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. 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. Many of them are also located in high risky areas, especially with landslide and flood hazards.
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!
 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
 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, 23-31No Comments » | Add your comment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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At the COP21 Paris climate talks the issue of Loss and Damage was firmly cemented in the global agreement under Article 8. This agreement sets the agenda for climate action and the inclusion of a separate article on loss and damage recognises that for many people climate change is already a reality. Climate change is impacting people’s lives and livelihoods and for some adaptation is already too late.
Climate change exacerbates existing hazards
Climate change hits the poorest hardest, those who are least responsible for the problem in the first place. In Practical Action projects across Africa, South Asia and Latin America we are hearing stories about the heightened uncertainty as changing climates exacerbate existing hazards. Poor people do not differentiate climate change from climate variability, for them the consequences are the same: crops are failing, water supplies becoming less reliable, ecosystems are changing and lives and livelihoods are under threat.
The impacts of climate change are well documented, global and affect small island states, Africa, South Asia and the Arctic the most.
In May 2016, Practical Action attended the climate change talks in Bonn. The first global gathering since 177 countries signed the Paris Agreement in New York one month ago. The urgency to sign the agreement is a clear demonstration of its importance. Climate agreements have previously taken months if not years to get the signatures necessary to start talking about their implementation. At last political will for action is growing but for loss and damage there is still a lot to do.
Critical to progress on loss and damage is the recognition that this is a rights issue. The climate agreement must integrate the rights package in its entirety; this means: human rights, the rights of indigenous people, gender equality, food security, ecosystem integrity and intergenerational equity. To protect these rights means we need to stay below 1.5oC. If we can reduce emissions drastically with ambitious mitigation action; then the challenge of adaptation will be lessened and the loss and damage burden will be reduced.
Poor people around the world are facing climate impacts everyday.
In Bonn Practical Action along with partners in the loss and damage network highlighted this challenge in a well-attended side event. We started the session with a presentation of the collective impacts of climate change on the poorest, highlighting that for many these impacts are irreversible. Many of our Pumpkin communities in Bangladesh are families that have lost their land to accelerated erosion. Compensation and pumpkins will help, but it will not restore their fields, their houses and the numerous cultural sites that have been washed away. Many poor people are dependent on ecosystem services for their livelihoods, but what do you do when the ecosystem faces irreversible impacts? For many coastal communities sea water acidification is destroying once productive coastal fisheries, and sea level rise is converting coastal fields into areas only suitable for aquaculture due to rising salinity.
Loss and Damage side event organised by the @lossdamage Network held at Bonn Climate Change talks
Recognising irreversible environmental change
Loss and Damage is an opportunity to raise the profile of our collective inadequacy to mitigate emissions. Our addiction to fossil fuels, to easy solutions and to profit over the environment or human society, and our inability to prioritise long term, social and environmental benefits in favour of purely economic returns. This goes to the heart of what Fritz Schumacher wrote so eloquently in 1973 in “Small is Beautiful” and it is vital today that we heed this message, before it is too late for everyone.
“Man talks of a battle with Nature, forgetting that if he won that battle, he would find himself on the losing side” E.F Schumacher
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This is a story of a youth Assistant Badghar Ashish Kumar Chaudhary (Badghar is an elected leader in Tharu community) from Tighara, Rajapur. He explains how the Zurich Foundation funded Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) weather board is helping his family and the villagers to take farming decisions.
“Weather information board is very helpful, I check the board every day and particularly before planning for any agriculture farming and harvesting activity. Earlier my family used to harvest the paddy looking at the sky and making prediction about the weather. I still remember we lost paddy after the harvest many times due to rainfall since our prediction was wrong. But now I check the weather board and convey the message to the community so that they plan the farming and harvesting activity in an appropriate time when weather pattern is suitable. Due to the weather information we have been able to save our harvest which earlier used to be destroyed due to bad weather conditions. This has made the community more resilient to the floods and other hazards as good harvest means they can save the grain for difficult period.”
