Disaster risk reduction | Blogs

  • What if preparedness action was informed by forecasts?

    Imagine if we had forecast information that a flood disaster was likely to strike a particular location and we could anticipate the rain coming but were unable to do anything in that small window of opportunity. It would make sense if we were able to take early action and help vulnerable communities prepare before a disaster event based upon the available forecast information. Forecast based Financing (FbF) is a niche concept in the humanitarian sector that allows us to take actions based upon the best science ahead of time when it is not too late to respond.

    FbF combines disaster management and climate research where scientific weather forecasts are used to anticipate possible impacts in high risk areas and predefined plans automatically mobilizes resources before a disaster event.

     

     

    Current preparedness plans are often normative and based upon the average level of risks though there is a huge potential to scale up humanitarian actions when science indicates the increased level of risks regarding impending hazards. So far the policy directives have increasingly spurred investment in improving preparedness, enhancing existing early warning systems and response initiatives. But it has clearly overlooked much needed linkages between early warning and early actions for improved preparedness and response.

    FbF triggers early action based on forecasts, bridging the gaps between preparedness, disaster risk reduction and emergency response. Likewise, FbF also supports the Sendai Framework’s emphasis on the paradigm shift towards risk management and mobilizing investments to avoid new risks.

     

    Practical Action Consulting (PAC) is currently providing Technical Assistance (TA) to the World Food Programme (WFP) Nepal  in reviewing climate risks and flood early warning systems of Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Surkhet, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts  in Western  Nepal. The engagement will seek to develop dynamic Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) where thresholds triggers flood preparedness actions in the aforementioned districts.

    With contributions from Madhab Uprety – DRR Consultant at PAC

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  • Communities building resilience


    January 9th, 2017

    Bangladesh has a population of 16 million in a small area. It is on a journey with the aim of becoming a developed country. Apart from the challenges and barriers, Bangladesh has become better known globally for using  effective measures to build more resilient communities.

    Being a delta country, Bangladesh is vulnerable to natural hazards such as floods, riverbank erosion, cyclones and drought. All these hazards are expected to increase in intensity and frequency under a changing climate. In addition, increased temperature, erratic monsoon rainfall, sea level rise and salinity intrusion not only increase the frequency and impact of hazards to become more dangerous but also are expected to have a serious effect on lives, livelihoods and food security.

    resilience

    So it is vital in Bangladesh to build communities that make lives and livelihoods more sustainable.

    But do we give equal attention to the people who live in these communities and to society as a whole? “Sometime yes but sometime no” is the reply from those of us who work in this field.  And there are are a few reasons for saying that that. Community based organizations (CBOs) play a major role in building resilience by performing two major activities.

    Firstly they organise community meetings to discuss issues, to raise awareness, to review action plans, prepare plans in advance for disaster emergency fund and many other things.

    Secondly they are active in response to a disaster by helping in the distribution and management of relief, saving lives from the disaster and sheltering affected people.

    CBOs also look after income generating activities, social welfare, deal with social crises, network with service providers and much more.  This emphasis on community led work through mobilizing to build better resilience is where the community based organization provides a vital platform for a vulnerable community to take the initiative in capacity building alongside both Government and Non-Government Organizations.

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  • Why we should invest in disaster management

    Halim Miah

    December 14th, 2016

    Prioritise weather forecasting and early warning for local communities

    by Md. A. Halim Miah, Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan and Dr. Faruk Ul Islam

    Disaster management in Bangladesh has been transformed from disaster response and recovery to a risk reduction model. However though policy and law have been formulated based on the risk reduction model, policy priority is still required in many areas both in quality and quantitative improvement, such as shifting risk governance from centralized systems to people’s empowerment and redirecting disaster investment from response and recovery model to pre-disaster investment.

    Why more investment at pre-disaster stage?

    Bangladesh spent a lot in the last two decades on disasters. One flood in 1998 caused an estimated loss of US$ 2 billion –  4.8 % of national GDP. This figure might even be higher as loss and damage estimates focus on infrastructure and bigger public institutions and less on those of small entrepreneurs and small holder farmers.

