By Thin Lei Win
BANGKOK, March 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From building floating houses and flood-resilient roads to protecting coasts by restoring fish ponds, 12 projects aimed at tackling water-related problems in some of the world's most vulnerable communities will share a $10 million pot to make their ideas a reality.
The winners of the Water Window Challenge, whittled down from nearly 400 entries, will work over the next 18 months to help communities in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and South and Southeast Asia deal with floods and drought. The goal is to reduce the human toll and economic damage.
The challenge was organised jointly by the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) and Z Zurich Foundation, the charitable arm of Zurich Insurance, one of Europe's largest insurers, which provided the funding.
"Floods account for around half of all disaster-related losses," said David Nash, manager of the Z Zurich Foundation, noting that those losses could be lowered if communities are able to invest in flood protection before they are hit.
"Around 87 percent of all disaster-related funding is targeted at response and relief, which to us seems to be the wrong way around," he said by telephone from Switzerland
"Our intention is to shift the priorities so that people invest before the event, so they don't have to invest as much after," he added.
Luca Alinovi, Nairobi-based executive director of GRP, who is in Bangkok to meet the winners, noted floods are the biggest driver of weather-related humanitarian crises around the world.
"We wanted to find solutions that not only help to manage it better but to transform it into an opportunity for a more prosperous life," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Flooding accounts for nearly half of all weather-related disasters, affecting more than 2.3 billion people in the past 20 years, 95 percent of whom live in Asia, according to the GRP.
The 12 water challenge winners were chosen for ideas that are innovative, easy to scale up, adjustable and likely to deliver concrete outcomes, Alinovi added.
They include the University of Waterloo, which is adapting low-cost amphibious homes used in flood-prone areas of the U.S. state of Louisiana for the Mekong Delta.
The Danish Refugee Council's proposal, meanwhile, will help refugees in northwest Kenya cope with recurring droughts and floods using techniques including a mobile phone-based warning system and fast-maturing, hazard-resistant crops.
The projects will be rolled out in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
The GRP was set up by The Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S. government's development arm USAID and the Swedish poverty reduction agency SIDA.