Blogs tagged as flood

  • IPCC special report on 1.5°C


    October 8th, 2018

    In 2015 the Paris Agreement, the global compact signed by the governments of the planet to tackle climate change, was agreed. In the negotiated process to reach this agreement some governments still had doubts about the degree of warming that was acceptable and necessary to maintain global development. These governments led by Saudi Arabia, asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to undertake a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Recognising as we do that some increased emissions in developing countries may be necessary in efforts to eradicate poverty. This report and the summary for policy makers, based on review of more than 6,000 independent research papers was released on Monday 8th October at 3am UK time.

    The report identifies that human activities have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels and if action isn’t forthcoming global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C by 2030. This warming is set to persist for generations even if zero emissions pathways were implemented immediately. The report indicates that current global challenges related to heatwaves in inhabited regions (high confidence), increased rainfall and flooding in several regions (medium confidence), and expanding drought (medium confidence). So the heatwaves, forest fires, tropical storms, flood and droughts aren’t going to go away any time soon.

     

    Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C is projected to lower the impacts on terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain (high confidence). Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C. So we need to act and we need to act now.

    One existing opportunity is to link action to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has long been realised that tackling climate change is essential to deliver on the SDG’s. The graphic below illustrates the linkages between mitigation options and the SDGs, clearly demonstrating that our future is incompatible with continued use of fossil fuels.

    Mitigation options deployed in each sector can be associated with potential positive effects (synergies) or negative effects (trade-offs) with the SDGs. The degree to which this potential is realised will depend on the selected mitigation options, the supporting policy and local circumstances and context. Particularly in the energy sector, the potential for synergies is much greater than for trade-offs, a reminder that we need to commit to zero emissions and need to act on this now.

    Based on the stark evidence nations must now respond by signalling their intention to increase their national emission reduction pledges under the Paris Agreement. They have the perfect opportunity as this December the world gathers for the annual UN climate talks. We need to lobby our governments to take this report and its message seriously. They must commit to strengthen policies and actions that cut global greenhouse gas emissions, invest in measures to limit future climate risks, and do more to help communities cope with the climate impacts that are now unavoidable.

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  • Why is Raspberry Pi perfect for building flood resilience?


    August 20th, 2018

    Could a palm-sized $10 computer become a life-saving tool against disasters and climate change? In this blog, Rob Mullins (Raspberry Pi co-founder) and Miguel Arestegui (Disaster Risk Reduction specialist at Practical Action) discuss how the Raspberry Pi micro-computer is building flood resilience in Peru and how it could help us in the future.

    A Raspberry Pi micro-computer. Source: www.acadecap.org

    A Raspberry Pi micro-computer. Source: www.acadecap.org

    Creator meets user

    Raspberry Pi was founded by Rob Mullins and five other friends in 2009 at Cambridge University. Rob and Eben Upton (now CEO of Raspberry Pi trading) met to discuss “how applicants for computer science had fallen sharply and how those applying had less experience than in the past. The solution, we thought, was to build a low-cost computer. The idea was that this would be something that children could own, experiment and create with and build into exciting projects.”

    Since then, more than 15million Raspberry Pi computers have been manufactured and it has become the go-to technology for creating low-cost, yet powerful, solutions to local problems.

    Miguel Arestegui and his team have used the technology to adapt and improve flood early warning systems in Peru

    “As part of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance we’re working in communities [in Chosica, Peru] where we have the problem not only of floods but also of rapid debris flow”. 

    Without enough warning, communities cannot escape the danger. Although national warning systems do exist, Miguel explains, “There is a strong distrust of flood forecasts, because we have a serious lack of historical data in this area”. An effective local solution was clearly needed.

    Miguel’s team discovered that the “Raspberry Pi Foundation has this weather station kit  for high schools, and that gave us an idea: what if we tackle this need…[by] adapting or developing this sort of early warning system?” 

    Miguel and Practical Action then worked with the community and local government to implement a warning system controlled by monitoring stations based on Raspberry Pi. The micro-computers receive and process information on rainfall, soil moisture and river water levels, and take pictures. This information then feeds into platforms that issue alerts.

