Disaster risk reduction | Blogs

  • Why the snail’s pace on tackling Loss and Damage?

    We may all be sailing on the same ocean, living together in the same canoe, but it’s clear not everyone has their hands on the rudder.

    OR

    Can the five year work plan of the Warsaw International Mechanism deliver for Loss and Damage and Sustainable Development?

    This week representatives from around the world gather in Bonn, Germany for the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known informally as COP23. The president of this year’s summit is Fiji a small island developing state, one of the types of countries most affected by a lack of progress to tackle climate change. It’s worth remembering that this is the 23rd COP, which means that we have been talking about the issue of climate change for 23 years, in fact since the first gathering took place in Berlin in 1995. It was only at the 19th COP in Warsaw that the negotiators finally took the issue of Loss and Damage seriously recognising as a consequence of Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines. This resulted in the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) and an Executive Committee being established[1].

    This year the consequence of lack of action tackling climate change has been well reported. Massive hurricanes in the Atlantic, leading to devastation in the US and Caribbean have been frontline news. The economic damage in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida alone has been estimated at $300Bn. Less well reported are the communities on other Caribbean Islands trying to survive post devastation. Or the 41 million people in South Asia, struggling to rebuild their homes washed away by unprecedented flooding. Or the 38 million farmers across sub-Saharan Africa grappling with food shortages following two consecutive years of drought. These are all testament to the lack of progress on climate change and why Loss and Damage continues to struggle for the recognition it deserves.

    Today at the COP23, Practical Action, along with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) hosted an event at which speakers from Care International, The International Institute of Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA), the Climate and Development lab of Browns University and Climate Analytics came together to discuss why this is the case. To shed a much needed light on the issue of Loss and Damage.

    What are the problems that we are struggling with? It is clear that climate change is already having an impact on our ability to adapt and that this is felt most by the poorest and those with the least capacity to respond.

    Three simple measures that could nurture some progress on Loss and damage are as follows;

    1. Take the issue of Loss and Damage seriously. It is clear after only two days at the negotiations that countries, especially in the global south, are getting frustrated with the lack of progress on Loss and Damage. This has been escalated by the recent devastation around the world, but also the failure of the Warsaw International Mechanism to deliver realistic progress.
    2. Finance is desperately needed. Currently the Executive Committee of the WIM has no budget, not even for pilot studies. As a result progress is impossible. Even the Technology Executive Committee has a budget and an implementing arm the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). Why isn’t the WIM equally empowered to drive their own work plan?
    3. Evidence and Knowledge of irreversible impacts are in short supply. Many developed country negotiators are still in denial about climate change. Therefore we need to capture the evidence of the irreversible impacts of climate change to be better able to articulate the consequences of inaction. Action not taken today means bigger impacts tomorrow. To try and provide more evidence Practical Action alongside several UK NGO’s who are members of the UK Bond Interagency Resilience Learning Group[2] will explore the actual costs of loss and damage – especially in off grid, non-monetised communities, often missing from global hazard datasets. However, we not only need to capture this evidence of climate impact we also need to better communicate this to policy makers and the general public to galvanise action.

    Finally what about Technology Justice? Everyone at COP23 is aware of the potential role that technology can play in catalysing climate action, I will write more about this potential in a blog later this week. For more information on our partners at the side event please check;

    http://www.icccad.net/icccad-at-cop23/

    http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/about/events/171106-COP23.html

    http:// careclimatechange.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/CARE_COP23_A6Final-2.pdf

    http://climateanalytics.org/events/2017/our-events-at-cop23-in-bonn.html

    http://www.climatedevlab.brown.edu/home/watch-out-for-browns-cdl-at-cop23-in-bonn

    [1] http://unfccc.int/adaptation/workstreams/loss_and_damage/items/8134.php

    [2] https://my.bond.org.uk/group/resilience-learning-group

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  • Pumpkins against poverty and climate change in Bangladesh


    October 26th, 2017

    Pumpkin farming in Bangladesh helps some of the most vulnerable people to cope with floods & climate change and so escape poverty. This reveals critical lessons for some of the biggest problems our world faces.

    How is climate change creating poverty in Bangladesh?

    Bangladesh is repeatedly named as the country most vulnerable to climate change. In particular, more frequent and intense rainfall plus rising sea-level is making flooding much more likely. While for some countries coping with climate change is a problem for the future, impacts are already being felt in Bangladesh. The Asian Development Bank reports that more rain is falling and extreme events, such as floods, are becoming more common and severe. Rural areas are being caught in a devastating cycle of droughts and floods. In a country where 70% of the population directly depend on agriculture this is a serious problem.

    Weather events have cost Bangladesh $12billion in the last 40 years, says The World Bank. By 2050, it’s likely that climate change could further reduce the amount of food farmers can grow by up to 30%. As the impact of climate change becomes more severe, it will hamper any attempts to improve the poverty and malnutrition that effect vulnerable people across the country.

    To make matters worse, the most vulnerable people are often forced to live in the most dangerous areas. For example, the poorest families are often only able to build their homes and farms on the very edge of riverbanks, which are washed away during floods. As floods become more common people are more frequently losing their homes, livelihoods and food supply – trapping them into cycle of poverty and food insecurity.

    How can pumpkins fight poverty?

