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II. Conclusions and recommendations

1. Guidelines for policies to reduce the vulnerability of river basins to floods
2. Use of information on the impact of floods in the planning of investment projects, watershed management, and the sustainable development of river basins
3. Hemispheric cooperation and the exchange of information and experiences

1. Guidelines for policies to reduce the vulnerability of river basins to floods

Some of the largest river basins in the world are found in the Western Hemisphere. These basins have extensive networks and diverse climatic and biological characteristics. The socioeconomic activities carried out in these basins rely on an infrastructure that includes transportation and communications networks, river-borne navigation, reservoir systems, and energy production and distribution facilities.

The losses from natural disasters in Latin American and Caribbean countries in the last 18 years (1976-1994) have totaled about US$ 43 billion, an amount equal to all the technical and financial aid received by those countries during the same time period.

Given that there is a strong relation between decreasing the vulnerability of river basins to flood damage, landslides, and other natural hazards and applying the principles of environmental and river-basin management in the context of sustainable development and that the river basin is an ideal and effective geographic unit to use in environmental planning and management of a region, the participants in the Seminar-Workshop recommend the following actions:

· Establish multisectoral river-basin committees with representatives of the agencies involved in the supply, demand, and management of renewable natural resources and water resources to carry out integrated management.

· As part of interdisciplinary programming, include both structural and nonstructural measures in the development of actions to prevent natural disasters.

· Promote and support the development and expansion of environmental information networks to exchange data, methodologies, and procedures among the countries of the region and especially among countries that share river basins.

· Develop national and regional programs to provide information to and increase the awareness of the various groups involved - government authorities, professionals, social leaders, and the society at large - in order to make the decision-making process better and more efficient.

· In planning and carrying out activities in river basins, pay greater attention to the operation, maintenance, and monitoring of the works constructed by means of evaluations of these activities and the reporting of the results.

· Evaluate the degree of vulnerability to flooding so that decisions can be made about mitigation actions necessary to reach acceptable levels of risk in the basin.

· Consider, among nonstructural measures, the following:

- environmental zoning and land-use planning;

- the improvement of flood alert systems;

- the education and training of local community leaders so that they can better deal with the dangers of floods and other hazards;

- the design of alternative types of infrastructure and housing construction that will withstand certain natural hazards;

- the relocation of populations and activities situated in areas of unacceptably high risk;

- the use of flood insurance.

2. Use of information on the impact of floods in the planning of investment projects, watershed management, and the sustainable development of river basins

At present, information on the vulnerability and capacity of the social and economic infrastructure of river basins and on installations and equipment is not being obtained or updated, much less used. Nor have local populations been considered or guided with respect to the choice of alternative plans of development and the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of specific policies, programs, and projects to reduce vulnerability to floods and the associated hazards.

Participants in the Seminar-Workshop recommend the following actions:

National Actions

· Adopt more comprehensive, multisectoral watershed management programs, including as a key element programs to reduce vulnerability to floods.

· Invest in the collection of data and the creation of comprehensive information systems that are easily accessible to each level of planning (states, municipalities, water basin authorities, etc.).

· Obtain as detailed and pertinent information as possible from new hydrometeorological stations connected to computerized systems, to establish forecasting models.

· Disseminate the information obtained on recent disasters, which could be used to redesign or adjust projects already in operation.

· Conduct, as high priority, integrated and sectoral projects to identify economically and ecologically homogeneous zones for use in planning development projects, and to identify the most affected sectors and possible mitigative activities.

· Make cost-benefit analysis mandatory, with emphasis on hazard mitigation alternatives, particularly the use of nonstructural measures.

· Find more effective ways to increase public participation, particularly by the population sectors most affected, in decision-making measures to reduce flood vulnerability and cost-sharing.

Multinational/Regional Actions

· Use multidisciplinary and multinational teams of experts to develop basic packages of information about natural resources, and economic and social information to use in the evaluation and justification of investment projects.

· Update by 1998 each country's resource inventories and basin studies, including information on natural hazards, vulnerability of the existing infrastructure, and disaster histories, focusing especially on the agriculture, energy, and transportation sectors, with the support of international organizations (OAS, IDRC, international lending institutions) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

· Establish pilot programs in specific basins to document the costs and benefits of mitigation policies, programs, and practices, and their distribution in society, to alert officials and obtain their support.

· Design, transfer, and adopt geographic information systems to compile, update, and analyze data on development practices that contribute to vulnerability to floods, on loss of resources, and on the occurrence of extreme events, to be used in designing projects.

· Develop better methodologies and processes for consultation, agreement, coordination, and cooperation among the diverse sectors of society and for gathering the information necessary for this purpose and using it to communicate development plans and projects in specific areas.