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This story dates back to couple of months ago when I visited one of the Practical Action projects in mid-west Nepal. Funded by the Zurich Foundation, the Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) is building the resilience of vulnerable communities to flood risks.
I met a very enthusiastic beneficiary of the project – Ms Bidhya Kumari Chaudhary (28). During our conversation she was happy to describe how the project helped her to increase her resilience to flood.
Bidhya lives in Rajapur, Bardiya with her 10-member family. Her husband is a contract farmer and income of her husband is scarcely sufficient to maintain the expenditure of the family members’ basic needs. Due to the low income of the family they were not able to make any saving from the income which they could utilise responding to their needs in hard times.
However, now things have changed since Bidhya learned about mushroom farming from NFRP. With this practical knowledge she started farming and since last year (2015) she was able to make 10 thousand Nepali rupees (around US$ 100) from it. She invested this income in goats.
Now she has four goats as the goats she purchased gave birth to two kids. She earned another 10 thousand rupees from mushroom farming this year, out of which she invested six thousand rupees in her children’s education and household needs and saved four thousand rupees.
This year Bidhya is planning to expand her mushroom farming and expects that she will be able to make a profit of 30 to 40 thousand rupees. To take her farm to a commercial level, she is now asking the NFRP to connect her with a good input service provider for mushroom seeds.
How all these made Bidhya and her family resilient to floods
Bidhya’s village is at risk of floods from the Karnali River every year during the monsoon season. Earlier, due to lack of savings the family was vulnerable to the effect of floods and used to take long time to revert back to the same socio-economic condition. But now since she has an extra income and savings, she thinks that it has increased the resilience of her family. She says,
“With the increased income and savings I feel more resilient to floods and other hazards as I can use the savings to rebuild my livelihood.”
Bidhya has become the vice president of the Community Disaster Management Committee (CDMC). She understands the early warning system procedures established by the NFRP well and instructs fellow villagers about the early warning signals, communications channels, evacuation route and safer shelter.No Comments » | Add your comment
Technology can greatly enhance the ability of disaster-affected communities to reduce their risk thus preventing natural hazards turning into human disasters.
Technology has driven our development. Key technological innovations have heralded revolutions in the way we interact with the environment, but this drive for development has now started to threaten our future. Many scientists are proposing that we have now entered a new epoch “The Anthropocene”. This started when human activities began to have a significant impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems. Climate change is a symptom of the anthropocene, as unsustainable consumption of fossil fuels threatens the future viability of this planet as a home for us and future generations.
The consequences of this global imbalance is felt most by those who are least responsible for causing the problem in the first place. Climate change threatens to deprive poor people of their livelihoods, damage infrastructure, lower productivity and ignite social tensions. The response to climate change will consume resources that could otherwise be directed towards productive activities, and can wipe out years of development in seconds. Humanitarian assistance often arrives too late, when loss and damage has already occurred. Practical Action believes that the goal of development should be to create sustainable wellbeing for all, wellbeing that is resilient and not easily eroded by external shocks and stresses. We must not rely on humanitarian response alone. Communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of changing climate should be prioritised for action and under the Paris agreement technology will be central to how the global community responds to climate change. But the way in which technology is accessed, innovated and used is critical to the effectiveness of this response, especially for communities who face extreme or recurrent natural hazards.
Technologies exist that have the potential to reduce the exposure of poor and vulnerable populations around the world, but technologies are either not rolled out or are not functioning to provide communities with usable information about their risk. Technologies can manifest in different ways to alter community risk. Technology is central to monitoring risk exposure and technology is central to support people to respond to risk. But poor communities continue to be hit by regular disasters with no advance warning. What are the underlying conditions that create this disconnect between technology and vulnerability?
It is clear that access to technology and its benefits are not equally shared. The current innovation system is not working. Without change, it will continue to drive injustice, inequality and lead to avoidable damage and destruction. It is time to overhaul how technology and its innovation are governed, in order to ensure the wellbeing of all people and the planet.
