Blogs tagged as DRR

  • 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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  • 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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  • Squatters’ community transforming into flood resilient community


    June 22nd, 2017

    A squatters’ community of over 41 migrated families from different places as landless have been building their flood resilient capacities. They organized together, learned and put their efforts to disaster risk reduction. An end to end flood early warning system set up by Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) and Practical Action in collaboration with agencies of the government of Nepal with funding support from USAID/OFDA breaks down vulnerability to enhance community flood resilience.

    The vulnerability
    Sukumbashi Basti (squatters’ community) in Shiva-Satakshi Municipality used to be one of the most vulnerable communities in the area. The village is in the Kankai River floodplain in the north of east-west highway along the riverbank. The community has about 164 people in 41 households. They migrated from different places and settled in the open land of Kankai riverbank. Most people have to live in daily wage work as agriculture and other labour in the neighbouring cities Birtamod, Damak, Surunga and in the local markets around.

    Sukumbasi Basti at Kankai River bank

    The settlement falls in the alluvial fan of the river and the close proximity has increased the flood vulnerability of the community. The river is perennial but brings flash flood of very high speed during monsoon. On the other hand, they did not have a safe exit to reach the embankment on the outer side which is the only a safer place during flash flood. The community had a trail that too flooded during monsoon resulting village into an island. “The flood water in Kankai River and the heavy rain made lives at risk always during monsoon,” said Mr. Rudra Bahadur Neupane a local resident in the village, “We need to move towards the embankment at any time during night or day when the water level in the river increased.” However, reaching embankment was not easy and safe. Gullies created small flood ways from local rain making difficult to cross them to reach the embankment.

    The flood coping
    Community have encountered floods in the past and have suffered losses. Some of them are already flood victims in their origin from where they migrated here. A thick cloud above hills of Ilam (upstream) always frightened people with risk of flood. The access to safe place was the most difficult and they lived in a flood surrounded island. In the events of big flooding that caused heavy losses of grains and assets, they received relief support from different organisations such as NRCS, District Development Committee (DDC), Federation of Commerce and Industries and community organizations. Since it is very close to foothill they have very less time to prepare for and escape flooding. Therefore, they needed to be alert of the rainfall that would generate flood of damaging strength. The community were yet to organize well and devise strategies and actions. Initially they did not approach organisations, local government bodies and the District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC) for flood risk reduction. The need to move from traditional relief approach to risk prevention and mitigation was realised although not materialised.

    Getting organised
    The communities had realised the need and importance of access to flood risk information well before the flood would reach their vicinity. This is what an end to end early warning system brings in. The NRCS initiated Kankai end to end flood early warning system project in 2014. The project approached and helped them to organise, identify problems and their root causes, devise solutions and organize resources to bring ideas into action. Initial community consultations were focused to organise communities to build understanding on flood exposure, vulnerability and risk together with community capacities and initiatives. These processes led to formation of disaster management committee, task forces and trainings. Gradually, in-depth discussions carried out to devise how community could reduce disaster risk and transform vulnerability into resilience. The NRCS has not only implemented the project but also linked communities to Red Cross movement and helped community to devise strategies and actions to reduce losses. Building on the trust they have with these agencies, the NRCS have strengthened community unity, linkage and improved confidence that they can reduce impact of the flood.

    Improving access road to escape flood
    The most and urgent action identified by the vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) was the access road to safe locations to escape flood. “There was need to build a safe evacuation route and during the initial meetings and workshops the community always put forward the request to support its construction,” says Badri Bhujel of NRCS.

    The access road before

    The community organised resources and contributed what they could on their own. They widened the foot trail and delineated the route to the embankment. They got two hum pipes from NRCS and constructed a drain across the road in 2015. The community collected cash from each household, approached local government bodies and agencies to support cash and materials to build stronger culvert to improve the evacuation route by building culverts and retaining wall to protect access road from flooding and sufficient spill way for torrents in between village and the embankment.

    They collected stones and locally available materials, NRCS provided cement, they purchased iron rods and other materials from the money they collected, local government sent a technician and finally community built a culvert with retaining walls that now provides a safe passage to the people during floods. The road is wider such that carts and ambulances can pass through.

