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Understanding Risk Forum

Three innovative approaches for managing disaster risks

Emma Phillips's picture

When Dara Dotz, an industrial designer, travelled to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010, she saw firsthand the supply chain challenges people were facing that had life threatening consequences – most vividly, a nurse having to use her medical gloves to tie off the umbilical cords of newborn babies, because she didn’t have access to an umbilical clamp. Deploying a 3D printer, Dara was able to design a locally manufactured, inexpensive plastic clamp that could be used in the local hospitals for newborns.
 
From there, Dara co-founded Field Ready, an NGO that is part of the “maker movement,” which pilots new technologies to rapidly manufacture components of essential supplies in the field. Using 3D printing and a range of software, Field Ready works with volunteers to make lifesaving medical components like IV bag hooks, oxygen splitters, and umbilical cord clamps, an approach that has often proven to be both quicker and cheaper than waiting for shipments to arrive.


This is one example of local innovation and design in disaster situations. With trends of rising population growth, increased urbanization, and climate projections of more frequent and intense weather, more people and assets are at risk from natural hazards. Communities and governments need to think creatively and find new ways to build resilience, and some of the latest developments in science and technology can provide promising solutions.

Over the past few decades, there has been an exponential increase in the amount of information and data that is open and available – whether from satellites and drones collecting data from above, or from crowdsourced information and social media from citizens on the ground. When analyzed holistically, this data can provide valuable insight for understanding the risks and establishing a common operating picture.

The disaster risk management funding gap in fragile, conflict and violence-affected countries

Thomas Lennartz's picture

Saddled with weak political systems and ravaged by strife, fragile, conflict and violence-affected countries suffer some of the largest losses from natural disasters. According to the Overseas Development Institute, 58 percent of deaths from disasters between 2004 and 2014 occurred in countries with fragile contexts. Across the globe, rapid urbanization and climate change are further increasing the exposure and vulnerability of these communities to natural hazards.


Yet, even as people in fragile, conflict and violence-affected countries struggle to cope with the growing dangers from natural disasters, the international donor community has been slow to respond, explains Thomas Lennartz of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). Tellingly between 2005 and 2010, for every $100 spent on humanitarian assistance to these countries, only $1.30 was spent on disaster risk management (DRM).
 
So what can be done to help close this funding gap? In this video from the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, hosted by GFDRR and the World Bank, Lennartz offers his take – and shares a few insights on GFDRR’s emerging DRM portfolio in fragile, conflict and violence-affected countries.
 

How stories can help communicate volcanic risk to communities

Alanna Simpson's picture
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Violent volcanic eruptions in Indonesia, Hawaii, and Guatemala have made the world’s headlines in the past few weeks. The eruption of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano has claimed the lives of 110 people and triggered the evacuations of thousands from their homes.

Despite popular belief and public expectation, volcanic eruptions are extraordinarily difficult to predict. Oftentimes, they happen with limited warning, which leaves little if any time for authorities to react, much less communicate the risk to those affected. At other times, a volcano may seem to show all the signs of an imminent eruption, but it doesn’t happen.

When communicating disaster risk and coordinating a response, there’s also more to it than merely predicting whether an eruption will occur. Scientists need to use data and information to determine the potential size, duration and characteristics of the eruption. Will it be explosive, triggering deadly pyroclastic flows and widespread ash, or something else?


The scientific uncertainties surrounding volcanic eruption forecasting are among the many challenges associated with communicating the potential for volcanic eruption to surrounding populations. This is especially true for communities living near volcanoes that have not erupted in recent memory. Science can help, but far too often, it’s not enough to get people and communities to take action.

Iain Stewart, Professor of Geoscience Communication at the University of Plymouth, makes the case that risk communicators also need to leverage the power of stories and narratives to help communities understand the situation. “When you go look at examples where disaster preparedness has failed, it’s because there’s been no enduring, compelling narrative beneath it,” Stewart pointed out.

In this video interview from the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, hosted by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and the World Bank, Stewart discusses the role of stories and narratives in volcanic risk communication with Alanna Simpson, Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist at the World Bank. 

What Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines told us about building back better

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

The Philippines is increasingly exposed and vulnerable to natural hazards.
 
Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which struck the country in 2013, was considered one of the strongest tropical storms ever to make landfall (at 380 kilometer / hour wind gusts). It caused over 6,300 fatalities and affected 1,472,251 families in 171 cities and municipalities across the 14 provinces in 6 regions. Total damage and loss was estimated at $12.9 billion (Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda 2013).
 
The World Bank assessed the post-Yolanda rehabilitation and recovery efforts, and this has resulted in the following recommendations:

 

Understanding Risk Forum 2018: How data and technology can save (hundreds of) billions of dollars from natural disasters

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

Natural disasters made 2017 a very expensive year.
 
At $330 billion, last year’s global losses from disasters set a record. These economic losses were primarily a result of meteorological events, such as floods and hurricanes, which are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. An increasing number of people are also exposed to tectonic risks, such as earthquakes and landslides, due to rapid urbanization.
 
But growing disaster losses aren’t inevitable. Policy changes, education, and good disaster risk management practices have been proven to reduce losses – and the foundation of all of them is accurate, reliable information about disaster risks.
 