    The Pumpkins against Poverty project run by Practical Action is working with 6,000 of the most vulnerable people in 26 villages across Bangladesh. The aim is to help build their ability to cope with flooding and climate change.

    While floodwater washes away riverbanks, homes and fields, it also creates new islands (called sandbars) in the middle of the flooding rivers. Practical Action is helping communities to turn these sandbars into pumpkin fields. With the time it takes to dig a small hole, and the addition of a small amount of compost, individuals who lost their fields to floods are guaranteed a harvest. Even better, women are actively participating in pumpkin farming around their household tasks – supporting themselves and their children.

    Practical Action is also helping farmers to sell the pumpkins they do not eat. Pumpkin selling can offer a great additional income for families, especially in the monsoon season when prices are three times higher than at other times in the year.

    The project has generated huge employment for some of the poorest people in Bangladesh, and especially for vulnerable women. Pumpkin growing has increased food security and the ability of communities to cope with flooding and the impacts of climate change. It has also transformed individuals into agricultural entrepreneurs, helping them to escape the trap of poverty and malnutrition.

    Why is this an important lesson for the rest of the world?

    The Pumpkins against Poverty project is a clear example of how simple technology can build communities’ resilience to the disaster events climate change brings. The project hopes to support the most vulnerable individuals in Bangladeshi society by actively involving women and children, and so strengthen communities from the bottom-up.

    It is widely recognised that local and bottom-up innovations, such as the Pumpkins against Poverty project, are crucial to both cope with the impacts of climate change and to reduce the contribution to the cause. Despite this, there is a large gap in our understanding of how practical technology can be turned into successful projects on the ground. To be effective, projects need to carefully consider the local context and involve the community at every step. Practical Action’s Pumpkins against Poverty project is helping individuals suffering from the impacts of climate change. Moreover, it provides critical lessons for some of the biggest problems our world faces: hunger, nutrition, employment and gender inclusion.

    Find out more…

    If you would like to read more on technological solutions for climate change in Bangladesh see the Adaptation Technology in Bangladesh report by the Gobeshona sub-group.

    Alternatively discover other solutions to increase flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal which is dedicated to providing specialist advice and guidance.

    More of Practical Action’s work in Bangladesh can be found here.

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  • Learning to fail

    Often we celebrate success and seldom talk about failures. In a modern work-space it is difficult to imagine an environment where we confidently and openly talk about failures. In evaluation meetings we focus our energies on ‘best practices’ but less on ‘lessons learnt’. For me, success and failure are impostors, and I believe that the process leading to either or in some cases neither is key.

    Habitually we do not want to try innovative ideas for we fear failure, and now and again the magic associated with naivetés of trying new and untested technologies is treated as a liability; so (hush hush) these things are off limits as we are super engrossed in conducting evaluations and finishing reports in an ever evolving professional work-space. Getting things right at the first go might be valid from a project management perspective, but is that realistic when we talk about trying to change the world and inspire others by demonstrating something unique or niche.

    When we tried piloting simple low cost water level sensors in the foothills of the Karnali basin, West Nepal, we failed spectacularly. The rationale of trying the technology was not to replace the existing monitoring system but to test if these affordable water level sensors can provide redundancy to the current systems which are rather expensive to operate. First, we tried with acoustic sensors and realized that its capability was limited for large rivers and there was a spider nest in one of the equipment when we tried extracting the data. I was lucky not to get bitten. Nevertheless, three months later we tried again with LiDAR sensors, only to realize that the battery connection was weak and there was no data, yet again after few months we changed the sensor specification and are now nervously hoping that it would record some data.

    Piloting low cost water level sensors in lower Karnali River, West Nepal

    Whilst these sensors worked perfectly fine in laboratory conditions, we were appalled to see irregular field behaviour. Ah! The fallacies of being too research oriented and mechanistic – but the spark generated by the excitement of trying something innovative and trusting ones instinct was unparalleled. Perhaps one can conclude that the senor technologies did not adapt well in mountainous environment. Despite trying multiple times, are we ready to give in to criticism or failures? Nah! We are ready to fail again, not because we have the funding to fail but we are keen to look into the technical issues on why the sensors did not record data and what can be improved? The possibility of the sensors working well with real time data transmission and solar panels excites us. The sheer joy of ‘trying again’ is pure bliss! We are un(cautiously) confident that this technology might work one day and has the potential to change the spectrum of early warning and environmental observations. However, perseverance is critical, and not being deterred is crucial.

    International development is evolving in radical ways and while these changes are happening subtly, it surely does demand that we evolve from normative ways of thinking and styles of working. Yet we still fancy being on the safe side and avoid talking calculated risks. Having failed many times in the past, we are not scared of failing any more rather we are eagerly awaiting for the next opportunity to fail, and Failing is Fun when you have colleagues and supervisors that support you in the process. When we start celebrating failures as equally as success that is when magic happens.

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  • International Day for Disaster Reduction #IDDR2017


    October 13th, 2017

    International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) held every 13th October, celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters.

    Read more about International Day for Disaster Reduction and our work here: https://practicalaction.org/drr-2017

    “The link between climate change and the devastation we are witnessing is clear, and there is a collective responsibility of the international community to stop this suicidal development”

    Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General on recent visit to the Caribbean.