    The access road after

    Formation of community disaster management committee (CDMC) organised them for disaster risk reduction. “When I participated in the VCA process I realised that the project helps us to identify ways and means to reduce our flood risk. We identified hazards and analysed their causes, driving factors and our vulnerability. On the other hand, we assessed required and available resources and capacity of our community,” Bharat Khaling Rai shared initial experiences of working together. “And the trainings, exposure visits and interaction with other communities and humanitarian actors organised by the project increased our understanding and confidence to mitigate flood risk and increase our coping capacity,” he said.

    Getting DRR into development
    The CDMC actively involved to the local development planning process through then ward citizen forum and influenced the process to include disaster risk reduction measures in development interventions. Now they hope to get some representatives elected to the local government bodies from the community as the election is happening soon. “We are now familiar with the local level planning and we have presented our request to municipality to upgrade our access road,” explained Rudra Nembang Coordinator of flood early warning task force in the CDMC showing their confidence to move forward on their own to approach authorities to access public fund. Development infrastructures are gradually incorporating DRR in design, layout and construction.

    Leading DRR locally and seeking outside support when required
    The community is now organised into CDMC and institutionalized interventions. They have regular CDMC meetings and have established a DRR fund. This fund will be used to provide immediate relief if any family in the community is in disaster situation. The community has a saving of NPR 40,150 (1 USD = NPR 100) in their emergency fund. They hold skills and confidence to construct small mitigation measures. They have tried to strengthen embankment of Kankai River to control river bank erosion and have planted 8,000 vetiver grass culms in 300 m of the riverbank. They contributed labour and purchased plants by raising cash from each household and invested NPR 200,000 (~US$ 2,000) through cash and work. The Lions Club of Kathmandu had supported for 3000 vetiver grass culms. They raised fund for to buy 5000 culms. “They can extract from these clumps and transplant,” said Lok Raj Dhakal showing the growing vetivers along the embankment slope, “They can sell vetiver culms in few years.”

    The community plans to continue efforts to strengthen riverbank through bioengineering. The grass is fed to livestock and has also potential to generate cash by selling. The NRCS has helped to build local leadership capacity and connect to outsiders to access better support following the principles of community led DRR approach for flood resilience.

    Growing vetiver grass along bank

    Community livelihood assets are yet weak and need external support to strengthen to make them robust and resourceful. Livelihood strategies need to improve for better and sustainable income options. Although there is a long way ahead to build community flood resilient and communities have transformed their approaches from seeking relief to prevention of disaster and being ready with capacity to cope with unanticipated ones.

    With Support from Krishna Basaula, Rakesh Shah, Hari Saran Khadka and Badri Bhujel, Jhapa, Nepal.

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  • 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction


    May 27th, 2017

    The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) takes place every two years. The platform is the foremost gathering on reducing disaster risk and building the resilience of communities and nations. The platform is convened by the UNISDR the United Nations office for DRR[1] and this year was hosted by the government of Mexico. More than 4,000 participants and delegates from over 180 countries attended the meeting. This is a rich and diverse group of actors that bridge the worlds of humanitarian aid and development, representing, indigenous communities, gender groups, the disabled, academia, research, the private sector and civil society organisations.

    Practical Action had a team from Nepal, Peru and the UK attending the meeting and we contributed our practical expertise to a number of events. On days one and two Gehendra Gurung participated in the multi-hazard early warning conference sharing experience of our work in Nepal. Early Warning Systems (EWS) are a critical tool to inform local people as well as national and regional institutions about risk. Our innovative systems that link appropriate technology to deliver EWS to the poorest and most vulnerable, provide not only advance warning of the peril, but also contribute to learning about the dynamics of the hazard event, allowing appropriate and timely response. EWS are a critical component of risk informed planning and action.

    On day two of the conference Practical Action and Zurich insurance as representatives of the Global Flood Resilience Alliance participated in an official side event presenting progress on developing tools for measuring resilience and the forensic analysis of post events. This is part of our work with Zurich Insurance along with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Institute of Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) and the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the Wharton School. I presented the lessons learned from the use of the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool. The tool has been piloted by alliance partners in over 75 communities in 9 countries selected based on their flood risk.