    This loss and damage will increase if we do not invest in prevention measures such as community resilience building, critical infrastructure like dams, embankments, bio-dykes, green belts and the dissemination of risk information for the people live in vulnerable areas.

    voice messages for DRR BograAccording to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report the frequency and intensity of hazards will increase with greater risk particularly for developing nations. Bangladesh has achieved remarkable progress in some social indices like health, primary education, poverty reduction and in some areas of disaster related emergency response. Therefore mortality and morbidity from disasters have reduced significantly.

    Redirect financing from disaster response to development

    The total GNP of Bangladesh is growing.  At independence (1972-73) the total annual budget of Bangladesh was 7.8 billion (£78.5 million) but for the fiscal year 2016-17 it is 3.41 trillion taka (£34 billion).  Bangladesh has a growing national economy and  wealth and GDP per capita rose from US$2,038.7 in 2006 to US$3,136.6 in 2016.

    The World Wealth Report also shows that in 2000 the assets per head of adult men in Bangladesh were worth US$1069 and this has more than doubled to US$ 2347 in 2016. The rate of national poverty was 62% in 1992, which came down to 32% in 2010. But a very few of those who came out from poverty the ‘movers out of poverty’- could become part of the economic middle class (the range of income $2 to $4).

    According to renowned economist Binayak Sen, Director, Research, Bangladesh Development Studies in Bangladesh , the movers who are stuck in the range of $1 to $2 a day income are still  vulnerable to shocks and downward slippages (Sen, Binayak; June 2014, ICE Business, Dhaka).  This is a vicious cycle of income erosion where disasters like floods that recur pull those people behind so that they can not climb up the ladder. Studies reveal that investment in strengthening weather, climate and water information services is highly cost efficient for societal progress returning three times as much as monetary investment according to the CREWS Initiative. 

    Practical Action Bangladesh has implemention experience under Vulnerability to Resilience+, financed by the Zurich Insurance Group.  We found that by disseminating flood early warning messages to the community in understandable ways, flood vulnerable people living downstream of Brahmaputra basin were able to save their most valuable household and agricultural resources.

    We conducted a rapid assessment on the impact of flood early warning voice messages just after the flood which occurred in July –August 2016. Our preliminary findings revealed that people’s indigenous knowledge did not work.

    “The saying goes, if cloud passes from south-west to north-east we would think that the river Jamuna will be raised. But this year we could not understand the possibility of flooding. Therefore voice messaging was very important. Among my neighbours around ten farmers were able to harvest their jute when they got flood early warning voice messages with a minimum financial value of 9,000 taka (£90) for each. Those of us who live island like places, very close to the river evacuated with our cattle saving a minimum of household value of 100,000 taka (£1,000). So if voice messages cost 20 taka household then its return is more than 1000 times higher!”

    This is an example of how improving early warning systems for vulnerable people can save them from the vicious cycle of income erosion and enable them to continue to climb the steps of the ladder with the aim of reaching the gateway from poverty.

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  • Less is more when building a resilient community


    December 1st, 2016

    To improve the resilience of flood vulnerable communities in Bangladesh, Practical Action has been working in the north-west of the country on a Vulnerability to Resilience (V2R) project under the Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation programme.

    This project, funded by the Zurich Insurance Group, has piloted new practices such as developing Local Resilience Agents (LRA) to sustain the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable flood prone communities by providing an early warning system voice SMS service and delivering vaccination campaigns.

    V2R has trained 181 LRA in 15 flood-prone areas of Sirajgonj and Bogra on services requested by the communities: crop management, livestock service, fisheries and paramedical services. These agents combine entrepreneurship and volunteerism to serve their community with skills that supplement other extension agents. By providing these services they are also earning, which is improving their livelihoods.

    resilience agent Mohamed KhalequeOne LRA is 38 year old Mohammad Abdul Khaleque from Thakurpara village in Sirajgonj. After starting the V2R project in Sirajganj District in 2009, he was selected as a volunteer to provide support for community resilience by minimizing the loss and damage of livestock from flooding. He received 18 days training which included 15 days technical training on livestock health services and three on disaster preparedness and response in 2010. The project provided equipment to help him perform his duties. In 2015 he was selected to a LRA and had refresher training to give more comprehensive support to the community. He has extended his livestock treatment service to eight neighbouring villages and earns 400-500 TK a day by providing treatment to cattle.