    An ‘end-to-end’ early warning system composed of four components, including monitoring which in Chosica is controlled by Raspberry Pi. Source: Practical Action

    An ‘end-to-end’ early warning system composed of four components, including monitoring which in Chosica is controlled by Raspberry Pi. Source: Practical Action

    From toy box to tool box

    So what is it about the Raspberry Pi that makes it the perfect flood resilience tool?

    It’s open-source

    “The fact that the board is used by so many people means it’s become a standard component” says Rob. Plus, because all those users are creating projects with open-source code “other people can build on them and improve them”. This means there’s a community of people and experience to kick-start new projects.

    Miguel’s experience demonstrates this advantage: “We completely constructed this [early warning system] with the community. The open-source code was the building block that helped us complete this in […] just over one year. It would have been impossible if we were working on our own.” 

    It’s adaptable

    Because users have full access to Raspberry Pi codes without commercial constraints, the technology can be tailored perfectly to fit need. “People are able to use computers as tools” says Rob, “they’re able to produce the solutions themselves rather than having to go to someone else to provide the implementation. This stimulates local solutions to local problems.”  

    For example, in Chosica the previous early warning system was controlled by nation-wide commercially-owned software, which made local-scale changes impossible. But Miguel explains that because the new system was based on Raspberry Pi adaptations could be made based on local knowledge, for example “to take data more often than what technical studies would suggest. This was later found to be necessary based on the short lead time for these rapid events, stressing the importance of local memory in data scarce regions. The fact that these technologies can be locally adapted makes them good for building resilience, which goes way beyond isolated preparedness measures.”

    It’s low-cost but not low-tech

    “Previously, low-cost implied low-tech” says Miguel. To have both high-tech and low-cost “is providing a new platform that could help link the gap between local needs in developing countries and the usual high cost of equipment that hinders National Scientific Institutions to address those needs”. 

    Rob agrees, he has seen that “there is enormous scope to…replicate an expensive and very specialised system using something like Raspberry Pi to produce something that is technically almost as good, but using a very low-cost solution.”  

    Miguel Arestegui with first version monitoring station controlled by Raspberry Pi in Chosica, Peru. Source: Practical Action

    Miguel Arestegui with first version monitoring station controlled by Raspberry Pi in Chosica, Peru. Source: Practical Action

    The future of risk, resilience and Raspberry Pi

    How do our experts think the technology will change in the future, and how could this make an even better tool in the fight against climate change?

    Better hardware

    Rob, as the hardware expert, thinks the next few years will bring “ultra-low power computers that can be used in these monitoring applications. Also computers that eventually just biodegrade and don’t have the impact on the environment that they do today.”

    Better connectivity

    Miguel sees a future where more and more of us are connected to the internet. “Right now there are some constraints with connectivity that I think are going to start changing quite rapidly. [This] is going to provide so many tools for people in vulnerable situations”. 

    Changing the way people can share their own knowledge will help them cope with climate change. According to Miguel, “in climate vulnerable areas there is a critical problem in the lack of connection between the impacts of climate change and the amount of data you have in those areas. I think that these technologies can help the role of local information that communities themselves can provide to address this gap.”

    Better networks

    Rob says “even though the community is very strong I still think there are opportunities to build better networks, for example between universities in different countries”.

    But Miguel predicts better networks may also need to exist at higher levels. “I am curious to see if we arrive at some sort of standardisation of these open-source and decentralised initiatives. It is useful to adapt development to local contexts but I think to scale-up these initiatives and make them reliable and robust enough to take to high-level discussions, a level of standardisation is needed.” 

    Local volunteer Anghelo Dueñas with the latest version of the Raspberry Pi based monitoring station. Source: Practical Action

    Local volunteer Anghelo Dueñas with the latest version of the Raspberry Pi based monitoring station. Source: Practical Action

    To discover more solutions for building flood resilience, or to find other information and guidance visit The Flood Resilience Portal

    Or find out more about Chosica’s flood early warning system in this technical brief, or this 360 degree video 

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  • Collaborative mapping creating local flood resilience with global impact


    June 1st, 2018

    Worldwide, floods are becoming more intense and unpredictable every year. Communities in developing countries face many barriers to protecting themselves, their homes and their livelihoods from these floods. But a new digital mapping approach, developed by the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, is helping people to understand this risk, prepare for floods and protect themselves.