    Michael Szönyi from Zurich Insurance presented lessons learned from the use of the Post Event Review Capability (PERC) tool in 9 countries. The tool is a post event tool to learn making recommendations to address things that went wrong, strengthen things that went well, notifying leverage points that reflect actionable, feasible, equitable and just actions that benefit the most vulnerable.

    On the final day Pedro Ferradas presented on the Ignite stage. He shared lessons from the recent destructive Peru floods of 2017. This session highlighted the need for effective representation especially of the poorest and most vulnerable in risk reduction and most importantly in post event reconstruction. We must ensure we do not lock in risk by repeating the mistakes of the past. Critical to this is not only participation from the local population, but recognition and respect for local and traditional knowledge. They may not be able to articulate risk factors using scientific or technical terminology, but they know how local conditions shape the underlying risk environment.

    The global platform was an inspiring event despite the scale and diversity of DRR challenges articulated. The platform is an inspirational market place of knowledge, skills, ideas and passion. However we still have a lot to do. Climate change is exacerbating existing risk and continuing unsustainable developments continue at a greater pace than risk reduction measures. So despite progress the risk reduction task grows with each day.

    To respond to these challenges we need to bring everyone into the discussion. Unsustainable development can only be tackled if we include environmental and social factors in decision making processes currently dominated by political and economic factors. So the excessive focus on governments and UN organisations on the plenary panels is a worry trend supporting a continuation of the status quo. These sessions are the key opportunities to influence the outcome document of the platform. Therefore the same debates are repeated. The limited panels limits the inputs and fails to recognise the value add of the very diverse audience. Let’s hope that Switzerland as host of the next global platform in 2019, can learn from the successes and limitations of the Mexican event. Some suggestions on how to do this include;

    • Break down the panels, be more inclusive of the diverse stakeholder present at the global platform. Too many panels were dominated by representatives of parties and UN agencies. Give space to the private sector, indigenous peoples, community representatives and civil society among the many other actors that can make a valid contribution to disaster risk reduction.
    • Centrality of the poorest and most vulnerable. I was surprised at the absence of community survivors in the panels, we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and hear these human stories to ensure they are not repeated.
    • Ensure every panel is at the very least gender balanced. Too many formal sessions had token female participation. The organisers need to do more to ensure gender balance at the next event.
    • The importance of EWS must be maintained in Switzerland, but there is a need to build on the utility of EWS to inform risk planning, preparedness and response, to recognise the needs to review their effectiveness post event, to ensure they are delivering for the most vulnerable and at risk. End to End EWS are vital, but experience from Latin America indicates this is the area receiving the least investment.
    • Recognise the power of alliance organisations. The Global Network for Disaster Reduction[2] (GNDR) celebrated its tenth birthday in Mexico, and as an umbrella organisation provides a mouthpiece for larger constituencies to engage in the platform in an effective and practical way.
    • Pay attention to the underlying messages that the venue delivers. The Moon Palace arena and hotel was a well serviced and secure location. But the massive development failed to reinforce messages of sustainability and appropriate development. Rather epitomising excessive consumption, ignorance of social and environmental sustainability and inequality of consumption in a resource finite world

    [1] www.unisdr.org

    [2] http://gndr.org/

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  • 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.

    Further reading:

    • http://www.measuringresilience.org/pdfs/ODI_report.pdf
    • https://www.zurich.com/en/corporate-responsibility/flood-resilience/measuring-flood-resilience
    • https://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/disaster-risk-reduction/resilience/measuring-resilience
    • http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/13279/1/Development%20and%20testing%20of%20a%20community%20flood%20resilience%20measurement%20tool.pdf
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  • Making climate Information services work for poor farmers in Africa?

    Next week in Cape Town the African climate and weather forecasting community will gather for the fifth global conference on Climate Information Services (CIS). A conference organised to share knowledge between climatologists, meteorologists and practitioners in key sectors such as agriculture, water, and health etc., sectors that can be better planned and managed if access to up to the minute climate information is available. Over the last decade there has been considerable investment in improving the technology, equipment and capacity of meteorology and forecasting departments across Africa. This is in recognition that accurate weather and climate information can deliver tangible benefits. However, despite these investment the benefits have largely been recovered at scale with less impact on the ground. The poor and marginalised communities, those with the most to gain from this information have largely failed to see these benefits. Therefore, Practical Action has been invited to attend the conference and present our innovative approach to CIS systems mapping that aims to respond to recognised deficiencies in existing CIS systems;