    In 2017 IDDR once again focusses on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – a 15 year global agreement that aims to curb deaths and economic losses from natural and manmade hazards – which was signed by global governments in March 2015. This year’s focus is on Target B: reducing the number of affected people by disasters by 2030.

    This is no easy target. Disaster risk is outpacing development and is being made worse by climate change. This year the world has been hit by a catalogue of unprecedented natural hazards. 2017 started with catastrophic flooding in Latin America, followed by exceptional monsoon rains in South Asia, then a summer of massive wildfires in Europe, preceded the Atlantic Hurricane season that has seen a procession of devastating Hurricanes batter the Caribbean and US, as the year comes to an end wildfires consume California and threaten the regions wine industry, and the pacific typhoon season is about to begin.

    Four of the natural hazard events which became human disasters in 2017 clockwise; Hurricane Irma, Colombia mudslides, US wildfires and South Asian floods

    The world needs to adapt to the new normal of increasingly extreme and frequent weather events. This is at a time when economic opportunity appears to override common sense with greater numbers of people moving to and occupying disaster prone, high risk locations in the pursuit of economic opportunity. This trend particularly among the poorest is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and making the next natural hazard a potential catastrophic disaster. We need to start to reverse these trends, this means tackling poverty and climate change and making sure we do this collectively for the benefit of the planet and future generations.

    With increasing integration of global markets and cheaper, faster and simpler communication systems, regional cooperation should not be difficult. Unfortunately regional cooperation isn’t a new idea, but is one that is often difficult to put into practice. The disparity in size and wealth between countries and competing national interests, makes it hard to find common ground. Overcoming outdated entrenched views is the greatest barrier to building trust, particularly in regards to protection and sustainable management of shared transboundary resources and global commons.

    Practical Action has long recognised that exposure to natural hazards threatens development gains and can be a key driver of poverty[1]. Therefore for regional economic development to deliver benefits of poverty alleviation, risk reduction must be central. This requires coordinated planning and management across political boundaries.

    Regional cooperation is essential when mega disasters take place. When large scale disasters occur, for example the Fukushima manmade disaster or the earthquake in Nepal the host government alone, often lacks the capacity to respond. In these circumstances regional actors can come to their assistance, with shorter transport times, they will also have language, cultural; and technological tie-in’s that can assist in disaster relief and response. But assistance is not only valid during the relief and recovery phase but is also critical for building back better, regional cooperation must not be restricted to disaster moments alone. Regional cooperation during normal times can pay dividends before the next disaster occurs. Pre-emptive exploration of joined up management mechanisms for shared transboundary resources can establish the regional cooperation channels necessary when things go wrong. For example sharing data on rainfall and water levels across a basin will benefit upstream and downstream communities, regardless of which country they live in. Communication channels to share data can reinforce preparedness as flood risk increases. And trust between upstream and downstream communities is vital if these flood early warning messages are to be believed and acted upon.

    Technology is an important enabler when responding to natural hazards and provides the means for a coordinated response. Technology can support regional thinking, planning and management to minimize current and future impacts by protecting people, properties and ecosystems across the multiple scales necessary. Technology is a powerful magnifier of human intent, allowing us to do things in ways and at scales previously not imagined. However, access to technology and its benefits are not shared fairly. All too often, the poor and the most vulnerable are overlooked as a stakeholder in the development, production and diffusion of technology or have hardly any influence[2].

    Cross Border cooperation saves lives, read more about our exploratory work in Nepal and India [3]

    What are the challenges for regional cooperation, when it sounds like such a good idea? As the growing climate change movement highlights, there is a need to enhance multi-sectoral coordination between governments, and enhance partnerships with communities, civil society and the private sector. This should be guided not only by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, but also with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. This requires the establishment of regional coordination mechanisms of which regional disaster management centres would be an integral part. These regional disaster management centres must be more than just communication and data sharing channels, they require a shared regional vision and the political support of the member states to put into practice their broader risk reduction mandate.

    Find out more…

    See more of our work on the Flood Resilience Portal. This portal provides practitioners who live and work in flood-affected communities with easy access to the resources they need to build resilience to floods. This is part of the ongoing global Zurich Flood Resilience Programme.

    Or learn about the difference made by Practical Action resilience programmes during the 2017 flash floods and landslides in Nepal and what this revealed about disaster preparedness.

     

    [1] https://policy.practicalaction.org/resources/publications/item/from-risk-to-resilience-a-systems-approach-to-building-long-term-adaptive-wellbeing-for-the-most-vul

    [2] Practical Action launched a Technology Justice call for action https://policy.practicalaction.org/acalltoaction

    [3] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/coping-disasters-beyond-the-border-nepal-india-cross-border-flood-early-warning-system/

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  • Improving understanding of flooding and resilience in Nepal


    October 12th, 2017

    In Nepal, accurate understanding of flood risk is limited by inaccurate or outdated information. Five innovative techniques have been used by Practical Action and partners to address these challenges and share the information with communities and government authorities.

    This blog outlines these five techniques, which are detailed in full in this report.

    Rivers originating from the Himalaya are a vital resource for around 10% of the global population. The rivers irrigate land, supporting the agricultural livelihoods of communities living across the 255 million hectare wide Terai plain in which Western Nepal is located. However, heavy rainfall during the monsoon season can cause a rise in water levels that mean these rivers become a source of devastating floods.

