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The double affliction: conflict and natural hazard – the importance of tackling disaster risk amidst insecurity.

Mark Weegmann28 June 2021

This blog is also posted on The Anticipation Hub.


In January 2015, Storm Huda brought heavy snow, torrential downpours, and strong wind across the Levant. For Gaza and the West Bank in occupied Palestinian territories this resulted in the death of three children and one adult, almost 2,000 households newly evacuated or displaced, and extensive damage to fields, greenhouses, and livestock affecting 9,000 farmers (IFCR, 2015). It triggered a state of emergency and an international response effort. Whilst localised damage was reported in Israel, having similar exposure, the scale and impact were not comparable.

Storm water fills the streets of Shati’ Refugee Camp (Beach Camp) in Gaza, where 82,000 refugees are living. (© ICRC / il-e-01841, 2010)

Disasters and conflict

An unhappy confluence exists between states experiencing fragility, conflict, and violence suffering heightened disaster risks from natural hazards. Disaster deaths are 40% higher in these settings (Marktanner, et al., 2015) and they disproportionately rank ‘highly at risk’ to disasters and crises (EC, 2021). This is not surprising given our understanding of the social conditions that contribute to transforming hazard into disaster. Evidence demonstrates how conflict exasperates vulnerabilities, undermines resilience and coping capacities, increases exposure through displacement, and can even heighten hazard risk through environmental degradation (Harris, et al., 2013). The result of this compounding conflict and disaster risk is a concentration and exasperation of human suffering.

By the time Storm Huda reached Palestinian territories, there were still 100,000 people displaced and 18,000 homes destroyed or severely damaged from the outbreak of fighting in Gaza Strip the previous summer (ICRC, 2015). Damage to the energy, water, and sanitation infrastructure meant that much of the area had only partial running water and electricity for parts of the day. When a second winter cold wave hit in February, this had deadly consequences. The use of unsafe heating to stay warm, like open fires or electric heaters, caused a 16-month-old child in Northern Gaza, a 22-year-old mother and her 2-month-old baby in Nablus, and three children of the same family, aged 3, 4 and 15, to die from fires breaking out in residential homes and temporary shelters (UNICEF, 2015).

When an estimated 1.5 billion people today live in fragile and conflict-affected states (EC, n.d.), and 80% of total international humanitarian needs are focused in these areas (World Bank, 2021), disaster research and disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts must account for this confluence if our efforts towards the sustainable development goals (notable SDG 11) are to be realised. DRR is, however, notably absent in these contexts ($1.30 spent on DRR for every $100 spent on response (Peters & Budimir, 2016)). There is a moral imperative to reduce suffering, operational advantage to decrease costly humanitarian interventions, and practical benefit lessening the humanitarian burden, to develop effective approaches and tools to change this.

Acting early: reducing disaster impacts

Anticipatory Action approaches – defined as “a set of actions taken to prevent or mitigate potential disaster impacts before a shock or before acute impacts are felt. The actions are carried out in anticipation of a hazard impact and based on a prediction of how the event will unfold” (IFRC, 2020. p. 351) – can provide one such tool. It can be useful because it is implemented through humanitarian actors who are already operational within these contexts, target vulnerabilities which are shown to have been exasperated by conflict, and the short lead times of the intervention enable a highly targeted response that alleviate specific needs that have a high probability of occurring (Wagner & Jaime, 2020). Yet, despite some initial pilots, Anticipatory Action is not fully functional in conflict situations yet. Evidence in non-conflict settings demonstrate Anticipatory Action’s ability to reduce operational costs, improve project design, and reduce negative disaster outcomes for affected communities (Weingärtner & Wilkinson, 2019).

Given the low baseline for DRR – including Anticipatory Action – in conflict-affected contexts, there is need to invest in understanding the unique and contextual interactions between disaster and conflict risks, how these inter-relate, and what the consequences are. A key component for implementing Anticipatory Action interventions is to understand not only what the weather will be, but what the weather will do to at-risk communities (Harrowsmith, et al., 2020). This is understanding how hazard, exposure, and vulnerability affect people living in conflict, and in what way the conflict compounds these disaster risks. With this, building blocks for appropriate interventions can be built.