    1. Firstly, coming up with a simple system mapping process that is understood, owned and works for actors and for beneficiaries;
    2. Making sure that the system map can adapt CIS delivery in such a way that complements (and not replaces) existing local, indigenous knowledge systems; and
    3. That the CIS reaches those who would benefit the most, those facing famine if crops fail, those on the frontline of climate disaster.
    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    Practical Action has spent many years developing and perfecting the Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) approach, one of the central components of PMSD is co-producing a map of the value chain for the selected commodity. For mapping climate information, we have refined the methodology replacing the value chain with the information services chain. In discussion with partners we have focussed the CIS system map on the network that connects CIS producers with CIS users. CIS producers are the operators of weather stations, satellites etc. with CIS users being rain fed farmers. Existing challenges include;

    • Mapping how information moves across this system;
    • What are the boundaries to this system;
    • What are the nodes in the information service network, and;
    • What are the flows of information that take place.

    The value of a systems map is that it not only identifies existing blockages and barriers, but also allows different users to interrogate the system to identify alternative pathways which might deliver improvements. Finally, the systems map is inclusive allowing non-traditional and informal components of the system to be included.

    Generic map of a Climate Information Services system

           Generic map of what a Climate Information Services System map may look like

    We recognise that CIS on its own may not be practical or valuable, so we will be looking at information carriers, alternative systems such as information on markets prices that could be linked to CIS information to enhance their delivery. In all cases we will use the CIS system maps as a planning and learning tool. Therefore the map once produced will not remain static but it will live and be owned by the systems actors and be refined as we learn more about how they system behaves and adapts over time. We recognise that we are working in a space where there is already a lot going on, so we need to ensure that our systems approach is open and inclusive of these other initiative so that they are complementary and we can learn and share between them.

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    What are we aiming for? We are looking at making improvements to the CIS system. Making sure that information reaches rain fed smallholder farmers in drought prone areas and enables them to make the right short and long term choices about their farming practices. It is not enough to just supply the information, they also need to be able to act on it. Therefore if we make the existing system operate more efficiently or faster, but the farmers do not benefit then we will have failed. This is a unique focus for this project and challenges us not to think of what changes can we make to improve the system, but what are the systemic changes that need to take place to benefit rain fed farmers (CIS information users).

    For more information on the conference follow @ColinMcQuistan, #ICCS5 and @maryallenballo

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  • 8 steps to make farmers flood resilient


    February 7th, 2017

    By Buddhiram Kumal  & Dinanath Bhandari

    Building on the strength of the farmers’ field schools (FFS), Nepal Flood Resilience Project has devised the FFS to train and help farmers further to adopt flood resilient technologies, strategies and approaches to transform their vulnerability into resilience. Here’s how we are making farmers flood resilient through this academy for flood resilience.

    1. Organising to learn

    Farmers’ field schools are proven approaches and strategies to help farmers learn and adopt new technologies and skills. The FFS are discussion, practice and demonstration forums promoting learning by doing. Farmers from the community organise into a group and assemble together with a facilitator in regular interval, often weekly or fortnightly based on the need to discuss, learn and practice on growing crops of their choice. It is practised in the farmers’ field as a school to learn throughout the crop cycle, generally for a year and then follow up. Acquiring knowledge and skills is the crucial element of transformation. Farmers’ livelihoods and disaster resilience capacities are affected by the access of people to knowledge and skills on their livelihoods that would prevent, avoid and successfully cope with the impacts of floods they are exposed to.

    2. Empowering women

    In the project area, agriculture technicians have been facilitating each FFS where multiple strategies have been introduced to enhance access of marginal farmers to knowledge, skills and technologies on growing crops in different seasons.  These FFS are particularly focused to flood prone communities in Karnali flood plains in Bardiya and Kailali districts. They are smallholders and utilising the seasonal window-the winter-and non-flooding season is important to complement loss of crops from flood (however not always) and increase income utilising to grow cash crop in the land which potentially remained fallow in the past. So far in last two and half years, the project facilitated 31 FFS each in a community where 621 (Men: 85, women: 536) people – one from each family- participated and learned on technologies and skills to growing usual crops and new crops and varieties that could be sold instantly for cash income. Each field school consisted of 20 to 25 people mostly women. Since male migrate out seasonally in search of work in India or abroad, the agriculture is feminised. Therefore, participation by more number of women in the FFS contributed to enhance production and family income in particular.