    The data gap that undermines resilience

    It’s vital for communities to be able to plan for flood events: by identifying safe places to go and by protecting their buildings, livestock, crops and other infrastructure. But in developing countries this planning is made difficult by a lack of accurate information. Without detailed local maps communities don’t know where the risks or safe places are, or where to find resources to support them, like safe shelters, clinics, or safe sources of drinking water. When community maps do exist they are often hand-drawn, inaccurate and useful only to a small number of people.

    A typical community risk map

    The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (ZFRA) has developed an approach to address this issue: we have been working to combine collaborative digital mapping techniques with community-based mapping methods.

    Bringing local knowledge to a global scale

    To bridge the data gap in local information we used OpenStreetMap, an emerging open-source platform which is based on contributions from people all around the world: from engineers and humanitarians to mapping enthusiasts. These contributors use aerial photos, GPS and low-tech field maps to give accurate and up-to-date information about their location.

    We were able to take the information provided by this new technology and combine it with the local knowledge of volunteer mappers, who compared the digital information with what they could see on the ground.

    Using this combination of local and global knowledge, we were able to produce highly detailed information which is more accurate, easier to update and easier share. With this information,  more people can be better informed about the risk they face, and so make decisions to keep themselves safe.

    Use case: collaborative digital mapping in Nepal

    In the Karnali river basin in Nepal – , where flooding last year alone killed 135 people, destroyed 80,000 homes and resulted in an estimated £61 million worth of crops lost –   we mapped over 50,000 buildings and 100 km of road thanks to the efforts of a dozen local social workers. They identified agricultural land, community forests, safe shelters and irrigation canals: information which had previously not been captured. This allowed communities to visualise their risks, resources and resilience in a way that was impossible before.

    Comparison of hazard map of Chakkhapur community before and after digital mapping approach

    What this means for flood resilience

    This approach is an exciting step forward which means that communities will have access to information which is specific to their location and helps them to make decisions based on the risks they face and the resources they have. When we know not just where floods are likely to occur, but where, for example health posts, schools and water pumps are, we can think about what risks the flood itself poses to a community: Will safe drinking water be contaminated? Will people have access to health care? Will children be able to get to school or will the roads be washed away?

    This means that communities can plan effectively and take the most effective action to protect themselves from the impacts of flooding, whether it’s raising water pumps so that they are above the anticipated flood water level, relocating supplies or reinforcing roads.

    So far, we have applied this approach in Nepal, Peru and Mexico. There is huge potential for this mapping approach to build resilience in hazard-prone communities around the world.

    Read more:

    Full paper – Integrated Participatory and Collaborative Risk Mapping for Enhancing Disaster Resilience

    Policy Brief – Participatory digital mapping: building community resilience in Nepal, Peru and Mexico

    Related Post – Flood Dynamics in the Karnali River Basin

    Related Post – Floods and Landslides in Nepal, August 2017

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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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  • 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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  • Flood Early Warning Systems from a Gender Lens


    July 13th, 2017

    BIO: Prior to her master studies at the University of Edinburgh’s International Development, İpek Aybay has worked at a voluntary business organization of leading entrepreneurs and executives of the business community in Turkey as an expert at the Information Society and Innovation Department where she has made research on technology, innovation and development. Currently, she works at UNHCR head office in Ankara, Turkey as a Senior Protection Assistant. 

    We are mentioning technology as a tool for changing our lives so often that it has become a ‘cliché’. This mentioned “change” however, seems to be very relative depending on which part you live in the world. As an example, for someone living in a country not exposed to natural hazards, technology is in most cases a tool to facilitate daily life, using GPS system to find address or to check traffic jam. On the other hand, in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal where natural hazards happen frequently, technology could save lives. In this sense, Early Warning Systems (EWS) for floods are an example for proving the crucial role of technology in disaster risk reduction.

