Message from Martha Rojas Urrego Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on the occasion of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction compels us all to reflect on the risks to our future.

Water-related disasters such as floods and droughts have ravaged communities in every continent this year - accounting for 90% of all global disasters. And as highlighted by the IPCC, these will increase with climate change, hitting the world’s most vulnerable hardest.

We stand at a turning point: in a few weeks, governments will convene at the Climate Change COP26 to commit stronger climate action, critical to implementing the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction Framework.

Scaling healthy wetlands must be a priority to address climate and disaster risk together.

These ecosystems such as mangroves and seagrasses reduce wave power, shielding coastal communities, 60% of the world’s population, from tsunamis, storms and floods.

Another natural wave barrier, coral reefs provide protection worth up to 34,000 USD per hectare every year. While inland wetlands such as floodplains, rivers and lakes absorb and store excess rainfall – reducing floods and providing water during dry seasons.

These nature-based solutions are often far cheaper than hard infrastructure – with mangrove restoration projects costing from two to six times less than submerged breakwaters.

Wetlands also help communities after disasters. By protecting rice paddies and other crops from extreme events, these ecosystems enable communities to recover faster.

In 2015, Parties to the Convention on Wetlands committed to integrate wetland-based disaster reduction and management into national development plans. And in recent years, more and more governments are integrating wetlands into their Disaster Risk Reduction policies.

But we continue to lose wetlands at a much faster rate. 35% of the world’s wetlands have been lost since the 1970s: leading to increased disasters and diminishing our capacity to reduce risk.

We must continue to embed wetlands conservation and restoration into our disaster risk strategies:

  • First, we must recognize the roles of wetlands in disaster risk reduction, emphasizing the value of their wise use as nature-based solutions;
  • Second, integrate wetland conservation within NDCs, climate action and eco-DRR plans and policies.
  • Third: promote collaboration across all of society to protect, conserve and restore wetlands.

Only together can we truly progress towards a safer and more resilient planet.