching an established target of resilience for the metropolitan area. In a cross-country study “Boosting Resilience through Innovative Risk Governance”, the OECD shows that countries face a difficult challenge of maintaining the protective levels of preventive infrastructure.


Water and adaptation to climate change 


Climate change is reshaping the future for freshwater. More torrential rains, floods and droughts can be expected in many areas. Changing precipitation patterns are shifting rainy seasons and affecting the timing and quantity of melt water from snow pack and glaciers. Impacts on water quality can be expected and freshwater ecosystems are especially vulnerable.

Adaptation is not about maintaining the status quo at all costs. Instead, it is about better managing water risks for an uncertain future. The report Water and Climate Change: Policies to Navigate Uncharted Waters provides policy guidance to prioritise action, and improve the efficiency, timeliness and equity of adaption decisions; and is supplemented by a survey across all 34 member countries and the European Commission to take stock of progress and collect examples of good practice.

The report Climate Change Risks and Adaptation: Linking Policy and Economics shows how countries can move from planning to implementing adaptation. It provides estimates of the costs and benefits of adaptation at the national and regional scale, and examines how adaptation is being funded in OECD countries; and shows how innovative decision-making approaches can be used to minimise investment needs, while being robust to uncertainty.


Nature-based Solutions to Tackle Water-related Climate Risks 


Healthy ecosystems, and their associated services, can provide effective natural protection against water-related climate risks. Nature-based solutions (NbS) have recently gained momentum in international policy discussions due to their potential to foster synergies between ecosystem health and human wellbeing, while also offering economic benefits.





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