    He was also selected for training for the Bangladesh Water Development Board’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) and received equipment to disseminate the Flood Early Warning System (EWS) as a Gauge Reader. He collects water level readings five times a day and sends them to the FFWC.

    “Now I am well known as “Doctor Khaleque” in the surrounding community of Takhurpara village and different people, officials and service providers come to me and contact me which makes me proud and feel that I am doing good for my community”

    He now has a well-built, tin house, some savings and sufficient food for his family. He has also purchased cows, installed a tube well for safe drinking water and set up a latrine to ensure a healthy life for himself and his family. While he was unable to finish his studies, he is making sure that his children are going to school regularly. Asked about his future plans, he replied, “continuing and expanding my livestock services to more communities.”

    For faster communications, he is thinking of buying a motor bike and for quick response he also provides emergency information via his mobile phone.

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  • Insurance is no silver bullet

    Colin McQuistan

    November 16th, 2016

    Parties will be leaving Marrakech with plenty of work ahead to enhance action and support in order to address loss and damage. With key decisions now reached, let’s take a moment to look at the main tool in the loss and damage toolbox: insurance.Marrakesh COP

    The ability to cope with loss and damage from climate change is going to involve financial mechanisms, including insurance. ECO hopes and expects that many more vulnerable communities will be supported in their efforts to cope with the losses and damages they are already facing. Such support must be guided by pro-poor principles including accessibility, participation of affected communities in designing the support, and the integration of insurance within a comprehensive risk management approach. Importantly, those who have contributed fewer emissions to global carbon pollution cannot and should not be expected to pay for protection against mounting climate risks. In other words, an equitable and rights-based approach to insurance must include financial support to make premiums affordable.

    flooding in SiragonjBut let us get one thing straight: it’s not possible to insure ourselves out of the climate change problem!

    So whilst ECO strongly welcomes efforts to expand climate risk insurance, we urge Parties to waste no time in developing a comprehensive approach to loss and damage that includes raising finance, addressing slow-onset events and non-economic losses, and a long-term, rights-based approach to migration, mobility and displacement, in the context of climate change.

    The framework for the Warsaw International Mechanism’s five-year work plan shows us where we need to start. ECO urges Parties to give the WIM the resources and support it needs to expedite its work, and become an effective tool for addressing loss and damage in all its dimensions. 2016 very sadly gave us many examples of loss and damage, so it’s now vital for the world to get cracking!

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  • Why is Loss and Damage critical?

    Or why is Loss and Damage different from Adaptation and Mitigation and why serious political will to integrate Loss and Damage in the global climate regime will be vital for the success of the COP22 climate change negotiations.

    Marrakesh COPThis week the world gathers in Marrakesh for the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22). This is the next instalment in the annual climate change negotiations at which governments as parties, alongside observers in the form of academics, NGO’s, civil society, community representatives and the private sector gather to report on progress to tackle the challenge of climate change. Apart for a few politicians that shall remain nameless, most global politicians, their political parties and the overwhelming majority of scientists recognise that climate change is a very real danger to our lifestyles, wellbeing, and if we fail to act decisively our future survival. So the COP22 talks in Marrakesh are a timely opportunity to check on progress.

    Last Friday 4th November, the world ratified the Paris agreement. The speed at which the world has come behind this agreement has been unprecedented. But now the difficult work begins. Putting the Paris Agreement into practice.