    Practical Action has been working with the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology in Nepal and an interdisciplinary team of geoscientists, engineers, social scientists and architects from the University of Edinburgh to better understand the flood risk faced by these communities.

    An accurate understanding of the areas at risk of flooding is of critical importance to preparedness and resilience. Access to this information helps communities, local and national government agencies and civil society groups to act effectively to protect vulnerable people, livelihoods and infrastructure. Decisions on where to build emergency shelters and land use can be influenced by this information, for example.

    The Karnali River is highly dynamic, changing pathways, shape and depth as it transports millions of tons of sediment along the river bed

    1. Variable levels of sediment

    Rivers which originate from the mountains in Nepal carry millions of tons of sediment during monsoon season. This sediment can change the shape of the underlying river channel, meaning that the water level alone does not indicate the amount of water in the river.

    Solution: Using an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler we measured the amount of water in the river at different times of year and at different cross-sections of the channel. We were also able to use this technology to measure flow velocities for the first time. We also measured the size of sediment grains on gravel bars and in filtered water samples. These measurements were then used to accurately calculate the quantity of water in the river so that flood levels could be predicted – enabling resilient land management, irrigation practices and crop usage.

    2. Outdated topography maps

    Satellite data is crucial for mapping flood risk. However, the maps currently being used in Nepal are based on data from 2001, but the course and elevation of the river has changed significantly since then.

    Solution: We developed more detailed flood risk maps using up-to-date and in-depth satellite data. This allowed us to analyse how flood risk is affected by changes to the river shape and to identify areas at risk that were previously overlooked.

    3. Channel migration and switching

    Channel migration occurs when a river bank is eroded causing the river to move across its plain, while channel switching occurs when the accumulation of sediment causes a river to change course. If either occur during a flood, the new channel position may put unprepared communities at risk.

    Solution: Using optical satellite imagery, we were able to map out the historical channel pathways of the Karnali River and to understand the frequency and patterns of river channel movements. This enabled the identification of areas most vulnerable to flooding.

    4. Social dynamics

    Communities often change as result of development or in response to disasters like flooding. This change can be caused by anything from new economic opportunities or business openings to new community arrivals, people moving to find work or whole families being displaced by flooding. These all contribute to changing demographics and vulnerabilities which authorities need to be aware of in order to protect communities.

    Solution: We interviewed community members to determine how flood risk interacts with their day-to-day lives. We found that the region is undergoing major social transformation which, while increasing the availability of cash and opportunities, is exposing people to new vulnerabilities. For example, the rise in concrete housing construction creates a sense of security in communities, but means that homes are less mobile and more valuable, increasing the potential loss due to flooding.

    5. Construction techniques

    Nepal has many examples of traditional flood-resilient construction methods. However, these have been displaced by modern techniques and materials, like reinforced concrete. Although it is easier to verify the resilience of concrete buildings than comparable traditional designs, they require different skills and technical expertise to build and are more expensive. Therefore, modern construction is not always appropriate for vulnerable communities who may not have the resources to safely construct and maintain modern designs.

    Solution: We studied the construction methods of homes and shelters in a range of settlements and proved the resilience of some traditional techniques such as using timber posts to elevate main living floors. We concluded that hybrid construction systems should be developed, which bring together both traditional and modern methods, and that evolving systems should only use concrete where essential to guarantee resilience without unnecessary costs for households or contributions to climate change.

    Rising water levels put the communities who live near the river at risk of flooding

    Next Steps

    Rivers like the Karnali, which have high and variable sediment loads, directly impact the people living near them, and we need to better understand how their changing behaviour affects flood risk.

    We also need to be able to share knowledge about safe and resilient modern building techniques so that investment in structural development effectively reduces the risks of flooding and other hazards.

    The team conducting this research project was formed from a range of disciplines across physical and social sciences. The benefits from working together and sharing knowledge and learning across the team became increasingly evident as the project progressed, resulting in greater insights into the challenges and potential solutions to those challenges related to flooding in the Karnali basin. Using an interdisciplinary approach to research, whilst challenging, can ultimately lead to unanticipated leaps in knowledge.

    The full report can now be accessed here.

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  • Fiji’s Vision for COP23


    September 29th, 2017

    In just over one months’ time the world will focus on the 23rd session of the Conference of Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The global gathering at which progress on combatting climate change will be debated, progress reviewed and hopefully ambitious plans to tackle the challenge will be agreed, supported with the necessary finance and support to put this ambition into practice.

    This year Fiji holds the presidency for the COP meeting[1] and hence there are hopes that the emphasis of this year’s COP will be on Small Island developing states and the unique climate challenges they face. From the irreversible impacts of sea level rise, through to the recent hurricane induced destruction in the Caribbean, small island developing states are among the most vulnerable to the challenge of climate change and the climatic variability that this heralds.

    Fiji’s vision for COP23 is:

    Fijian Prime Minister and incoming President of COP 23, Frank Bainimarama.