For example, in the West Bank, houses close to the separation wall have experienced frequent flooding during heavy rain due to the wall impeding the proper flow and drainage of the rain. Drainage pipes running under the wall often get blocked but clearing them is often challenging due to access constraints. With advanced forecasts of rainfall, pre-positioning water pumps in these localities could prevent rainwater accumulating and flooding the surrounding homes.

Niger Red Cross implementing early action protocol to successfully reinforce part of the embankment holding back the flooded River Niger (CRN / Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, 2020)

Scaling up Anticipatory Action to conflict-contexts

Understanding these risks exacerbated by conflict is therefore crucial for Anticipatory Action. This research aims to build on the evidence base around the impacts that the double vulnerability has on populations affected by armed conflict (Peters, et al., 2019) by conducting a comprehensive historical review of disaster impacts in conflict affected settings. This is focused on the Palestine and Darfur regions & the three protocol areas of Sudan as case studies. It builds on the ICRC and The Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre’s research agenda of Climate and Conflict 2020, and particularly key research questions about Anticipatory Action in situations of conflict (IFRC, 2020).

It seeks to establish a database of the impacts that disasters caused by hydro-meteorological hazards have had in Palestine and Sudan since 2010, understanding 1) who were affected, 2) how they were affected, and 3) in what way the conflict context relates to the disaster impact. This impact analysis is conducted through collating ‘grey literature’ (needs assessments, situational reports, operational updates of humanitarian organisations) supplemented by academic research.

Generating a picture of historical disaster impacts is critical for exploring which Anticipatory Action interventions can reduce the impacts of future disasters. The output will be used to present a scenario of the types of disaster profiles – and their impacts – that these case studies are likely to experience in the future. For this, a review of potential actions will demonstrate how and why certain activities might be relevant. Interviews with practitioners holding expert academic, sectoral, or contextual experience will provide field-based insights. Combined, the challenges of Anticipatory Action in conflict-affected contexts will be explored, along with their opportunities to provide a practical analysis aimed ultimately at improving DRR in states affected by conflict and instability.

This research will feed into wider work being done aimed at reducing disaster risks by using Anticipatory Action in conflict-affected areas. In Palestine, this could mean that the cold waves and heavy rainfall that struck six out of the past ten years, do not consistently result in mass displacement, shelter destruction, injury, and fatality. With three days advanced warning of extreme low-temperatures, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society could distribute winterisation items – like blankets and safe heaters – along with information & educations campaigns as to how to safely heat household to those living in tents and unprotected shelters. As a result, further loss of life could be prevented. Given the recent flare up in violence – damaging an additional 17,000 shelters (2,000 extensively) (OCHA, 2021) – reducing disaster risks remains an imperative.

Palestinian Red Crescent Soceity distributing NFIs to Beouins close to Ramallah (PRCS / IFRC, 2015)


This study is conducted as a Master’s Thesis for the MSc Risk and Disaster Science course at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London (supervised by Prof Ilan Kelman). It is done in collaboration with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (supervised by Catalina Jaime, Climate and Conflict Manager), as a contribution to their work on scaling up Anticipatory Action in conflict-affected contexts. For more information, you can contact Mark Weegmann, graduate student an UCL and Junior Research at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

This work is supported by the Danish Red Cross with funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark.

Ahead of the G7 and COP26 “Global Britain” reneges on humanitarian commitments, costing lives

Jessica Field11 June 2021

Ahead of the G7 and COP26 “Global Britain” reneges on humanitarian commitments, costing lives


Authored by: Jessica Field


The IRDR annual Humanitarian Summit is almost upon us. After the developments of the last few months, there’ll certainly be a lot to discuss next Wednesday.