    Mitigation, here progress has been strongest, efforts to transition to carbon neutral energy systems, along with meeting energy poverty targets has continued to accelerate. However still approximately 3 billion people have either inadequate, or simply non-existent, access to modern, safe, affordable, and appropriate energy while the imbalance in subsidies between fossil fuel technologies and renewables technologies requires further work. Last month Practical Action released the 2016 Poor Peoples Energy Outlook (PPEO) documenting the opportunity for international attention to respond to the needs of those lacking access to modern, safe, affordable, and appropriate energy.

    PPEO

    Adaptation, has finally started to be prioritised with national adaptation plans to tackle the consequences of climate change being shifted from cherry picked lists of isolated programmes to more holistic assessments of the adaptation priorities across national development systems. Practical Action’s work in Nepal supporting the government develop a national adaptation plan is an example of our contribution to this work. But problems still remain especially trying to understand the scientific, technological and socio-political limits to adaptation possibilities complicated by future climate uncertainty.

    One of the most significant achievements of the Paris COP was the separation of Loss and Damage in its own article under the agreement. Article 8 resolved the question of whether or not Loss and Damage was a part of adaptation and therefore belonged under the Cancun Adaptation Framework. Article 8 creates a separate pillar of climate change actions. The third pillar of the agreement formally recognises Loss and Damage and the need to put in place separate measures to coordinate global efforts to respond for those who are already experiencing the irreversible impacts of climate change.

    Climate change is driven by greenhouse gasses produced as a result of human activities. We have already pumped loads of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and we cannot suck up all that extra CO2, NOx, SOx, CH4 etc. overnight, so we are going to need to put in place measures that help those people and communities that have been irreversibly impacted by this pollution to survive and thrive. These greenhouse gasses are causing temperature rise, changes in rainfall patterns, seasonal shifts, acidification of seas and oceans and rising sea levels.

    Loss and Damage is about helping the poorest and most vulnerable respond to the consequence of these changes. Communities around the world are losing land to increased erosion and sea level rise, they are facing shifts in seasons and cropping patterns which are forcing major shifts in livelihoods and occupations, cultural resources are being lost or eroded and ecosystems are facing major impacts. At COP22 we need to put in place concrete measures that help them cope and transform to survive. It’s not just about putting things back as they were, it’s about helping the most vulnerable shift to more sustainable lives and livelihoods. Insurance may be part of the solution but it will never finance the sorts of transformational shifts that will be necessary to respond to Loss and Damage at the scale and intensity that is becoming necessary.

    Extreme poor group of Gaibanda district, Bangladesh

    As eloquently articulated in the Stern report, the cheapest and most sensible response to climate change is to maximize mitigation efforts. At the same time we must not forget to put in place measures to help adapt where it is possible. But perhaps most importantly, for those where it is already too late the global community must act swiftly. They must put in place measures that support the financing, technological support and capacity building necessary to enable the transformational shifts that will be necessary to support the wellbeing of the millions of people for which climate action is already too late. If we fail to do this it will not only be climate injustice, it will also mean significant upheaval, forced migration, social and political turmoil, with the price for failure being paid by our children and future generations.

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  • Celebrating International Disaster Mitigation Day in Bangladesh

    Anwar Hossain

    November 1st, 2016

    Every year, many national and international days are observed by the Government and NGOs in Bangladesh, but they are mainly celebrated in the towns and headquarters of districts. The urban people see many colourful rallies and processions, with the only downside being slight traffic congestion! The media cover the stories with attractive headlines and citizens in the major towns are informed by the speeches, television coverage and print media.anwar1

    But what about the people of Songacha; a vulnerable remote Char area of Sirajganj District, which has no access to TV or print media? Songacha is about 25 kilometres from the district headquarters and stands on the shore of the Jamuna river. There are about 29 villages and 44,825 people live in this Union. Every year, almost all the area is affected by flooding. Many crops and valuable assets become damaged or lost.