    • To advance the work of the COP negotiations and preserve the multilateral consensus for decisive action to address the underlying causes of climate change, respecting climate science.
    • To uphold and advance the Paris Agreement, ensure progress on the implementation guidelines and undertake consultations to design the process for the Facilitative Dialogue in 2018.
    • To build greater resilience for all vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and rising sea levels; to enable access to climate adaptation finance, renewable energy, clean water and affordable climate risk and disaster insurance; and to promote sustainable agriculture.
    • To forge a grand coalition to accelerate climate action before 2020 and beyond between civil society, the scientific community, the private sector and all levels of government, including cities and regions. I repeat: We are all vulnerable and we all need to act.
    • To harness innovation, enterprise and investment to fast track the development and deployment of climate solutions that will build future economies with net zero greenhouse gas emissions, in an effort to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

    Fiji aims to infuse the COP with a spirit of inclusiveness, friendliness and solidarity. It aims not for finger pointing nor laying blame but about listening, learning from each other, sharing stories, skills and experiences. By focusing on the benefits of collective action Fiji believes lies our best hope to move the global climate agenda forward. Well fingers crossed!!

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  • Resilience in the face of increasing risk and uncertainty


    September 14th, 2017

    Practical Action’s strategic plan 2017-2020 states “Our vision is for a world where all people have access to the technologies that enable them to meet their basic needs and reach their potential, in a way that safeguards the planet today, and for future generations”. But with development gains being eroded by natural hazards, I sometimes wonder if we are fighting a losing battle?

    Volunteers rescuing people in Bardiya, Nepal Photo: Nepal Flood Resilience Project

    According to the Economist, there are now 400 extreme weather events every year, four times as many as in 1970[1]. A trend demonstrated vividly by the extensive flooding in South Asia and the impacts of the current North Atlantic hurricane season with the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Although Practical Action does not work in developed countries, the fact that cities in the United States, cities with planning agencies, building regulations and investment in mitigation, have been devastated by natural hazards demonstrates the increase in climate risk for communities in the developing world, that lack similar government capacity and struggle with limited budgets.

    In a world of increasing risk, resilience is a useful concept to explore the capacities, assets and behaviours that people, their communities and the societies in which they belong, need to be resilient to shocks and stresses. But resilience itself as an outcome of development, may be foolhardy to pursue.

    Practical Action recognises that technology is a key enabler of human development, that technological innovation has the power to enable a better world. Technology can advance the adaptive capacity of communities to cope with risk. For example a community protected by an Early Warning System have access to the information to allow them to act in advance of a flood event. As more EWS messages are received and successful responses are triggered, the community starts to learn what behaviour keeps them safe and the actions needed to limit the destruction of the flood event. Access to knowledge and information and their increased safety, nurtures experiential learning, they start to learn how to live with the flood.

    In a world in which there is no clear endpoint for development, in which resilience becomes ever more distant, enabling communities to experiment, to learn and adapt their lives and livelihoods will be vital if they are to survive and flourish. Resilience as an outcome is dangerous, it suggests an end state of resilience, whereas resilience is more dynamic. Resilience must consider the role of culture and human agency, and that the development aims of all people, communities and countries need not necessarily align to the same outcome. What builds the resilience of a farmer with a tractor may not be the same as what would build the resilience of a farmer dependent on livestock for motive power. Different vulnerabilities, different contexts, stress the need for different resilience building processes. We must stop focussing on the outcome of resilience and instead concentrate on learning from what we are doing, be brave enough to adapt when things start to diverge from the expected, and most importantly we mustn’t forget that it’s ok to learn from failure.

    [1] https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/08/daily-chart-19

    Find out more…

    See more of our work on the Flood Resilience Portal. This portal provides practitioners who live and work in flood-affected communities with easy access to the resources they need to build resilience to floods. This is part of the ongoing global Zurich Flood Resilience Programme.

    Or learn about the difference made by Practical Action resilience programmes during the 2017 flash floods and landslides in Nepal and what this revealed about disaster preparedness.

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  • Coping disasters beyond the border : Nepal-India cross-border flood early warning system


    September 12th, 2017

    Written by: Dinanath Bhandari, Buddhi Kumal, Lok Narayan Pokhrel and Kamal Tripathi


    Saving lives from flood disasters beyond the border is possible through early warning systems. It is demonstrated successfully in three river basins between India and Nepal. Bilateral cooperation at government level could make greater changes.

    While many governments are sharing information on cyclones and are helping in taking preventive measures, south Asian countries are yet to root their efforts in working together to save their people. However, civil society collaboration between Nepal and India has saved lives and assets from flooding. The governments in both countries can do better if they realize the importance of cross-border flood early warning systems. There are already evidences from good practice on the ground inspiring authorities to upscale efforts.

    Different countries, changed names but the pain is the same

    People living along the banks of Karnali (Ghagra in India) and Babai (Saryu in India) share the same exposure to floods. Both have lost relatives, assets and face drudgery brought about by the floods. Nepalese communities have less time to escape as they are in the upstream catchment and the flow is fast with less lag time to prepare and respond to particular flood. On the other hand, communities downstream in India didn’t have any information about impending floods until a few years back.

    NDFR Rescue Team Shifting people to safe areas. Photo: PPGVS

    For last few years flood frequency has been getting higher with record floods in West Rapti and Babai Rivers. Babai had devastating flood in 2014, when 32 people lost their lives in Bardiya, Nepal. In India, the flood broke the Saryu barrage dam and 13 people lost their lives. West Rapti has crossed the danger level several times since 2012, up to six times in some years. Loss of lives, assets and livelihoods was an common phenomenon for the people living in flood plains in Nepal and India.