Risk data informs resilience investments. It drives decision-making. And it’s the focus of the open, global community of disaster risk management experts and practitioners called Understanding Risk (UR), which is supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).
 
This year, the community will convene at the Understanding Risk Forum 2018 May 14–18 in Mexico City. The Forum will highlight best practices, facilitate nontraditional partnerships, and showcase the latest technical knowledge in disaster risk identification.



It’s a critical time for a discussion of disaster risk information. A new GFDRR report, Aftershocks: Remodeling the Past for a Resilient Future, concludes that if past disasters were to repeat in the same places today, the losses would be far greater. Aftershocks, which will be discussed at UR2018, explores what we can learn from historic disasters to anticipate similar future events and build resilience ahead of time.
 
The good news is that the past few years have seen a surge of new ways to get more accurate, more detailed information more quickly, more easily, and in more difficult contexts. We can now use social media to gather increasingly valuable information in the immediate aftermath of an event. Drones are increasingly capturing high-quality images, and machine learning for image recognition is already helping us produce more and better risk data all the time.
 
These emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, will be one of the major themes of this year’s UR Forum. To find out more about the UR Forum, and how you can get involved, watch the video blog and visit understandrisk.org.
 
And don’t forget to keep up with all the great ideas coming out of #UR2018 by following along on Twitter: @UnderstandRisk, @GFDRR, and @WBG_Cities.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
 

Ponto-cho mapIt is 7:45 p.m. in Ponto-cho, the historic narrow alley at the core of the Japanese city of Kyoto. Close to the Kaburenjo Theater – where still today Geikos and Maikos (Kyoto Geishas) practice their dances and performances – the traditional adjoining buildings with restaurants and shops are full of guests. Local people, tourists, students… On this Saturday in mid-April, the warm weather brings a lot of people to the streets nearby.

At 7:46 p.m., a M 5.1 earthquake strikes. Seven seconds of swaying. It doesn’t cause major damage, but it is enough to spread panic among a group of tourists. Screams, shoving, confusion… drinks spill, candles fall, people rush.

At 7:49 p.m., the fire starts spreading through the old wooden structures, also threatening the historic theater. Access is difficult due to the narrow streets and panicking crowd.

What happens next?

It could be a fire in the Ponto-cho traditional alley. It could be an earthquake shaking the historic center of Kathmandu (Nepal), the archaeological site of Bagan (Myanmar), or the historic town of Amatrice (Italy). It could be Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, blasting sites with rain, flooding, and gale-force winds.

Cultural heritage assets around the world are at risk. They are often vulnerable due to their age, as well as previous interventions and restorations made without disaster risk or overall site stability in mind. Heritage sites reflect legacies, traditions, and identities. With all this, they carry a large cultural and emotional value of what could be lost – certainly beyond the traditional calculus of economic losses.

In many cases, it is not possible or advisable to conduct reconstruction on cultural heritage sites post-disaster. Therefore, the essence and soul of a cultural heritage site is at risk of being lost forever, making preparedness and preservation even more critical.

How can we protect these special places and traditions from the threat of natural hazards?

Go with the flow – adaptive management for urban flood risk

Adeline Choy's picture
Photo: Flooding in Yangon. Source: Flickr


The future is uncertain. It’s hard to know exactly how our climate will change. That means there is also deep uncertainty around its impacts on flooding, the most prevalent disaster worldwide. Floods account for 43% of all recorded disaster events in the past 20 years. Will climate change exacerbate flooding events? How much will sea level rise? How extreme will rainfall be?

What we do know is that the best way to cope with uncertainty is flexibility.

While it may be difficult to predict impacts, we can – and must – take action. Growing uncertainty means preparation is even more urgent. To meet future challenges, we need adaptable urban flood management today.

Communicating volcanic risk: lava, eruptions and uncertainty

Jon Mikel Walton's picture
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, one of Central America’s most active volcanos, spews ash and lava flows in January 2018, just 70 kilometers west of Guatemala City. Image credit: NASA
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, one of Central America’s most active volcanos, spews ash and lava flows in January 2018, just 70 kilometers west of Guatemala City. Image credit: NASA

We live in an age of compounding uncertainty. The unpredictable impacts of climate change and the rapid urbanization of societies is increasing the complexity, difficulty, and necessity of making sound decisions when faced with numerous options. This uncertainty is acute with respect to natural disasters – for example, predicting hurricane intensity or locating the next big earthquake remain challenging tasks despite advances in science and monitoring tools.
 
The challenge of anticipating and communicating the risk of volcanic eruptions to communities requires complex decision-making. Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano and Indonesia’s Mount Agung are recent examples where the warning signs were present (small earthquakes, increasing gas emissions, and more), yet an eruption came much later than expected. Volcanic eruptions are therefore a double-edged sword that often creates a decision-making dilemma. While signs of volcanic activity can provide adequate time for preparation and evacuation, the very same signs can also create conditions of extreme uncertainty, which can be exacerbated by piecemeal communication around eruption events.
 
So, what have we learned from recent experiences on the challenges of communicating volcanic risk?