    When we look at the role of technology in development and resilience, we can easily realise that this subject is almost always paradoxical. While some advocate it strongly, others criticise it harshly. For this reason, when I had to choose my dissertation subject at the International Development Department of the University of Edinburgh, disaster risk reduction seemed a very convenient area of study. Practical Action’s EWS projects in Nepal and Bangladesh immediately drew my attention and I decided to study these programmes from a gender lens. Why I selected Nepal and Bangladesh? And why this perspective was needed?

    A woman using one of Practical Action’s tube wells in Bangladesh

    Nepal and Bangladesh were two key countries for proving the significance of EWS, as both countries are part of a continent where 95% of the people who are affected by floods have lived in the last decade according to CRED and UNISDR.  Despite many differences in the ways in which these countries are affected by floods, EWS in both countries have a great potential to save lives and reduce the impact of natural hazards. For this reason, Practical Action has developed various projects concerning EWS in close collaboration with the governments of Nepal and Bangladesh. My main objective was to reveal the gender gap in these projects in order to better assess impacts of disaster resilience activities.

    As the efficiency of flood EWS depends on the ways in which people perceive and process risk information[1], without understanding the risk perception of communities and the factors affecting their decisions, it is not possible to expect EWS to operate efficiently. A variety of factors ranging from gender and socio-economic status to cultural values can affect the ways in which EWS operate among which gender can be specified as an essential factor.

    Scholars suggest that women are affected disproportionately by floods and are often referred to as the ‘most vulnerable’ by different institutions that are involved in flood response. For instance, UNIFEM (2010) reports that during the 2010 floods in Pakistan, despite flood EWS in place, there were women who refused to leave their houses for reasons such as “disbelief of flood warning; concerns of theft or occupation of, or losing claim to property; reluctance to move to camps due to cultural norms, and hesitation about taking women and girls out of protected environment of homes exposing them to strangers”. Furthermore, as evidenced by various scholars, floods also increase “women’s domestic burden” as in most households women depend on their houses for sustaining their livelihoods. In contrast, although it is known that a gender-inclusive EWS is essential for reducing loss of lives, the gender factor is often neglected when designing related projects. For this reason, it is very important to consider flood EWS in a gender framework, rather than define it as a technical process independent from the gender and power relations in place.

    Mother and daughter at flood-proof community, Bangladesh

    I conducted semi-structured interviews with government officials, Practical Action employees from different country offices, local NGOs and international organisations. During my work based placement with Practical Action, I found out very interesting differences in gender aspect of EWS projects among country offices as well as between advisory and project implementation levels. One of the most prominent findings was that different people had different interpretations of the terms “gender-sensitive” and “gender-disaggregated”. This has led to variations in the responses to the questions around gender in both of my focus countries, Nepal and Bangladesh. In the Nepali context, I was able to speak to a government official and it was puzzling to see that INGOs and in particular Practical Action was referred as more involved with the gender aspect of flood EWS at the community level. Therefore, understanding gender interpretations within organisations is essential as their actions directly affect communities and their responses to disasters. On the other hand, it was not surprising to find out that donors were also key players about the gender inclusiveness level of the projects as there were clear differences when a gender goal was set by a donor organisation and when it was not.

    Unfortunately, there was a considerable evidence to suggest that in both Nepal and Bangladesh, gender dynamics of EWS are often neglected or seen as an external factor by the key organisations as well as governments. In relation to this, further research is needed to explore the ways in which EWS programmes could move beyond the current approach based on needs in order to adopt a gender approach. Indeed, it is essential for an NGO to have the same understanding of gender-sensitive programme making among its staff members. If the views in this regard are different or opposed in an institution, procedural documents cannot deliver their aims in the field. Instead, it could exacerbate the already existing gender power relations as gender roles amplify the liability on the already overburdened women during the time of the disasters.

    Community visit to early warning tower

    My experience with Practical Action enriched my knowledge in many ways. Being a part of the organisation at all times made it easier to contact key staff as well as government officials. Further, as I was affiliated with the University of Edinburgh, I believe this allowed me to study and analyse the institution relatively more objectively. In conclusion, I believe the practice programme has been beneficial both for me and for the organisation, especially with regards to the communication within the organisation around gender issues. It is possible to see that, when people become aware of each other’s varying interpretations of the same issue, it could help them to rethink of their actions, re-evaluate their approach and eventually reinvent their influence on the communities. According to me, this was the most important positive outcome.