· Implement a planning process for the management of strategic resources that takes into account the diversity of countries that share river basins.

Actions to Be Taken by International Organizations

· Publish the risk criteria used in the preparation of projects to reduce vulnerability to floods as a condition for approving loans.

· Prepare guidelines based on the available manuals (such as that of the OAS) that are illustrated by regional examples, in order to reduce economic losses due to floods.

· Explore methods of transferring the technology for obtaining, storing, and conserving flood data.

· Set a high priority in the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank on the inclusion of programs to reduce vulnerability to floods in the criteria applicable to river-basin management. The World Bank should include this issue as part of the water resource administration strategy it requires countries to prepare. Measures for environmental protection and flood damage mitigation should be mandatory, with a specific percentage of the funds required to be dedicated to vulnerability reduction.

· Develop analysis and training capacity models in the preparation of sectoral basin vulnerability profiles, such as those of the OAS, which should be based on current development programs.

· In close cooperation with national and regional institutions and with the support of the private sector, continue training courses in the use of information on natural hazards for the preparation of investment projects and environmental assessments.

· Include institutional strengthening and the training of staff at all levels, from the local community to the technical specialist and the decision-maker, in programs of assistance on flood hazard mitigation.

3. Hemispheric cooperation and the exchange of information and experiences

The participants of the Seminar-Workshop, recalling the presentations and the discussions during the meeting, noted that:

· Cooperation and the exchange of information and experiences among the countries of the hemisphere is an important factor in decreasing the vulnerability of the energy, agriculture, and transportation sectors to floods, especially in international river basins.

One example is the Plata Basin, between Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, through the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee (CIC), within the framework of the Treaty of the Plata Basin.

· International cooperation takes place primarily through multilateral organizations, such as the World Bank, the GEF, the OAS, UNEP, the IDB, and UNESCO. Bilateral cooperation and the exchange of information and experiences is promoted by governments, with the technical or financial support of international organizations in some cases. However, guidance and access to information about current financial and technical cooperation mechanisms are lacking.

· The non-governmental community, represented by professional associations and research institutions, among others, has an important role in compiling and disseminating information about floods in river basins.

· There are few operating binational organizations that coordinate and develop management plans for international river basins that include the reduction and/or mitigation of the vulnerability of the energy, agriculture, and transportation sectors.

· There are no simple mechanisms for obtaining the information produced by the numerous organizations in each country on the various aspects of water resource administration. This is an obstacle to the exchange of valuable experiences.

· In most of the countries, a tradition of storing and disseminating the cumulative experiences of floods that affect communities does not yet exist.

· The use of technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) to identify and monitor flood-prone areas is inadequate.

· The Inter-American Network of Water Resources represents an important regional effort to join governmental, non-governmental, academic, and international organizations, research groups, industry, and private business for the purpose of transmitting and exchanging information and experiences on water resources.

The Seminar-Workshop participants recommend:

· Providing incentives for the creation of basin and sub-basin committees for international rivers to act as mechanisms for facilitating technical cooperation and the exchange of information and experiences.

· Asking international financial and technical cooperation organizations to disseminate information on their programs, on means of access to their resources, and on their technical capacity to support actions that reduce vulnerability to flooding in river basins.

· Identifying new alternatives for international financing, such as swaps of debt for investment and prevention, soft credits for longer terns of amortization and payment, non-reimbursable resources, and so on.

· Promoting and providing incentives for the active participation of professional organizations and other non-governmental institutions in the dissemination of information on floods in river basins compiled and integrated by public entities.

· Establishing binational commissions with technical, administrative, and financial authority with common objectives directed toward the sustainable development of river basins.

· Creating and strengthening data bases of institutional, legal, project, training, and other basic information on water resources management. The information should be easily accessible and periodically updated with contributions from all its users, taking advantage of new archival and communications technologies.

· Promoting seminar-workshops and training courses for the dissemination and application of new technologies, and personnel training at the managerial, technical, and administrative levels in the planning and application of measures to reduce the impact of river-basin floods.

· Proposing an instrument for hemispheric cooperation aimed at the prevention and mitigation of disasters for discussion at the highest level of hemisphere governments, which could be presented at the Bolivia Summit on Sustainable Development scheduled for 1996.

· Encouraging the participation of the hemisphere countries in the Inter-American Dialogue on Water Management and in the Inter-American Network of Water Resources, of which the OAS serves as technical secretariat. The establishment of focal points in each country will facilitate the dissemination in the national territories of the results obtained by this mechanism.

· Using existing international cooperation programs, such as the Horizontal Cooperation Program of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States, to promote the exchange of specialists and technical experts between the different countries in order to share and transfer technologies used to reduce the vulnerability of the agriculture, energy, and transportation sectors to floods in river basins.

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