Today, leaders of the world’s seven largest ‘advanced economies’ will descend on Cornwall for a G7 meeting to discuss pressing issues, not least COVID-19 recovery and strengthening of the world’s health systems. While ‘Global Britain’ is celebrating its leading role as host for this important event (and the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow), its recent actions instead show a retraction from global leadership and responsibility – particularly around humanitarian action.

In September 2020 (which seems like a lifetime ago in these stretched-out pandemic months), the UK’s Department for International Development was merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to create the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – a vehicle for apparently more aligned development and diplomacy. Commentators were worried about what this would mean for the UK’s world-leading role in overseas development assistance. And they were right to be.

Sign for the new Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. Photo: FCDO/2020, Creative Commons Licence. Available on FCDO Flickr.

 

Just two month later, in November 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the UK government was going to renege on its global commitment – and legal obligation – to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas development assistance (ODA). The new 0.5% amount means a £4.5 billion ‘black hole’ in the humanitarian and development budget compared with 2019 figures. The effects of this have been immediate and catastrophic for many essential programmes across the world, and will have damaging ripple effects for many years to come.

Devex’s Will Worley has been tracking the cuts in a handy timeline. Seeing them listed one after the other, week after week, exposes the huge scale of the UK’s retraction from its obligations. Some of the more devastating include a 60% reduction in funding to Yemen, which is seeing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises as a result of conflict, mass displacement and famine-like conditions. After announcing this cut in March, the UK government admitted “we haven’t done an impact assessment”, putting millions of lives at risk as well as completely undermining its credibility as a donor.

That same month, the UK slashed its Global Challenges Research Fund almost in half, leaving a £120 million gap. This meant dozens of research projects and programmes (which were years in the making and based on long-standing partnerships) were decimated or closed, virtually overnight, rendering people jobless and halting research previously deemed essential for tackling the climate crisis, displacement, human rights violations and other global challenges. Again, with no impact assessment. Even basic communications about the cuts were incoherent, lacked basic guidance and were branded “a shambles” by those affected.

A Rohingya woman pictured at a World Food Programme food distribution supported by UK aid in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, October 2017. Photo: DFID/Anna Dubuis, Creative Commons license, DFID Flickr, 2017.

 

In May, the UK announced it would cut its contributions to the Rohingya crisis response by 42%, reducing its £47.5 million pledge from 2020 to £26.7 million this year. Aid organisations working with Rohingyas – in what is the world’s largest refugee crisis – have described the consequences as “catastrophic”, and expect Rohingya children to be particularly affected.

The list goes on.

But there has been a fight back – from within the ranks of the Tory Party, as well as humanitarian and climate crisis advocates.

This reduction in 0.7% spending was not debated or approved in Parliament, and Boris Johnson has faced a rebellion about it among his own MPs. In recent weeks, a group of Conservative MPs have been vocal about the damage the government was doing to vital programmes overseas, as well as the UK’s reputation as a world leader in ODA. On Tuesday, Tory rebels tried to secure a vote on the aid cuts – convinced that if a vote was allowed, the government would be defeated. These efforts failed on this occasion, and the Prime Minister reasserted that there was no plan for reversal, nor to give MPs a vote on the matter.

These rebel Conservative MPs have plans to force the government’s hand in other ways, and it remains to be seen whether they’ll make much headway. Nonetheless, as this national debate collides with the G7 summit today and preparations for COP26 – censure might come from other ‘world leaders’ and global organisations, too.

Whatever happens, these issues will make for lively debate at next Wednesday’s IRDR Humanitarian Summit. One of our timely panels is on the different risks and challenges facing the humanitarian sector and humanitarian studies – political and financial, as well as from conflict and COVID-19. Join us and contribute to discussions. Sign up here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/events/2021/jun/irdr-humanitarian-summit-2021-interrogating-changing-risks


Jessica Field is a Lecturer in Humanitarian Studies at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction.

 

A Short Collection of IRDR MSc Student Research Previews

Joshua Anthony1 June 2021

A Short Collection of IRDR MSc Research Previews

This article is a short collection of ideas, inspirations and plans for a research thesis as summarised by IRDR Master’s students.