    Changing floods: changing coping strategies

    However, the situation is changing now. In Nepal Practical Action has been working with communities, civil society organizations and relevant government agencies at local to national level to set up and advancement of community centered flood early warning systems in West Rapti (since 2008), Babai (2008) and Karnali (2010). Since 2016 Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) has started sending text messages directly to the people in flood prone areas based on their rainfall and flood forecast in addition to informing related authorities of Home Ministry at center and sub-national level. This has helped to evacuate people at risk to safer places to prevent loss of lives and movable belongings. An institutional mechanism of community disaster management committee (CDMC) has made the EWS operational thanks to efforts of Practical Action together with the DHM and other many institutions for over a decade.

    Community volunteers rescuing people to safe shelters in Bardiya, Nepal Photo: Nepal Flood Resilience Project

    In India in the downstream, Poorvanchal Gramin Vikas Sansthan (PGVS) has established community based flood early warning system in Gonda, Baharaich and Gorakhpur districts since 2012 with technical support from Practical Action along with its long time partners Nepal Red Cross’s Bardia District Chapter, Center for Social Development and Research (CSDR) and Radha Krishna Tharu Jana Sewa Kendra (RKJS). A generous information sharing by the DHM authorities for humanitarian purposes has made this possible. PGVS has been working together with Nepali NGOs and Red Cross to improve collaboration for information sharing to saving lives in the downstream. Following Nepal’s alert, warning and danger level of floods in the flood forecasting stations in Kusum (West Rapti), Chepang (Babai) and Chisapani (Karnali), calibrations have made to different Indian communities along with lead time calculations. Indian communities receive information via SMS sent by community individuals in Nepal built on informal linkages and watching DHM web pages that display real-time flood and rainfall situation. In the communities, trained volunteers take lead to communicate by hand operated sirens, mega phones and door to door visits.

    The Nepal, India, Bangladesh Floods 2017

    Babai Flood Rating Curve. Source: DHM

    Strong monsoon winds in the second week of August dumped a lot of rainwater in parts of Nepal, India and Bangladesh resulting in huge floods in these countries. Almost every river originating in Nepal enters India. Huge floods in Nepal often cause similar situations for people in parts of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar in India. On 12-13 August 2017, there was an unprecedented flood in the Babai and West Rapti rivers in Nepal which soon crossed the border and reached India in few hours. Real-time river level sensor of the DHM recorded that the highest level of flood of Babai in Chepang flood gauge station was 9.98m on 13 August 2017 and of West Rapti in Kusum flood gauge station was 8.87m on 12 August 2017. Both were the highest level of flooding on record.

    Cross border cooperation saved lives

    In the August 12-13, 2017 floods, information sharing in between upstream and downstream communities demonstrated its significance. Indian communities and the organizations take care of potential rainfall in the upstream and frequently watch the DHM real-time information. Indian communities also call to upstream communities in Bardiya and Banke, hydrology stations in Nepal and request to inform them about the level of flood and rainfall status in the upstream. The network members brought this collaboration to a new height in this year. They used internet applications and social media to exchange flood information [insert cross border SMS or WhatsApp]. This enables communities to get timely information about potential risk of flood and authorities to help communities. People and authorities in Bahraich, Gonda, Shravasti, Balrampur, Siddarthanagar and Gorakhpur received flood information in advance through different media.

    Rating Curve of West Rapti. Source: DHM

    The mechanism proved a success to saving lives of many people in above districts in India. The information was generated in Nepal and shared with members in India. “It helped people to save their lives, movable properties and important belongings”, said Krishna Kumar of PGVS in Bahraich. Once the flood crossed warnings these three rivers in Nepal, members shared information actively. Nepali people relayed flood forecasts and updates from the DHM to their Indian counterparts. The network members made use of social media. These media were also used to inform communities in India. “PGVS sent rainfall and flood risk information using WhatsApp, Facebook and group SMS that helped save lives in this severe flooding”, Kamal Tripathi of PGVS shared. “We sent them to task forces at community level, relevant government officials, media and inter-agency groups and it proved a success”. They reached 2500 key persons instantly through these channels helping over 2,000,000 flood vulnerable people in 6 districts in UP prompting them to evacuate in time.

    The Civil Society Network

    These initiatives taken by civil society organizations have received support from journalists, advocates, and members for chamber of commerce and industries – the business sector in Nepal and India to strengthen the cross border flood EWS. In 2016, they formed Indo Nepal cross border flood early warning network. The network is Co-chaired by Krishna Gautam – President of Nepal Red Cross Society, Bardiya District Chapter and Krishna Kumar Tripathi – Additional Director of PGVS in India as a member secretary to the network. The network aims to demonstrate successful EWS mechanism beyond border to saving lives from floods and influence authorities to collaborate better between two countries. “We are doing this for saving lives, assets and livelihoods from flood disasters”, said Krishna Gautam of Nepal Red Cross Bardiya, “It is based on our humanitarian principles and the collaboration is on humanitarian ground.” According to review in the communities, loss of lives has been brought down to minimum possible in Bahraich, Gonda and Gorakhpur despite unprecedented immense flooding thanks to cross border cooperation. This has demonstrated an example to take up by governments.