Be part of a movement for Technology Justice. Check out our call and be part of the change!
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As part of Zurich’s flood resilience program, the post event review capability (PERC) provides research and independent reviews of large flood events. It seeks to answer questions related to aspects of flood resilience, flood risk management and catastrophe intervention. It looks at what has worked well (identifying best practices) and opportunities for further improvements.
The Karnali region in Nepal experienced major flooding in August 2014, causing 222 deaths and severely affecting more than 120,000 people. The challenge now is to recover, build resilience and to prevent similar damages and loss during future disasters.
‘Urgent Case for Recovery: What we can learn from the August 2014 Karnali River Floods in Nepal‘ is a post event review evaluating flood events, impacts, response and recovery to understand what happened, what could have been done differently, and opportunities for building flood resilience in Nepal. The post event review conducted by ISET International, ISET-Nepal, Practical Action Nepal and Zurich examines two rivers and two districts in the area affected by the floods -the Karnali and Babai Rivers in Kailali and Bardiya districts in West Nepal.
While the early warning systems saved many lives, these lives have been irrevocably changed with the widespread loss of livelihoods, property, and critical infrastructure. The challenge now is to prevent such damages and loss from future disasters and develop local resilience. A common misconception is that building resilience is an expensive, resource heavy process. However, critical gaps in the disaster management system can be fixed with inexpensive and simple solutions.
Problems seen in the 2014 floods – such as unwieldy response procedures and lack of information – hamper response to all disasters, including the recent earthquakes. Decision-making processes should be improved, more reliable data gathered, and aid needs to get to those people who need it most. In the end, it comes down to finding ways to become ‘resilient’ to disasters. Resiliency means risk mitigation and preparation, not just picking up the pieces and starting again after every new catastrophe. This is also the focus of Zurich’s flood resilience alliance program.
Focusing on the disaster management landscape as a whole, including disaster risk reduction, preparedness, response and recovery, this post event review evaluates the flood events, impacts, response and recovery to understand what happened, what could have been done differently, opportunities for action, and identify opportunities for improving flood risk and disaster management as a whole in Nepal.
The bigger picture that emerges from the 2014 floods in Nepal can be applied more universally: long-term thinking and addressing chronic problems that increase hazards should be part of the picture to get beyond relief efforts. Much work is still needed to save individuals, families and entire communities from the devastation of floods.No Comments » | Add your comment
I am very proud to be able to say that our Beat the Flood challenge recently won an award for the Best STEM resource for pupils, from the European organisation Scientix. As a result it will be translated into all 24 European languages. In addition we recently went to an event in Brussels and presented to over 50 head teachers from around Europe.
To find more great science resources from other European organisations, and opportunities to network with science teachers across Europe take a look at the Scientix website.
Nepal is a mountainous country characterized by rugged topography, steep relief, extensive deforestation and high levels of seismic activity. With a climate characterized by intense rainfall and flash flooding, especially during monsoon season, the country is highly susceptible to landslides.
All natural disasters pose a threat to poverty reduction efforts, as communities are forced to divert scarce resources towards rebuilding their lives. However, the socio-economic cost of landslides at the community level is difficult to measure and often overlooked.
Direct costs include:
- Deaths and injuries
- Loss of houses, infrastructure, livestock and farmland
- Interruption of communication and transport systems
Indirect costs include:
- Loss of agricultural, forest and industrial productivity
- Loss of tourism revenue
- Reduced real estate value
- Adverse effects on water and irrigation facilities
- Loss of tax revenues
- Disease epidemics
To better understand the impacts of landslides on rural communities and their coping strategies, Practical Action undertook a study of the Sindhupalchowk landslide, which occurred on the 2nd of August 2014 at 2.35am.