    Apart from learning to better grow crops and livestock, the participants discuss on the strategies to prevent losses from the flood and better recover if losses were unavoidable. For example: one group near Tikapur town adopted growing mushroom and selling them into local market during winter which surpassed the loss of crops by flood during summer. The group discusses on the hazards, risks and potential interventions to reduce the risk and successfully overcome the disaster losses. The FFS have become like a Flood Resilience Academy fostering culture of learning, doing and sharing among farmers. The FFS have become instrumental to vulnerable people to change their cultivation practices to produce more yields of usual crops and multi-seasonal production has additional income that creates opportunity and confidence for resilience thinking. Many farmers’ group have developed into a formal institution with agreed group functioning protocols and registered with the respective government institution-District Agriculture Development Office or its Area Service Centre. This provides them better access to government services, information on technologies and practices. The service centres try to reach farmers through such groups.

    3. Academy of practice

    The FFS comprises of theory and practice on the subject matter. The course follows the crop cycle from soil preparation to post harvest and even further to marketing or final consumption/utilisation. A facilitator supports organization of farmers’ into the ‘School’. Farmers learn on concepts and practices and then they practice. For example, if they learn on nursery bed preparation, they prepare a nursery bed. The next week they would discuss on transplanting and would do transplanting in their demonstration plot, and so forth towards the end of crop cycle. Usually the facilitator designs and conducts the classes; however it is ensured that farmers have access to interact with a range of experts relevant to crops and other livelihoods of the farmers. In our case farmers also discussed on problems associated with flooding, health and social issues reflecting on the past to improve future. Demonstration and practice is priority for learning by doing.

    4. Building up confidence on technical knowledge and skill

    Each crop or livestock have different requirement, they are sensitive to a number of hazards and adversities. Therefore, technical knowledge and skills are important to build on confidence. Strategy, therefore, is to help farmers learn and do soil management, seed/breed/variety selection suitable to local climatic conditions, market potential and farmer’s individual preference. Later on, the process goes on to learn and apply growing seeds, transplanting, weeding,  pruning, top dressing- the intercultural operations through harvesting and selling of particular crop, variety or breed. Passing through a cycle of crop, farmers build up skills and confidence potentially becoming able to go for higher yield, greater in scale and more confident to prevent or recover the losses. They also build on confidence to utilise seasonal opportunities and switch to better crops or options.

    5. Improvement and changes in practices

    The strategy is both to improve existing practice and adopt new practices and technologies. Few farmers were engaged in the commercial farming in the past. Farmers have lost crops not only from flood but also from different diseases in crops like rice, wheat, maize etc. But now after a cycle of FFS in the community, the farmers have selecting improved varieties of vegetables (to name: Snow crown, Silver cup and Kathmandu local varieties of cauliflower; Madhuri, Manisha, Himsona and Shreejana varieties of tomatoes) to increase production. They also learned techniques to protect crops and vegetables from diseases and adverse weather effects. Considering the market and value of product, farmers have initiated grading of potatoes to increase the sale of good quality produce at higher prices.

    Vegetable farming in a plastic tunnel at Anantapur, Rajapur Municipality, Bardiya.

    Vegetable farming in a plastic tunnel at Anantapur, Rajapur Municipality, Bardiya.

    6. Enhanced skills, increased production and improved livelihoods

    Farmers’ field schools have been helping farmers to develop systemic thinking. At least 174 (28%) farmers in a FFS were growing mushroom which is new crop for them, 286 farmers have been growing green vegetables as new winter crop to most of them and selling them in local markets. In rainy season some members in the FFS tried planting flood tolerant rice variety Swarna Sub-1 recommended by research but new to them.

    Furthermore, FFS helped to improve community access to agriculture advisory services and weather information. Better access to reliable weather prediction services helps them to plan activities. Some farmers have altered input dates like preparing nursery bed or harvesting produce. The change in time depends upon the weather forecast of that period although not true for every time. FFS also changed farmers understanding on irrigation at vegetables. Farmers irrigate vegetables more efficiently comparing to past. Due to these knowledge and information, farmers are producing more and getting more income.

