Resilience through disaster risk reduction in Nigeria

In April, Michael Clark reported on work to improve disaster management in Ghana. This month he reports on a new project in disaster risk reduction in Nigeria.

Way back in January 2005, with the world still in shock following the devastating Indian Ocean earthquake & tsunami and with the horrors of Hurricane Katrina still 8 months away, the United Nations was setting out how we would go about making the world safer from natural disasters – it’s timing could not have been more significant.

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The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Picture credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images via CNN.com

The 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) was the first time a global plan had been developed to detail the work required from stakeholders across the public, private and charitable sectors to reduce disaster risk. Thanks to the HFA, governments, intergovernmental agencies, international and national NGOs, disaster experts and at-risk communities were starting to work together to coordinate their preparation for disasters.

The HFA was the first significant step taken towards placing an emphasis on mitigating and preparing for disasters; the essence of resilience. It moved away from the traditional disaster management methodology – simply focussed on dealing with the aftermath; response and recovery. The subsequent Sendai Framework built on this and placed an even greater emphasis on mitigation and preparation through disaster risk reduction. It is the Sendai Framework that will shape how we go about disaster management and building resilience up until 2030.

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The seven global targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

In many facets, the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is seen to be a regional spearhead in disaster management across West Africa. The scale and scope of the hazards experienced across Africa’s most populous nation are vast – from flooding to oil spills and infectious disease outbreaks to an Islamist insurgency, the demands placed upon NEMA are significant.

The ongoing Afri-Gate project, which is led by the Bournemouth University’s Disaster Management Centre (BUDMC) and supported by RAB Consultants aims to support the growth of disaster risk reduction and resilience across West Africa. Much like my work in Ghana, the initial phase of the project sought to identify where there are challenges for disaster management and disaster managers in Nigeria in their attempts to improve disaster risk reduction.

I spent 5 days in the federal capital of Abuja, working closely with NEMA’s senior team to understand the disaster management structure and the strategic direction of the agency. Despite being in its infancy, a dedicated department to advocate and coordinate disaster risk reduction efforts across the country has ensured that Nigeria is making huge strides in the right direction.

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Michael Clark is a resilience consultant who has worked across West Africa over the last 7 years. He is pictured at NEMA Headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria.

Despite the best efforts of NEMA, recent flooding events in Oyo State have highlighted the challenges faced by the agency in their promotion of disaster risk reduction. Dredging operations undertaken by the state government to reduce the risk of flooding are being negated by the persistence of communities building homes on water courses. This is one of the areas that the Afri-Gate project will continue to explore as we investigate how NEMA can better engage communities to highlight the importance of disaster risk reduction.

The Afri-Gate project continues to grow in its impact and significance across West Africa.

Building good practice to support engagement with flood risk communities

Paul Laidlaw, Community Resilience Manager with the Scottish Flood Forum, reports on efforts to support engagement with communities at risk of flooding.

The Scottish Flood Forum (SFF) recently launched a pilot Good Practice Framework (GPF) to support engagement with flood risk communities. The work is being developed in partnership with the National Centre For Resilience in Scotland (NCR) who were established in 2016 to ensure communities across Scotland are fully and adequately prepared for natural hazards such as flooding and landslides.

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Stonehaven (pictured) is a community where examples of good practice can be used to support others involved in engagement with flood risk communities. Source: Metro

The GPF is made up of lots of useful information to support organisations think about the different ways they can engage flood risk communities such as case studies, information notes, check lists, templates and more. The four case studies outline a range of successful methods to engage flood risk communities to take positive action and work in partnership. These case studies include examples of the SFF supporting partnership working with flood risk communities and concrete examples of communities working to increase their resilience to flooding in Stonehaven, Edzell, Aberfeldy and Menstrie.

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Launch of the new good practice framework, a partnership between the Scottish Flood Forum and the National Centre for Resilience.

Our work at the Scottish Flood Forum is committed to supporting engagement with flood risk communities and the GPF offers a range of soft guidance to support local authority staff and others with an interest in high quality engagement. The GPF offers information on starting community flood resilience groups, setting up a flood warden scheme, partnership working, developing community flood plans and a set of draft principles that can help to provide a strong foundation to develop engagement with flood risk communities.

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Paul Laidlaw (left) pictured with others involved in engagement with the community of Menstrie in Clackmannanshire.

The framework can be viewed at Resilience Direct under the NCR page and by accessing working groups. The SFF would love to hear feedback from those involved in community engagement on its usefulness and any suggestions to improve the GPF. For more information contact paul.laidlaw@scottishfloodforum.org

Being prepared for flood emergencies: behind the scenes of a major exercise

Daniel Eldson, assistant resilience consultant, reports on his experience in supporting a major flooding exercise in England.