Eight wards of Sindhupalchowk were affected; 145 people died, and almost 450 people were displaced. The Sunkoshi river was blocked by a barrier of debris 409m long, 106m wide, and up to 55m high. Over 100 houses were destroyed, and many more houses and fields were inundated by the 3km lake created by the debris barrier. The landslide disrupted the functioning of two hydro-electric power plants, leading to a 1.5 hours of additional power-cut across the country – a loss of 57 MW of electricity.
The main highway linking Kathmandu with China was blocked for several days and has taken over seven months to repair and return to normal traffic. Custom officers on this highway usually collect NPR 500 million (around $5 million USD) in tax revenues per month on this highway.
Understanding the socio-economic costs of landslides helps governmental officials, policy makers, and managers of emergency response to:
- Make more informed decisions on how to provide post-disaster assistance and relief
- Effectively allocate money for landslide prevention in the future
- Carry out repair and maintenance work
- Estimate the cost and benefit of resettlement program for the landslides victims
The full report can be found here
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Tihar Bahadur Chaudhary is resident of Balapur village in Guleria Municipality, Bardiya. Balapur is situated along the bank of Babai River, which is regarded as a volatile area during monsoon time. Practical Action has been working in Bardiya since 2008 with the European Union’s DIPECHO co-funding. Tihar has always been an active person in the village and he was unanimously proposed by the community as one of the village disaster management committee members. He has participated in variety of disaster preparedness trainings and is leading fellow villagers by taking initiatives and getting actively engaged in community works.
Every year during monsoon Babai River is flooded several times between June and September. With the project’s initiative, a communication flow arrangement has been agreed by all stakeholders including District Emergency Operation Centre situated in the District Administration Office, District Development Committee (DDC), Nepal Police, Nepal Army, District Disaster Management Committee, Village Disaster Management Committee and so on. The communication flow enables connection among vulnerable people, relevant stakeholders and flood monitoring gauge station of Department of Hydrology and Meteorology. Gauge reader provides flood information to respective stakeholders using the communication channel. In order to ensure smooth communication, the DDC had committed an allowance of Rs 3000 per month to the gauge reader. Tihar also used to get information through this communication network and at times he could get direct information from the gauge reader. Years were passing on like this.
However, 2014 was a different year. On 12th July evening, he got a phone call from his bhanja (sister’s son) from Dang district, saying that there has been a huge flood in Dang and enquired about the situation in Balapur village. He immediately called the gauge reader in Chepang, but the call was not received. He tried several times but his efforts went in vain. By the time he was trying to call, the flood water in the village was already knee high. He started panicking and informed police. The villagers were already gathering around and started discussing about the coping strategies. The water was getting higher and higher and was moving like a big river. They sensed that the flood had entered the village and it would keep on increasing, so they must think about saving lives of all the villagers. Tihar reminded the villagers about what they had learnt from the trainings and mock drills during the DIPECHO project time. They also remembered the evacuation route and emergency shelter. They carefully packed their clothes and beds and hung them high on the walls of their houses, untied the livestock and started moving to the school where one of the buildings was developed as emergency shelter by the project. They were also guided by policemen who came on site to rescue them. They spent the entire night on the first floor and top of the buildings.
By 5 am on 13th July, the water was high enough to drown people of average height. The floodline can be seen on the photograph of the toilet constructed by one of the families. Then onwards the water level started decreasing and by the evening they could gradually move to their houses to assess the damage. Many of their livestock were carried away by the flood and their kitchens were unusable for several days due to mud. However, they were pleased that they could save their lives and no one died in the village although nine people lost their lives from Bardiya district.
Tihar believes that the preparedness activities that he and other fellow villagers learned from Practical Action and its partner Radha Krishna Tharu Jana Sewa Kendra was instrumental in savings their lives although they could not get early warning information from the gauge station on time. He believes that he did not get information from the river gauge reader because he was not paid as promised earlier. Later the river gauge station was also washed away by the flood on same night. It was the biggest flood probably in last 50 years. In exceptional situations, the system may not work, but the skills they learn are always useful to save lives and assets to a large extent.2 Comments » | Add your comment