    7. Leveraging benefits to enhance flood resilience

    The FFS has been helping farmers grow different crops and increase income. Farmers have invested the income on their children’s formal education, health and fulfilling family’s daily needs. Some of them are saving for future. For instance, Mrs. Manju Chaudhary – a member of Navajagaran farmer group at Bangaun of Dhansinghpur Village Development Committee (VDC) is growing vegetables. She learned from FFS and made income NPR 85,000 (approximately $770) in the past two seasons. She has built her new home with a 2 feet 3 inches raised platform to avoid the flood impact, investing NPR 40,000. She has invested NPR 13,000 as a premium for insurance of her son. She has been paying monthly educational fee amounting NPR 1,500 for her two children and also constructed a biogas plant for NPR25,000.

    The FFS outcomes contribute to enhance family’s flood resilience making their economy and livelihood assets robust and resourceful and contributing to many themes that contribute to flood resilience. The learning process helps to find and adopt a number of choices and opportunity to innovate thereby building redundancy and enhancing rapidity to contain losses if any disastrous hazard hit them.

    Mushroom farming at Shantipur, Gola VDC, Bardiya.

    Mushroom farming at Shantipur, Gola VDC, Bardiya.

    8. Fostering flood resilience

    Sustainability of preventing losses of lives, assets and livelihoods is the prime outcome of flood resilience. This comes through a range of themes in at least five different livelihood capitals. The knowledge/skills and technologies gained by each farmer helps to maintain continuity of their household income even during ups and downs which will also influence other choices and decision making. The linkages developed with the local government and government service providers will be continued beyond project periods.  The institutional set up and linkage will help access support to recover the losses faster. These assemblies provide avenue for farmers to discuss with each other and learn together by doing and demonstrating. The approach has been instrumental in the area particularly for women to utilise time window of winter and dry season to grow lucrative crops and overcome the losses by flood during monsoon. Even during the flooding season, farmers have adopted flood tolerant varieties, different species mix and switching to different crops to diversify income sources. The farmers’ field school lasts for a year generally, however, enhanced confidence and learning sharing culture and access to their service providers and market will continue to improve fostering farmers’ resilience to flooding.

    Buddhiram Kumal is Project Officer, Nepal Flood Resilience Project and Dinanath Bhandari is Programme Coordinator, DRR and Climate Change, Practical Action South Asia Regional Office.

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  • The Inspirational Women of Bangladesh


    March 8th, 2016

    I have been in Bangladesh for the last 8 days, visiting Practical Action’s flood Early Warning System project on the banks of the Jamuna river. During this time, I have had the pleasure of meeting some inspirational women that I would like to introduce on this International Women’s Day 2016.

    First of all: the women of the Saidabad Community Based Organisation (CBO).

    women empowerment CBO

    Women of Saidabad CBO

    Of the 70 CBO members, 43 are women. Every week they deposit Tk 10 (about 9p) into the CBO savings account. It doesn’t sound like much, but it soon adds up and if and when their village is inundated by floods, they can take out the money they have saved and buy food for their families. The CBO has an annual plan, which includes such activities as repairing the road to the village, and assisting with distribution of government welfare to elderly people in the community.

    One of their most critical functions is their role in the flood Early Warning System (EWS). The national Flood Warning and Forecasting Centre (FWFC) generates a flood warning for each Union Parishad (local administrative unit) which is sent by voice SMS to several people in that area, including three of the CBO members. They share this information by word of mouth, through the CBO, giving people as much as three days warning ahead of the flood, with which they can move their belongings, livestock and seed to higher, drier ground, harvest what can be salvaged from their crops, and move their families to a safer location, perhaps with friends or relatives in nearby towns.

    I would also like to introduce Jayashri, who teaches at the Saidabad school (on the right):

    women empowerment

    Teacher at Saidabad school

    This particular school is funded by BRAC, one of the largest and most well-established NGOs in Bangladesh, which supports a school in nearly every village in the country. Although Practical Action does not support this school directly, this basic education is essential if women and girls are to thrive in their local community – and to lead and contribute to the CBOs!

