message from the secretary-general

Over the past few decades, natural disasters have caused considerable loss of life and increasing
economic damage, affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Such disasters
disrupt national economies, severely weaken the poor and vulnerable, and are recognized as
major impediments to sustainable development and reduction of poverty. Addressing these issues
require the integration of disaster and risk management into comprehensive development planning,
built on improved knowledge base, commitment of decision makers and public participation,
awareness and education.
Since time immemorial, water bodies have attracted human settlements and associated economic
activities. With the pressure of growing population and its concentration in urban centres, the
process has accelerated during the last decades, thus exposing ever-growing population to waterrelated hazards. The human, economic and environmental costs of such disasters have increased
dramatically over the past 40 years. Today, about three quarters of all natural disasters are related
to weather, water and climate and their extremes. Too much, too little or too dirty water is having
an adverse impact on national economies and health resulting in long-term adverse consequences
for the well-being of the people.
Progress in meteorological and hydrological sciences shows that the impacts of natural hazards
can be reduced through preparedness and mitigation. Although natural hazards cannot be
avoided, society can reduce its vulnerability and therefore lessen the associated risks and avoid
them turning into disasters. A shift in disaster management approach to preventive and proactive
strategies will have a large potential to reduce vulnerability of communities to cyclones, floods,
droughts and other similar hazards. Planning ahead to mitigate disastrous affects of hazards
enables decision makers to relieve the adverse impacts at least costs. Preparedness and
mitigation measures play a key role in lessening the impact of a disaster.
However, both preparedness and mitigation have to be based on authoritative information. This
includes forecasting and early warning services with increased accuracy and longer-lead time as
well as providing long-term data and information for risk assessment, and for designing and
implementing structural as well as non-structural mitigation measures. We have much to draw on
WMO’s extensive and unique system of in situ and satellite-based observations, its network of
forecast and warning centres that use some of the most powerful supercomputers, and its
extensive system of telecommunications, which enables all National Meteorological Services to
exchange data and/or products and ensures the timely preparation and dissemination of short-,
medium- and long-term forecasts and warnings. In addition, systematic studies of meteorological
and hydrological phenomena and observations related to cyclones, severe storms, floods,
landslides and mudflows are essential for a clear understanding of how and why natural hazards
happen, and how they can escalate into disasters. In order to be prepared and to take action to
meet the risk posed by disasters it is imperative to be informed of the risks involved, of the possible
options to mitigate the risks and of the way to implement those options.
Early warning of disasters plays a vital role in all human endeavours and has to be combined with
a strategy to respond to, and mitigate, their adverse effects. Disaster management is a
multidisciplinary technical issue that has social, cultural and environmental dimensions. Therefore,
disaster management strategies have to be developed, based not only on technical data but also
on a strong social and cultural knowledge base.
World Water Day 2004, whose theme is “Water and disasters”, provides an opportunity as well as
a challenge both to all disaster managers and those involved in natural hazard forecasting and
early warning in the National Meteorological Services and National Hydrological Services. It allows
to reach out to various players through media, public awareness campaigns and community
interaction. Let us use this opportunity for developing preparedness and response strategies, for
enhancing public understanding of meteorological and hydrological forecasting, and for building the
capacity of the communities to appreciate and understand in simple terms the various facets of
disaster management. I would like to take this opportunity to invite Governments, international
organizations, non-governmental organizations, the academia, the media and the National
Meteorological and Hydrological Services to synergize their knowledge and actions and to “be
informed and be prepared” to mitigate the adverse impacts of natural hazards and, in particular,
the water-related disasters, for the sustainable development of all nations.