    Screen Shot. WhatsApp

    Disasters extend beyond borders warranting cross-border cooperation on prevention, preparedness and response to flooding at all levels to helping each other. There are reasons why governments should invest, collaborate and cooperate with each other in preventing disasters; a shift is required in approaches and practices to address the risks of changing floods. The technology is advancing, access to flood risk information has been possible prompting preventive measures by the communities and authorities beyond the border. Governments should tap the opportunities created by civil societies.

    Find out more…

    Read more about Practical Action’s work in Disaster Risk Reduction and as part of The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme – or about our ongoing programmes in Nepal.

     

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  • The magic trick and resilience: can it work?


    August 28th, 2017

    If you are a citizen of any country exposed to natural disasters, you may know that flooding, cyclones or hurricanes are some of the words that first come to mind when anyone talks about natural disasters. When we talk about disasters, either natural or man-made we all think of one thing – how we can survive?

    We are putting all our effort into finding that magic trick which we believe that will save us from all disasters. What we need, is to recover quickly from difficulties or be strong in the face of disasters. That magic trick is called Resilience. Global efforts are now focused on building resilience in order to reduce the impact of these disasters which is a continued threat to people’s life and livelihoods around the world. However, when we talk about natural disaster and disaster resilience there are no proper or clear tools which can start to lead us towards that magic trick. In a previous study for the United Nations Development Programme, researchers concluded that “no general measurement framework for disaster resilience has been empirically verified yet.” This finding highlights a key challenge for any resilience building efforts: if resilience cannot be empirically verified, how do you empirically measure whether a community is more resilient as a result of your work?

    It is neither simple nor easy to know whether efforts focusing on what we believe builds resilience are correct. However it is necessary to try to measure that the impact of our work is leading to more resilient communities or at least that they are more stable and adaptable to the disasters than before. In that scenario the flood resilience measurement tool (FRMT) developed by the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance designed to quantify the flood resilience of the community. The tool has been trialled in numerous communities across 10 different countries including Bangladesh, by various implementers. It has already demonstrated that it can be a great complementary tool to flood resilience community programming.

    For Bangladesh, a country at the forefront of the battle for flood resilience, the tool can provided valuable insight. Where the tool has been implemented recently in a running project, it has started to help us identify not only the community trends of floods resilience but also the gaps in resilience by looking into the strength and weakness of the communities from the data analysis. This tool also allows the organisation to understand the community better by analysing interdependencies and by understanding it through different lenses. This process helps us and our partners to work on addressing the gaps. Our hope is to gather this evidence and feed into the national level for better advocacy and lead to more informed policy makers.

    Currently the tool is in development phase; key parties test and feedback on strengths and weaknesses of the tool to make it as robust as possible for measuring the flood resilience.  Through continued use and improvement of this tool we can begin to increases the resilience of the community by considering the all key areas. The use of the FRMT can begin to identify changes in resilience over time and verify through post flood assessments whether our interventions are managing to strengthen communities. So that at a time in the future we can not only say that the magic trick is working through the development work of the organisation but also the people’s ability to resist and recover from the disaster is increased.

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  • Nepal Floods 2017 : lessons in preparedness


    August 27th, 2017

    After a disaster, people talk about build back better. The flood disaster in the second week of August in Nepal told us to do better preparedness and ‘bring back better’.

    Disasters test our response capacity. The floods have revealed our strength and weaknesses. It was an exam for decade long interventions by numerous agencies on flood preparedness – District Disaster Preparedness Plans, pre-monsoon workshops and so forth that happened every year in every district for many years. The reduced number deaths and losses despite extent of the disaster is one strong indicator of success. This is significant progress in saving lives. However, not a systematic one.

    The flood early warning system is a last mile solution to saving lives. We should not perceive wrongly that it should do all of preparedness. Introduction of rainfall to run-off models have enhanced risk forecasting and monitoring to let authorities know about the potential risk of floods. Localized mass SMS through NCell and NTC have improved communication of flood risk updates to communities, social media are other means connecting people globally. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) confidently issued flood alerts to flood vulnerable communities at least 24 hours before a flood event. It was not imagined few years back. Models have increased lead time of real-time flow (also known as gauge to gauge) based early warning as well by 2-5 hours. These all improved flood risk forecasting. Had authorities taken meaningful response actions in time soon after they got flood risk information; we could have prevented losses significantly. However the recent flood event showed efforts on preparedness are yet to payback and the cost of negligence reduced the gains. The floods in 12-13 August, 2017 are real time test of our long investment on disaster preparedness, not EWS alone.

    15 years on: EWS to saving lives, properties and livelihoods
    Flood EWS is an integrated system of interdependent systems. We have been working with concerned government, non-government agencies and flood prone communities, too many to name, in respective river basins in setting up and advancing the system. Some components of the systems are equipped with modern technologies – risk monitoring and communication. There are institutional set up down to community level built in last 10 year or so. More people are trained and our security personnel are better organized and equipped to respond.

    Since 2002, we in Practical Action have reached flood prone communities in major (9) river basins and have worked in national mechanism of government for EWS with the DHM. We worked together with partners, allies, vulnerable communities and their concerned government agencies. In some river basins the EWS has been extended to further downstream communities in India to saving their lives. It has set successful example in Karnali (Ghagra in India), Babai (Saryu in India) and west Rapti. Saving people should be a mission beyond borders. For us these flood events were.

