In search of practical solutions and partnerships for Disaster Risk Reduction in Developing Nations

Michael Clark is a Resilience Consultant at RAB and recently contributed to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) regional platform for Africa and the Arab states held in Tunis. He reports on the search for solutions to disaster risk reduction.

While the welcome was warm and hospitable from our Tunisian hosts, the conference was set against the backdrop of tragic events in the country in late September. Heavy rain and flash flooding had killed 5 people in the Cap Bon Peninsula, destroying homes, property and livelihoods in its midst. Sadly, these scenes were repeated shortly after the UNISDR platform, with further flash floods killing 5 people in Bizerte and Nabeul during mid-October.

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Search and Rescue team members try to pull a bus in the flood water caused by heavy rainfall in the Bu Salim district of Jendouba City of Tunisia. Source: Floodlist

The floods in Tunisia are a stark reminder of the potential catastrophic impact of natural hazards such as flooding, coupled with the onset of climate change. It is mitigating the impact of tragic events such as these that motivates our work to enhance flood resilience around the world.

It is no surprise that flooding is listed as the most significant natural hazard across both African and Arab nations. It causes billions of dollars in economic losses, claiming the lives of thousands of people across the regions every year.

Last year I reported from both Ghana and Nigeria on the work that is being done to reduce disaster risk and enhance flood resilience. The impressive new flood early warning system used by NADMO in Ghana and the investment in flood resilience across states Nigeria from NGOs, supported at the federal level by NEMA, both serve to highlight the positive steps that are being taken.

One of the great benefits to come out of the UNISDR platform was exploring the role of the private sector in supporting these efforts as partners. Taking part in a round table discussion with representatives from the disaster management community, NGOs and private organisations, there was acknowledgement of the great work the private sector does post disaster, in response and recovery. It was evident from our discussion that there is also an appetite for the private sector to support disaster risk reduction efforts alongside existing actors.

Of course, that is far easier said than done, particularly when the concept of disaster risk reduction can seem complex and somewhat vague. Perhaps the best way to explain DRR is through this equation – yes, algebra is useful in the real world! While there are other iterations, the version below illustrates the point in terminology we now and use regularly.

Equation

In the equation above, the hazard is fixed, there’s not a great deal we can to prevent natural hazards occurring altogether, most of the time. However, there are still things we can do if we want to make our disaster risk smaller. We can alter our level of vulnerability and our level of preparedness as these are not fixed. By reducing our vulnerability or by increasing our level of preparedness, we can reduce our overall level of disaster risk. This is the first step in helping us understand what DRR is – it’s about continually reducing our vulnerability and increasing our level of preparedness. As the private sector, we can take a significant role in that.

To take this a step further, the UNISDR frequently talk about ‘disaster risk reduction for resilience’ . Which is simply another way of saying that we become more resilient by continually reducing our vulnerability and improving our preparedness – but you all knew that already. When we put these terms into language we all use on a day to day basis, the whole concept seems far less alien and we start to see how the field opens up to a more diverse range of actors.

To reduce vulnerability, we consider planning policy, development regulation and land use – where we build, how we build and what we build with – all spheres of great interest to private enterprise. To increase our preparedness, we plan for emergencies, train our communities, up-skill professional responders to implement these plans and exercise to validate it’s all going to work properly when it’s supposed to. As a topical example, using our technical knowledge to improve capability in flood forecasting and developing early warning systems all serve to enhance our level of preparedness and therefore our resilience.

When we understand DRR in this way, it serves to further enforce the value of the platform, as it was a great opportunity to highlight the work that we do in flood forecasting and early warning, training and exercising. There is clearly a desire amongst DRR practitioners at national and regional level as well as among NGOs, to engage with the private sector and utilise the skills that exist. As is often the case for sustainable development initiatives, funding is a challenge. Not so much its lack of existence, but more it’s visibility and eligibility criteria.

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The Africa-Arab Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction themed “Towards Disaster Risk Informed and inclusive sustainable development” 09 to 13 October 2018, Tunis, Tunisia.

Success might look like the third sector and private enterprise partnering to deliver more sustainable projects, sharing knowledge, sharing intelligence and partnering to deliver more effective projects. The presence of private enterprise can enhance the supply of specialist technical support and the role of both international and local delivery NGOs goes a long way to ensuring sustainability. If we are willing to look to new and innovative partnerships, then the prospects for securing new means of funding become greater and the number of beneficiaries of DRR in the developing world grow ever wider.

 

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.

RSE conference

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.