An Innovative approach to measuring community resilience to flooding

, | April 27th, 2017

The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance Measurement Framework

In 2013 the Z Zurich Foundation initiated a global alliance of partners to understand what builds resilience to flooding. This alliance has taken an innovative approach – linking academic insights, humanitarian and development sector capabilities, as well as Zurich’s skills and knowledge – to enhance community resilience to flooding. The alliance includes the Zurich Insurance Company, the Z Zurich Foundation, IFRC, Practical Action, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.

The alliance have developed a measurement framework and corresponding tools in an attempt to measure flood resilience in communities in developed and developing countries around the world.

Communities are struggling to come to terms with resilience what allocation of their limited resources will build resilience?

The tool involves measuring the degree to which communities are endowed with the five capitals, described in the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework (SLF). These capitals characterize community assets and the complementary capacities that sustain and improve communities’ wellbeing. Theoretically, by tracking the capitals pre- and post-event, it is possible to observe how development, disasters, and risk management activities within the community are eroding or supporting wellbeing. Having time series information means the five capitals could be measured after a hazard event to assess how they were impacted or utilized to cope and recover. A grounded set of metrics could help to guide the exploration of potential sources of resilience and test their effect on outcomes in order to contribute further evidence to our understanding of resilience.

The complexity of resilience leads to a huge diversity of elements which can be measured, and raises a number of questions about process and outputs:

  • At what stage is measurement appropriate?
  • Do we measure resilience ex ante during a state of normality which means a focus on ability to manage risk, or only ex post, which means a focus on ability to cope and recover?
  • Can we give an absolute value to a state of resilience or only one that is relative to a baseline or benchmark?

In light of these challenges, we are looking for ways to explore the interdependencies among the capitals themselves, and between the capitals and other elements of the framework. It will be important to measure the capitals but also to understand the relationships among them, such as how social assets, or the wider governance context frame access to particular resources which may appear plentiful in the wider community but are inaccessible for a large portion of the population due to social barriers. We are aware that the mere existence of an asset does not necessarily imply that it is being used effectively to manage risk or enhance wellbeing. Conversely, the lack of an asset may be indicative of vulnerability, which raises further questions around the weighting of the measurements. By adopting a standardized approach, we are hoping to learn more about resilience, and how this knowledge can be applied in practice to enhance resilient wellbeing.

We are currently testing the tool in a number of communities in different countries that have varying livelihoods and asset bases and face different flood typographies. This will help to test and refine the tool, and provide learning on the methods and processes. Representation of the results of the measurement tool for two different communities, is captured below.

Although they score differently, one with strengths in the social and natural capitals (red) while the other (green) in the human and physical capitals which community will be more resilient to a flood event? This is something we are starting to unpack as we investigate the results coming from the community measurements.

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