Joshua Wilson — Environmental Risk in Seaweed farms, Kwale County, Kenya

Kwale County, Kenya, is not somewhere I had heard of this time last year but I’m now in the early stages of in-depth study into the seaweed farms within the region. Following communication with Plan International UK, facilitated by the IRDR, I learnt of their recent work promoting the practice in order to empower local women, both socially and economically. This effort fits within Plan’s larger goal of addressing the ‘triple jeopardy’ of poverty, climate change and nature in the region where they have also focused on mangrove planting, responsible fishing and awareness raising within schools.

Changing environmental conditions due to climate change has negatively impacted seaweed production in some areas through heavy rainfall and storm surges. Using knowledge gained from Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis and key informant interviews, I will attempt to assess the environmental risks at current seaweed farms whilst looking for suitable sites for relocation. I also aim to explore the socio-political factors that shape the site selection of seaweed farms. Through this research I hope to contribute to supporting the sustainable practice of seaweed farming in the long-term, promoting women’s inclusion and agency whilst encouraging pro-poor responsible value chains [1].

[1] Ambrosino, C., Hufton, B., Nyawade, B.O., Osimbo, H. and Owiti, P. (2020) Integrating Climate Adaptation, Poverty Reduction, and Environmental Conservation in Kwale County, Kenya. African Handbook of Climate Change Adaptation, pp.1-18.

Joshua Wilson | joshua.wilson.20@ucl.ac.uk


Kleoniki Theodoridou — Flood Risk in Mandra, Greece

As a geologist, I have always been intrigued by the occurrence of extreme natural phenomena worldwide, let alone in Greece, which is one of the most geologically active countries in Europe. Since, the devastating flash flood that occurred in the region of West Attica, in the town of Mandra, in 2017 led to the tragic loss of 24 people. This flood was one of the deadliest in the country; however, the flood prevention work is still incomplete due to bureaucratic issues. This means that the area is at high risk of a similar event in the future, and that could jeopardize many lives.

For that reason, I was genuinely interested to investigate and assess the potential flood risk in this particular region using the Copula theory, which is a multivariate statistical method. In that way, we could understand the probability that a flood event of a particular intensity will occur over an extended period, and thus, make the right decisions to protect the public from an imminent disaster; considering that, prevention is better than cure.

Kleoniki Theodoridou | kleoniki.theodoridou.20@ucl.ac.uk


Lydia Brown — The compound impacts of hazardous events and COVID-19

Covid-19 has brought new challenges to the disaster context, with disaster managers having to consider the combined impact of a global pandemic and hazardous events (storm surges, tropical cyclones, tsunamis etc). Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) must now incorporate activities which minimize the risk of the virus transmission.

This includes establishing safe work protocols and re-designing activities considering “social distancing”. This is particularly important in emergency shelters, where a large number of residents gather in a confined space which only aids the spread of COVID-19.

Disaster first-responders have been collaborating and coordinating in order to share lessons and be best placed to help people in need. However, efforts are futile if residents perceive the risk of contracting Covid-19 too high to evacuate to emergency shelters.

My dissertation will entail understanding how evacuation behaviour and decision to evacuate is affected by the fear of contracting COVID-19. To understand evacuation behaviour is essential as any person that does not heed the warning poses a perennial problem; these people sustain severe preventable injuries, put the rescuers unnecessarily at risk, and fill hospital beds at medical centres. The primary concern is that fear of contracting COVID-19 during the disaster response phase will cause an increase in the number of residents staying in their homes and being exposed to injuries and hazards.

Lydia Brown | lydia.brown.20@ucl.ac.uk


The IRDR Master’s Programmes facilitate research in a wide variety of topics.

Thank you to our student contributors,

Joshua Anthony, Editor at IRDR blog.

Joshua.anthony.19@ucl.ac.uk | Please get in contact if you would like to contribute to this blog.