    It has been proved that knowledge and awareness are the prerequisites of resilience against vulnerability. This is the first time the villagers in Songacha observed any day like International Disaster Mitigation Day.  

    anwarOn 13th October 2016, the villagers were in a festive mood – they enjoyed colourful rallies with banners, festoons, a discussion session and folk songs on disaster preparedness written and performed by the local people. The community based organisation arranged the day’s programme with collaboration from Songacha Union Parishad and Practical Action’s V2R+ project.

    The Chairman of Songacha Union Md. Sohidul Alom led the programme and inspired the community to become more resilient by avoiding, coping with and absorbing the shock of flooding.  Men, women and children, all came to hear about how to prepare themselves for the onset of future floods. The Daily Sirajganj Barta, a renowned daily newspaper covered the story on their front page.

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  • What if? Risk prevention, urban planning and Habitat III


    Peru, South America | October 17th, 2016

    What if instead of reducing risks, we avoid creating risks in the first place? What if, instead of building dykes to protect flood-prone riverbanks where people live, we convert these areas into public areas [rather than residential areas], roads, gardens, soccer playgrounds or any infrastructure that could be flooded without major impacts?

    In the technical language of Disaster Risk Management, this issue lays within ‘risk prevention’, or ‘reducing exposure to hazards’. Exposure to hazards is one of the main causes of people´s vulnerability. It looks quite easy to implement: we only need to prevent people from building their houses in high risk areas. That should not be problematic, assuming that they know that the area is dangerous, right?

    Yes, that should not be difficult in a city where there is appropriate housing for everyone: safe, cheap, and relatively well located (near to work, relatives and social services such as schools and hospitals). Unfortunately, in many cities the housing offer is still insufficient to address the needs of the poor.

    Self-built homes in high risky areas appears too frequently as a satisfactory option for poor people. In Peru, it is estimated that 80% of the housing is self-built[1].  Most of these constructions do not respect quality standards, including land titles, trained masons, materials of quality. In Lima, the capital of Peru, only 3% of the self-built houses can be considered as “formal” settlements[2]. Many of them are also located in high risky areas, especially with landslide and flood hazards.

    Self-built houses in a risky area in Peru prone to landslides.

    Self-built houses in a risky area in Peru prone to landslides.

    We cannot stop people from building their home in risky areas without providing them with a relevant housing alternative: this is where Disaster Risk Management meets land planning and Habitat issues.

    In February 2016, Practical Action Peru promoted the creation of a national civil society network to improve Peruvian cities, with a strong focus to attack the roots of urban risks. The Peru Habitat Committee was born, gathering 23 local NGOs. During eight months, the committee discussed the challenges Peruvian cities are facing, and what could be done to improve disaster risk management, basic services, land planning, governance, etc. The full report can be downloaded here. And it is now time to spread the word to make these recommendations a reality: join us during our side-event at Habitat III on Tuesday 18th, in the Central University of Quito, from 9am to 10am!

    [1] Overseas Development Institute (ODI), On the path to progress, 2015). See https://www.odi.org/publications/9623-peru-urban-water-sanitation-slum-cities-lima-service-delivery

    [2] Cámara Peruana de la Construcción. (2015, Abril). La informalidad en la construcción es una “bomba de tiempo”. 23-31. Informe Económico de la Construcción Num. 3, 23-31

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  • Resilience – what works, what doesn’t?

    Adele Murphy

    October 14th, 2016

    In his latest blog Colin McQuistan says that preparedness and response for disasters should be a last resort. The extensive time needed to recover and to rebuild capacity following a disaster in low income countries puts a halt to the development process, lends itself to massive economic costs and endangers lives. There seems little disagreement amongst development professionals that proactively building community resilience to disasters is much more effective at maintaining development than solely reactive interventions.

    The Resilience in Practice briefing series that Practical Action has developed through its work on the ground talks about building resilience in volatile environments. As a sector we are moving forward in strides but here’s the thing about resilience – it’s complicated, multi-faceted and with no definitive conclusion on how to measure if we’ve been successful!

    Flood victims are evacuated with their children as they rescued by naval boats in a village in Sukkur in Pakistan's Sindh province August 8, 2010.