Storm Desmond caused an estimated £1.3m of damages when it struck on the 5th and 6th of December 2015. Disasters such as this provide context as to why agencies involved in emergencies must continually improve their readiness for major natural hazards, and in the case of the Environment Agency, being able to ‘think big, act early, and be visible’ which is core to their role. Exercise CERTUS was an example of flood planning and preparation with an exercise to test winter readiness plans, incident management, command and control, communication and reporting arrangements.

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Picture credit: Carlisle was one of the worst hit places during Storm Desmond with rescue teams evacuating many people from their flooded homes, BBC

The exercise involved 1,000 participants across England, including the Environment Agency’s National Incident Room, National Operational Incident Management Team, Executive Directors and operational field staff.

Part of my role while developing the exercise was to consult all the area teams and develop unique scenarios for their area to respond to, depending on the level of response they wanted to simulate. This was one of the most rewarding aspects of the project for me, with the steepest learning curve, building realistic incident scenarios that we could work into the overall exercise. These ranged from simulating media interview requests, to managing damage to major flood assets. We then worked these scenarios into the larger CERTUS exercise. All of this area level information would then need to be managed at a national level, testing the EA’s command and control, communication and reporting arrangements.

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Incident management teams taking part in Exercise CERTUS.

During the live exercise, I provided telephone support to our facilitators and managed injects to each of the 16 areas from the Environment Agency’s National Incident Room with over 500 emails and supporting documents being sent to participants via an exercise messaging system.

The exercise allowed us to test the deployment of temporary flood barriers, pumps and other mobile incident response equipment to support communities remaining at risk of flooding. This activity in turn allowed the new Major Incident, Temporary Defence and Pump Deployment plans to be tested. What struck me with this exercise was the ability to effectively test winter readiness and being prepared for the next major flood. In particular, making sure everyone is prepared to respond when the time comes: 10% of those who took part in CERTUS were new to incident management, and almost all reported that they felt more confident in their role as a result.

How can we learn to live with floods?

Fiona Cuthill, assistant flood risk management consultant and editor of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society Young Geographer magazine, reports on a recent conference which looked into learning to live with floods in Scotland.

In March 2017, the Royal Society of Edinburgh  hosted an event which brought together flood resilience experts to discuss how we can learn to live with floods and the associated challenges for science and management. Speakers from academic institutions, government bodies and private consultancies discussed their research about how resilience to flooding can be achieved.

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Picture credit: Northern England, Scotland battered by floods tied to Storm Desmond, Newsweek

One of the themes explored at the conference was the use of engineering approaches to create flood resilient communities. Professor David Balmforth (MWH Global) explored the benefits of creating blue-green cities as a way to manage surface water runoff and allow urban areas to become more resilient by preventing damaging flows occurring. Dr Mark Wilkinson (James Hutton Institute) advocated the use of Natural Flood Management techniques in catchments to reduce flood risk, while highlighting their non-disruptive nature to current land use practices, as exemplified in the case of Balruddery Farm, Dundee.

Community engagement was another key theme presented at the conference with Michael Cranston (RAB Consultants/University of Dundee) discussing research undertaken into the effectiveness of SEPA flood warnings. Following a series of workshops and questionnaires with community groups, it was found that most customers are happy with the service and do take action when a warning is issued. However, customers would like more information provided in the warnings to help improve their preparedness and resiliency to flood events.

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Picture credit: Twitter @iskraunam

Professor Ioan Fazey (University of Dundee) discussed his community engagement work in the Solomon Islands, and explained the necessity to tackle issues that weaken social cohesion to allow communities to build resilience. He also indicated the growing need for practitioners to enhance their facilitation skills to work through tensions within community groups to help build a greater resilience capacity, referencing the climate resilient communities work in the Scottish Borders.

Finally, Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell (Universities of Oxford and Middlesex) discussed the Flood-Re insurance scheme which helps people living in high flood risk areas to afford premiums. However, Penning-Rowsell argued that subsidised premiums mean those living in high flood risk areas may be less inclined to pay for measures that will prevent their homes or businesses being flooded in the future. As a result, other ways of increasing the number of insured households will have to be tried.

Overall, the conference highlighted the need for continued improvement to our understanding of flooding and the best methodologies to build flood resilience. With flooding listed as the top environmental risk to the UK over the next century, this conference was a timely reminder that we need to continually update our knowledge and understanding of flooding to enhance the resilience of flood-prone and flood-affected communities.

