PORTLAND, Ore. -- James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), today called for partnerships with nature and the environment as an important means of reducing disaster losses and creating disaster-resistant communities.
In remarks prepared for delivery on Tuesday, May 25, at the annual conference of the Association of State Floodplain Managers in Portland, Ore., Witt said that a healthy, natural environment is one of the key ingredients to disaster-resistant communities. It also is a core principle of Project Impact, FEMA's initiative to change the way America deals with disasters.
"We believe that part of disaster resistance is using natural protection: wetlands as sponges, timberland as a buffer from mudslides and the coastline as a barrier to hurricanes," Witt said. "Sometimes the best protection against nature's disasters is working with nature's resources."
Witt noted that through the agency's hazard mitigation program, FEMA is buying people out of the floodplain and restoring natural open space.
"These stretches of land are key environmental areas that, when opened again, promote bio-diversity and the connection between habitats," he said. "Returning land to the river also helps farther up and down stream as well. Land returned to nature acts like a sponge that can temporarily store flood waters, lessening the impact elsewhere in the watershed. We've taken a firm stand. No permits to develop in floodplains or wetlands."
Witt's comments come less than a week after the National Science Foundation released a study entitled "Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States." The five-year study, supported in part by FEMA, found that disaster losses are increasing and the difficulty this country is having in stemming these losses is a result of "shortsighted and narrow conceptions of the human relationship to the natural environment." The study calls for a policy of "sustainable hazard mitigation," which involves activities similar to those outlined in Witt's Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities.
Project Impact was launched by FEMA two years ago to encourage communities to take measures to prevent disaster losses. Today there are 118 Project Impact communities across the country, including Benton, Tillamook and Multnomah counties in Oregon.