    Flood evacuation in Sukkur, Bangladesh Photo: Reuters/Akhtar Soomro, courtesy www.alertnet.org

    This is not disheartening, how we measure resilience has received much attention in recent years and now the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance has taken this one step further and is currently undergoing a two year testing phase of its Flood Resilient Measurement Tool. We measure communities before a flood through 88 different indicators which feeds into existing processes and is validated through community feedback sessions. The tool design allows practitioners to view the data through several lenses in order to understand existing issues more fully.

    Following a significant flood incident a post-event study is undertaken within eight weeks of the disaster. This follow up study looks at the extent of the flooding, the damage people suffered and the action they choose to take. As well as being reviewed by the teams, all the data is fed into a global data set. The aim of the global data set is to understand key questions about resilience measurement. Can we identify a key set of indicators of resilience that expands across contexts, are there indicators that carry more weight in particular contexts and finally what can this global study tell us about how we attempt to build resilience.

    I am looking forward to reading the IFRC World Disasters Report launched later today. As two members of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, Practical Action has worked closely with the IFRC on developing the measurement tool and we’ve learned a great deal from one another. Sharing what works and what doesn’t and continually engaging in the global conversation is how we move forward with resilience agenda. Don’t stop!

    Read some of the Alliance publications:
    Making Communities More Flood Resilient: The Role of Cost Benefit Analysis and Other Decision-Support Tools in Disaster Risk Reduction
    What Motivates Households in Vulnerable Communities to Take Flood Preparedness Actions?

    Preparing for El Niño floods in Peru

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  • Climate change is fuelling extreme weather events

    Colin McQuistan

    October 13th, 2016

    On International Day for Disaster Reduction, Hurricane Matthew is a timely reminder of the consequences of inaction on climate change. Changing climates exacerbated by years of ineffective development generates risk for everyone, especially the poorest and most vulnerable those least responsible for the climate change problem.

    We have all seen the news of the devastation that Hurricane Matthew has wrecked on the Caribbean. Matthew, which spawned late in the hurricane season, first struck Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba before turning its attention to the more prepared population in the south eastern United States, and despite diminishing in intensity it has still caused massive devastation and resulted in huge losses.

    Empty shelves as in the US as people stock up on supplies

    Empty shelves as in the US as people stock up on supplies

    So what was so special about Hurricane Matthew? Matthew was a multiple record-breaking weather event. Matthew first became a Category 3 (major hurricane) on September 30, and maintained that status for a remarkable period of time. Making it the longest-lived category 4-5 hurricane in the Eastern Caribbean. Not only did Hurricane Matthew end a nine-year streak without an Atlantic basin category 5 hurricane, it did so at an unusually far south latitude. Its rapid intensification was not forecast by any model, highlighting the need to revise our models based upon climate uncertainty and recognition that warming is making storms more intense and less predictable. Matthew along with the developing storm Nicole both showed very rapid rates of escalation, totally unexpected for storms so late in the season.

     

    Impacts in the USA and Haiti following Hurricane Matthew

    Impacts in the Haiti and USA following Hurricane Matthew

    We need to start thinking seriously about reversing climate change and we need to start preparing for the worst. This is why Disaster Risk Reduction is vital. Preparedness and response should be a last resort, we must focus on preventing disasters before they happen. We have got to get better at assessing risk and we have got to stop building things in the wrong way and in the wrong place. Despite uncertainty about the consequences of climate change one thing we do know is that sea levels are rising. We know that increases in sea level caused by climate change result in higher and more destructive storm surges so why do we continue to build houses and critical infrastructure on the coast and alongside rivers? This is placing lives and assets in harm’s way.

    Sea level rise 1992 to 2016

    While we fail to act effectively on climate change the world will continue to warm, with more moisture in the atmosphere and higher seas, and it’s hard to dispute that won’t have significant implications for our disaster risk, whoever we are and wherever we live.

    http://blogs.edf.org/climate411/2016/10/07/hurricane-matthew-and-climate-change-what-we-know-so-far/
    https://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/?mr=1
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