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Water-related Disaster Risk Reduction under the COVID-19 Pandemic – UN HELP draft Principles (Input Requested by 15 May 2020)

Institute for Water Resources
Published May 8, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA.   In April 2020, the UN High-level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP) released the Draft Principles to Address Water-related Disasters under COVID-19 Pandemics, and is seeking suggestions and opinions. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Institute for Water Resources (IWR) supported this effort through editorial contributions and technical content. 

The report emphasizes response and recovery from a flood or drought disaster can be complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it offers advice on how to proceed and what to do.  Situations in areas affected by both disasters and pandemics can be complex and overwhelming, but the Principles highlight the importance of deliberate decision making to develop actionable measures.  The report states:

Leaders, decision makers, and citizens should be aware that water-related disasters continue to be imminent in countries and cities under the COVID-19 pandemic. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies and actions specially designed for the current pandemic situation will protect disaster-affected areas from becoming epicenter of pandemic explosion and assist with swift recoveries from disastersThe Principles outlined in the report offer practical advice to political leaders, managers of DRR and COVID-19 responses, and all stakeholders to formulate strategies and actions. These initiatives can address water-related disasters that may occur anytime in the future, even under the pandemic.”

Lieutenant General Semonite, as Chief of Engineers, is a member of the High-level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP), which was established to assist the international community, governments, and stakeholders in mobilizing political will and resources. It promotes actions to raise awareness, ensure coordination and collaboration, establish common goals and targets, monitor progress, and take effective measures aimed at addressing the issues of water and disasters.

The HELP was convened at the request of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) in 2007, under the Presidency of H.E. Dr. Han Seung-soo, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea and Former President of the Korea Water Forum. The HELP meeting included 21 experts in disaster preparedness and response and international issues, and was co-moderated by the World Water Council, UN Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), Japan Water Forum, and Korea Water Forum.

The value of HELP is illustrated in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2011. The overwhelming consensus was ‘lessons learned’ from this event and other natural disasters should be quickly identified and rigorously applied.  These events highlight disaster management and prevention are increasingly inter-related and can no longer be treated in isolation. Greater cooperation at state, regional, and international levels is needed.  These lessons were the basis for the Principles offered in the April 2020 report and can be useful for disaster response and recovery from a flood or drought disaster, simultaneous with other challenging events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Draft Principles - Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies and actions:

Principle 1: Enhance leaders’ awareness on disaster risk reduction (DRR) in the pandemic

Principle 2: Integrate risk management of disasters and pandemics

Principle 3: Provide clean water, sanitation, and hygiene sustainably during and after disasters

Principle 4: Protect disaster risk management stakeholders from threat of COVID-19

Principle 5: Protect scarce medical resources from disaster impact

Principle 6: Protect disaster evacuees from threat of COVID-19

Principle 7: Protect COVID-19 patients from threat of disasters

Principle 8: Develop Specialized Evacuation Guidance for Cities and Areas under COVID-19 Lock-Down

Principle 9: Finance DRR actions under COVID-19 effectively to avoid economic catastrophe

Principle 10: Strengthen global solidarity and international cooperation to cope with these co-occuring challenges towards building our world back better

Please send your suggestions and opinions directly to by May 15, 2020.  You can access the full draft here.

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