    There are many others I could mention, like the entrepreneur who provides digital services to her local community using a laptop, printer and modem provided by Practical Action’s V2R project, generating a very good livelihood that supports her family. In return, she also helps to spread flood early warnings, by updating the community weather information board.

    These inspirational women have not got to where they are without facing some challenges. Bangladesh has made incredible gains in reducing gender disparity, with the 8th lowest gender gap in the developing world (World Bank, 2016). The maternal mortality rate halved between 2000 and 2014 (Ibid), and women’s life expectancy rose from 54.3 years in 1980 to 69.3 years in 2010 (ILO, 2016). The female under five mortality rate is 20% lower than that of boys (UNICEF, 2011). Furthermore, the number of women holding seats in national parliament doubled between 2000 and 2014, from 9 to 20 (World Bank, 2016).

    However, some inequalities remain. While secondary school enrolment for women has increased to 51.3%, the percentage of those who finish secondary education varies widely by income group: 93% of women from high income families finish, while only 31% of women from low income families do (Ibid).

    According to the ILO, Bangladeshi society is moving away from the idea of women as a financial liability, however, their participation in the jobs market is concentrated in the lower level jobs, and on average are paid around 50% less than men.

    So yes, challenges remain. But Bangladesh has made huge strides towards gender equality in the last 15 years, and the women I have been lucky to meet this week are a living testament to what can be done for the country when they are enabled to lead and support their communities. Here’s to another 15 years of moving in the right direction.

     

    References

    ILO (2016). A quiet revolution: women in Bangladesh. Available at: http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/comment-analysis/WCMS_234670/lang–en/index.htm

    UNICEF (2011). A perspective on gender equality in Bangladesh. Available at: http://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/Gender_paper_Final_2011_Low.pdf

    World Bank (2016). Gender Data Portal. Available at: http://datatopics.worldbank.org/gender/country/bangladesh

     

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  • Disaster Risk Reduction and political economy


    January 19th, 2016

    At Practical Action, we know that investment in disaster risk reduction (DRR) is far more effective and efficient at saving lives and livelihoods than post-disaster relief – although both are necessary, to a greater or lesser degree. When more is invested in appropriate DRR, less relief is needed – as per the oft quoted fact that every $1 spent on DRR saves at least $7 in post-disaster relief (UNDP, 2016).

    Unfortunately, it is not always possible to carry out those DRR activities that are the most obvious or the most urgent, because DRR is inextricably linked to the political economy.

    For example: Practical Action works with one community just outside Piura, in northern Peru. Piura is the capital of a province with the same name and is economically the second most important region in the country outside of Lima.

    The community of Polvorines is built on a seasonal wetland, so that during heavy rains, the water naturally drains there. The last time there was severe El Niño flooding in the area many houses were washed away and great damage done to life and livelihoods. One might think this would deter people from living in the area, but that was over 10 years ago now, and recent migrants to the area find it hard to worry about such a sporadic event. Furthermore, they have put much time, effort and resources into building their homes in a place from which they can reach their livelihoods in Piura, and the surrounding agricultural zone. Persuading them to move would not be easy, even if it were as simple as moving them into ready-made housing in another location – which it is not. The local municipality will not encourage them to leave either, as it was they who encouraged them to live here in the first place.

     

    flood disaster Peru risk reduction

    Los Polvorines, Peru

     

    So what can we do in such a difficult situation? Practical Action is using the Markets for DRR approach (M4DRR) to analyse some of the post-disaster risks associated with reconstruction, and see if they may be reduced. For example, should a large reconstruction effort be needed, will there be sufficient labour and construction materials available locally? Where are the bottlenecks in the market chain that moves construction materials to the area, for example, are there any vulnerable bridges that might be washed out? How much will it cost to reinstate basic services, such as water and electricity, and who will be able to access credit to pay for these? On what terms?

    The people of Los Polvorines are endangering themselves by living on unsuitable land because they cannot afford to live elsewhere. In the long-run, choices will have to be made. A flood event may provide the stimulus to move households to a more secure and appropriate location, if such a place can be found which still enables people to access their livelihoods. If not, ways will have to be found to make the area more suitable for habitation, for example by improving drainage, or raising houses onto stilts. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the community of Los Polvorines to mediate risk wherever possible.

     

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