    [1] Twigg, J. “The Human Factor in Early Warnings: Risk Perception and Appropriate Communications” (2003).

     

    Curious to find out more? Have a look at Practical Action’s publications: 

    Flood Early Warning System in Practice: Experiences of Nepal

    Delivering Early Warning Systems for the Poorest: From flood-vulnerable to flood-resilient communities

     

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  • UNISDR 2017 Global Platform


    , | May 23rd, 2017

    Risk reduction must deliver for the poorest and most vulnerable

    In Sendai, Japan, a location that had been devastated by the eastern pacific Tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear accident, the world came together in March 2015 to sign into force the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030. This framework aims to influence the policy and practice of national governments to reduce their risk, by providing practical guidance on how to reduce risk, how to prepare for disasters in cases where risk cannot be totally removed and to provide targets and indicators to monitor progress.

    This week in Cancun Mexico the world gathers for the first time since Sendai to report on progress. Cancun will greet world leaders, representatives from governments, the private sector, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and community members. Practical Action is taking advantage of this gathering to demonstrate our expertise in community flood protection and will share our key lessons learned with this global audience.

    What are our key messages for this community? Practical Action along with our partners the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Zurich Insurance Company and the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) will be presenting the lessons learned from our field projects at a number of key events. The messages that we will share with the global community are as follows;

    • Development must be restricted in hazardous zones and incentives for development that lead to urbanisation of risk areas should be avoided.
    • Investment is necessary in large scale flood risk management practices, including soft measures such as, erosion control, river widening, natural retention areas and hard construction approaches, levees, reservoirs, dams and weirs particularly to protect critical areas.
    • Nature based approaches to flood management are often overlooked, but healthy natural environments provide numerous services that help to reduce the impact of floods, from healthy natural habitats increasing infiltration and slowing run off, to a combination of nature based with more traditional flood mitigation measures to enhance the protection and reduce the investment and maintenance costs of hard infrastructure.
    • Hard infrastructure protection measures should be prioritised to protect essential infrastructure such as hospitals and power stations, etc. but must avoid incentivising the construction of new assets in the flood plain.
    • Pre-event financial options, including investment in pre event response measures, insurance, social support, and innovative risk transfer mechanisms are vital and must incorporate and respond to learning from advances in early warning systems and impact forecasting.
    • Post disaster streamlined access to these prearranged lines of credit and dedicated flood relief programmes, to ensure reconstruction can start promptly, while learning from the event to build back better.
    • Knowledge sharing and facilitation to all stakeholders is vital, but in particular honest reporting of lessons learned to communities enhances their self-protection and nurtures human agency. No one can be 100% resilient to flooding but by working in concert with neighbours benefits can be delivered at multiple scales.

    Strengthening community flood resilience requires a process this is multi-scalar, multi-sectoral and involves numerous actors; it cannot be achieved by governments, organisations of individuals acting alone. Flood risk reduction must be an integral part of policy making, planning and implementation. Effective flood risk reduction requires mutual partnerships with governments, private sector and civil society working alongside communities. With increased ability to learn, adapt and cope with shocks and stresses, communities can protect and build on development gains that they have already made, prevent their erosion, reverse accumulating losses and address the effects of underlying vulnerability that hold back their development potential. Floods are a natural phenomenon, and attempts to control flooding have proven short lived and futile, with climate change exacerbating the risk of floods we need to get smarter about our environment and learn to live with floods.

    http://www.unisdr.org/conferences/2017/globalplatform/en
    The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
    http://www.unisdr.org/

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  • Roxana Añez – Empowered by emergency


    March 22nd, 2017

    Roxana Añez is a Bolivian woman and a mother of nine children. She lives in small indigenous community in Tacana Altamarani which is located onroxana the river Beni, three hours downriver from San Buenaventura.

    Roxana, an intelligent and driven woman, has always wanted to study and increase her knowledge for the benefit of herself and her community. Unfortunately, because of the social and cultural norms, it has not been possible. Like in many other indigenous communities in Bolivia, a woman’s role is to ‘serve’ her husband and children. This meant that Roxana, like other women in Altamarani, had to spend her days walking to the river bank and back to collect water and to do the washing. After these daily chores, there was no time left for anything else.