The full report from the conference can be found here.

Forecasting and hazard early warning systems: international perspectives

Canada recently witnessed severe flooding with some river flows reporting their highest on record.  Whether this is becoming the norm or not following recent flood-rich years, delivering effective multi-hazard early warning systems is vital for enabling communities being prepared for future events.  The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was endorsed by the United Nations, encourages government agencies to support improved and effective early warning systems. So, how are agencies responding to such challenges of early warning for increased natural hazards?

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A man fixes a hose connected to a pump at his flooded house on Ile Bizard, Que., near Montreal, Monday, May 8, 2017. Source: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The European Geosciences Union General Assembly which took place between 23rd and 28th April in Vienna, was an opportunity to share progress and innovations in the field of forecasting and warning systems.  One PICO session brought together presentations on real-world case studies of system implementations, configured at local, regional, and national scales.

On emerging capabilities, Mikuličková presented on approaches to trans-boundary flood forecasting in Slovakia, where European scale predictions (EFAS) run alongside a local model.  Likewise, in Nepal, global predictions (GloFAS) are used in conjunction with regional Data-Based Mechanistic Modelling (DBM) techniques for community alerting.

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The new flood outlook product for England and Wales. Source: Flood Forecasting Centre, Exeter.

Various approaches to flood outlooks were presented.  Pilling presented new methods for providing flood risk guidance for the month ahead in England and Wales which have been developed in response to the Winter 2015/16 floods. Thiemig presented the latest developments with the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) which include seasonal outlooks, event hazard mapping and rapid risk assessments. 

For those that have no experience of running an operational flood forecasting system, the opportunity was provided to test yourself through the interactive game for pathways to designing and running an operational flood forecasting system.  This follows a series of interactive games developed by the HEPEX community over recent years at the EGU General Assembly.

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EGU PICO session on operational forecasting and warning systems for natural hazards: challenges and innovation.

Away from the PICO session, several other talks provided some insights into global approaches in flood forecasting.  Demargne presented work in France on hydrologic ensembles based on convection-permitting precipitation nowcasts for flash flood warning.  The new system, called Vigicrues Flash, follows major flooding which occurred in France in 2010 resulting in 24 casualties and 1350 people being evacuated.  Parry presented work on data availability, limitations, and the impact of observational uncertainty for operational flood forecasting in Scotland. Finally, Dottori gave an interesting talk on satellites, tweets, forecasts and the future of flood disaster management where the use of social media is being trialled to verify flood forecasting where no data exists.

For more information on our EGU presentation on research with the University of Dundee and SEPA, please read the recent HEPEX article on ‘public perceptions of flood warnings in Scotland.

Improving Disaster Management in Ghana

Michael Clark, Assistant Resilience Consultant from RAB, reports on efforts being made to improve disaster management in the West African country of Ghana.

In June 2015, significant flooding in Ghana led to the loss of many lives in Accra.  Four days of rainfall across the region resulted in many parts of the town being inundated by flood waters.  The flooding followed 185mm of rain in a single day – more than the average rainfall for the month.

Reports on the scale of the disaster state that Ghana’s Fire Service reported that a fire started at a bus station and then spread to a nearby gas station, causing an explosion which killed many people taking refuge from the flooding.

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Flooding in Accra, Ghana (Source: Africa Media Agency)

Since then, the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) have been taking steps to reduce the risk of future flooding.  Actions include educating members of the public about responding to the potential threat of flooding and removal of illegal structures built within waterways which had a key role in the 2015 floods.

Afri-Gate is a project led by the Bournemouth University Disaster Management Centre (BUDMC) and supported by RAB Consultants that aims to build resilience to both natural and man-made disasters in West Africa.  The initial phase of the project is currently identifying where there are challenges for disaster management in Ghana and will direct the second phase of the project which seeks to address how to manage and build the resilience of communities to a broad range of hazards including flooding.

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Accra to understand the disaster management and resilience structure in Ghana. I witnessed first-hand the huge strides being made by NADMO in establishing a robust disaster management structure and the credible steps taken towards more focus on disaster risk reduction through the establishment of a flood early warning system.

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Michael Clark is a Resilience Consultant with RAB in Durham.  Michael has worked in international development and was previously based in the city of Kumasi for five years with Thrive Africa.

It is anticipated that the first phase of the Afri-Gate project will conclude with a series of workshops later in 2017 where I’ll return to Accra along with colleagues from the research team at BUDMC in support of improved flood and disaster risk management.