    Nepal floods 2017, a Real –time test of EWS
    In this year flood, some components demonstrated success but ultimate response actions had limitations. The weather and flood risk forecasting happened in time, communication were improved but could not generate actionable advisories for particular communities in time. The human and governance parts of the systems are yet to graduate. It lacked specific risk knowledge to take proper actions in right time. As the result there were differentiated flood response actions. Flood early warning should mean people at risk zone are evacuated before flood reaches their location. It’s all about taking people to safety before hazards come. But many people waited flood to arrive at them after they got alerts and warnings. Is it adequate? EWS is part of DRR and preparedness, not a stand alone system.

    Intense rainfall on from 11 to 12 August resulted into big (worst in record in many river basins) flooding from 11-13. Immediate effects lasted for about a week. Government’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) had issued alerts and warnings of the potential disastrous events in advance from 8th August and they issued alert for rivers in the east.

    Flood alert for the eastern Tarai on 8th August.

    There were normal rainfall on 9th August but the cloud got dense on 10th. The DHM informed the potential intense rainfall and flood. The active monsoon rains since 8th August but much intense from 11th in Tarai, Siwalik and some of the mid-hills generated highest level of flood in second order rivers (Kankai, Bagmati, West Rapti, Riu, Babai) and the third order rivers/rivulets that originate from Siwalik and Tarai. Considering the potential off intense rain and potential cloud burst situation the DHM issued special bulletin in the afternoon of 10th August and informed EOC of the potential risk. By afternoon of the day, they issued special bulletin and sent to authorities through National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC). It was at least 24 hours ahead of flood event on 11 evening.

    More effect was inundation from local rain. In the rivers – Babai, Rapti, Bagmati, Triyuga-Khando, Budhi Ganga, Kankai, Biring (from west to east), it accumulated tributary input and hill catchment rain as well. Flood alerts were issued considering the rainfall in the downstream catchment as well but authorities do not have proper knowledge of rainfall inundation relationship in specific areas. Throughout the event, the DHM sent SMS texts to the communities when flood reached warning in the flood forecasting station of particular river. The SMS were sent in Kankai, Rapti, Riu, East Rapti (Chitwan), Babai.

    However, response actions on the ground were not taken effectively as anticipated. Many people and agencies did not know about the extent of flood in their locality, neither authority were confident of potential consequences. People shifted their goods in the upper stairs, gathered in home but did not leave it. The system was strong in looking at atmosphere but not generating proper actions on the ground. Many deaths could have been prevented if authorities were serious in taking respective decisions and people were forcefully evacuated in time. Following DHM alerts and warnings, DDRCs and security forces informed the flood risk to the communities but they were not actionable instructions. One survivor said, “We got the information in time but where to go?”

    Where there are community based institutions (CDMC, task forces), preparedness on the ground and people had experienced bad flood within last 5 years or so; they were less negligent, moved to safer places nearby. An example is Babai river flood plains in Bardia. They faced flood in 2014 and sustained huge losses. A ware house of Nepal Red Cross in Tikapur municipality in Kailali eased the relief processes’ after the event. However long-distance and timely evacuation did not take place; many response actions were not in time.

    People are moving to shelter, only when they realized it is not safe where they are.

    Government and communities have realized that early warning helped saving lives to a great extent. However, it is also realized that preparedness as a whole was not adequate and people and stakeholders could not take anticipated action after receiving the flood risk information. According to DRR portal of Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) as of 21 August, 157 people died and 29 are missing in these different events from 11 August. About 70 among them are from landslides. Over dozen people died while pulling logs from the flooded river or crossing them without safety measures. As per the records 43433 houses have been reported fully damaged and 100481 people of 20888 families are displaced. Read more on the 2017 Nepal floods.

    What it tells to us.
    The flood events have been real world test of community centered approaches we worked and discussed for last 15 years. It is been success in totality to reduce deaths but there are numerous things to do. There are weaknesses and disconnects in interventions and are issues around sustainability. The government has supported the efforts but is yet to take in their responsibility and accountability. The preparedness was almost limited to stakeholder meetings; not any actions upon. The current deaths are the cost of that negligence. Flood maps need to be updated. Rivers have changed the dimension; we? Current warning and danger levels should be reviewed.

    Nonetheless, appreciating the value of EWS, we need to take opportunity and build disaster preparedness on this success. It shows the private sector should be in the core team for preparedness. The text messages made differences. Once we connect the dots in the system, raising confidence of actors, authorities and communities to become accountable to disaster preventive practices. A long march it is, therefore, to walk together better. The floods will come one day again and they will come worse.

    After a disaster, people talk about build back better. For an integrated approach on disaster prevention and EWS for flood preparedness, it should be also ‘bring back better’.

    Find out more…

    Related information:
    https://twitter.com/DHM_FloodEWS
    Madhukar Upadhyaya http://www.onwardnepal.com/opinion/understanding-nepalfloods2017/
    http://drrportal.gov.np/uploads/document/1071.pdf
    http://news.trust.org/item/20170824050440-npfwh/

    Read the Post-Event Review Capability (PERC) report: Urgent case of recovery: what we can learn from the August 2014 Karnali River floods in Nepal.

    Learn about Practical Action’s work on Early Warning Systems or how we can create resilience in the face of increasing risk. Or more about Practical Action’s work in Disaster Risk Reduction and as part of The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme – or about our ongoing programmes in Nepal

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