    “That was our life. To climb up that ravine under the burning sun, with all the bottles of water and clothes that needed washing.”

    In 2014, the course of Roxana’s life suddenly changed. This was the year when heavy rains and flooding tormented the little community in Altamarani. Because of the flooding, the people in the community lost over 80 per cent of their crops. In addition, their access to clean water was cut – leaving the whole community on the brink of survival.

    roxana2Practical Action, in partnership with Christian Aid, responded to the emergency. Based on the analysis of the situation, they quickly identified, that the primary need in the area was clean water. Because of the flooding, the water was difficult to access. In addition to this, the water in river Beni was contaminated, causing severe health problems.

    In order to solve the problem, Practical Action installed a solar-powered water pumping system which is a great technology for emergency response because it does not require any fuel costs. Thanks to this new technology, people in Altamarani now have access to clean water at their homes.

    Because of the installed water pumping system, Roxana no longer spends her days walking to the river bank and back. This means that she finally has time to educate herself and to do other things she has always dreamt of. Shortly after the pumping system was built, she participated in the agroforestry knowledge exchange programme that thought her new, sustainable ways of farming.

    “I have now returned to my community to put all that knowledge into practice. I wish everyone had the opportunity to leave and participate in these kind of activities, so they can learn. I want to keep learning.”

    Because of her knowledge and eagerness to learn, Roxana is now one of the leaders in her community. Together with her husband, she owns a farm that produces fruits and medical plants. In the future, Roxana wants to keep on learning and developing herself for the benefit of the community.

    Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site  and meet other inspiring women just like Roxana!

    Want to help women like Roxana this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here. 

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  • Using technology to go beyond the ‘Resilience’ buzzword


    August 8th, 2016

    “Sustainable…Participatory…Resilience”…I have to admit that I hate buzzwords – they get thrown about so much that they can often lose their real meaning and ability to do any good. That is why to me the work of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is so important. The Alliance works not only to increase the resilience of communities to floods but also to determine once and for all what makes a community resilient?

    Resilience is complicated; there are hundreds of papers, discussions and frameworks floating around the development space. Yet there are no empirically verified frameworks that lay out the contributing factors to resilience[1]. If we don’t know this how can we tell if we are successfully building resilience?

    To address this, the Alliance has developed the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool. Working jointly, the Alliance has identified 88 different sources that contribute to flood resilience and is currently halfway through a two year testing phase.

    Flooding in Bangladesh

    Flooding in Bangladesh

    The Technology

    Here is the most exciting part, the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool has been developed into a web based tool and an App. The web tool allows the user to design a study that can be sent directly to the designated field worker’s Android App in their local language. Working offline the field worker fills in responses directly to the app just like a regular survey. The data is easily synchronised to the web tool which generates a summary and collates relevant data together for simple comparison. A simple A, B, C, D grading exercise is then carried out across all 88 sources by team members before a summary is then automatically produced.

    Why is this good for the community?

    Helping people cope with climate change. Floating gardens enable poor families in Bangladesh to grow crops even when the land is floodedThe App: Saves our beneficiaries time during data collection so they can get back to doing what matters to them. Automatic uploading of data saves our teams time so they can spend more time working on things that really matter.

    The Grading: Generates informed discussion and gives our teams a greater knowledge of where they work, allowing them to make more informed decisions.

    The Web Tool: Simply presented results that can be looked at under a variety of lenses allowing us to make links which may have previously been missed.

    The Big Data Set: Data is entered into the tool from a variety of different contexts and countries by several different organisations. Through testing pre and post-flood events researchers hope to identify global trends in community resilience and determine once and for all where to focus disaster risk reduction interventions for maximum community impact.

    Read more about the Alliance and the Measurement tool or get in touch at adele.murphy@practicalaction.org.uk

    [1] Thomas Winderl, “Disaster Resilience Measurements: Stocktaking of Ongoing Efforts in Developing Systems for Measuring Resilience,” United Nations Development Programme, February 2014,

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