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Mapping the world’s largest hidden resource

By Mohammad Shamsudduha, on 15 February 2024

photograph of a water pump in wet agricultural land
Groundwater-fed irrigation in southwest Bangladesh (credit: Ahmed Rahman, UCL IRDR)

Water sustains life and livelihoods. It is intrinsically linked to all aspects of life from maintaining a healthy life, growing food, and economic development to supporting ecosystems services and biodiversity. Groundwater—water that is found underneath the earth’s surface in cracks and pores of sediments and rocks—stores almost 99% of all liquid freshwater on Earth. Globally, it is a vital resource that provides drinking water to billions of individuals and supplies nearly half of all freshwaters used for irrigation to produce crops. But are we using it sustainably?

Abstraction


Groundwater is dug out of subsurface aquifers by wells and boreholes, or it comes out naturally through cracks of rocks via springs. Today, about 2.5 billion people depend on groundwater to satisfy their drinking water needs, and a third of the world’s irrigation water supply comes from groundwater. It plays a crucial role in supplying drinking water during disasters such as floods and droughts when surface water is too polluted or absent. Despite its important role in our society, the hidden nature of groundwater often means it is underappreciated and underrepresented in our global and national policies as well as public awareness. Consequently, A hidden natural resource that is out of sight is also out of mind.

Some countries (e.g., Bangladesh) are primarily dependent on groundwater for everything they do from crop production to the generation of energy. Other countries like the UK use surface water alongside groundwater to meet their daily water needs; some countries (e.g., Qatar, Malta) in the world are almost entirely dependent on groundwater resources. Because of its general purity, groundwater is also heavily used in the industrial sector.

photograph of man taking measurements at a borehole
Measuring groundwater levels in a borehole in Bangladesh by IRDR PhD student Md Izazul Haq

Monitoring


Despite our heavy reliance on it, there is a lack of groundwater monitoring across the world. Monitoring of groundwater resources, both quality and quantity, is patchy and uneven. Developed countries like Australia, France and USA have very good infrastructure for monitoring groundwater. Monitoring is little or absent in many low- and medium-income countries around the world. There are some exceptions as some countries in the global south such as Bangladesh, India and Iran do have good monitoring networks of groundwater levels.

Groundwater storage changes are normally measured at an observation borehole or well manually with a whistle attached to a measuring tape, so when it comes into contact with water, it makes a sound. It can be also monitored by sophisticated automated data loggers. Groundwater can be monitored indirectly using computer models and, remotely at large spatial scales, by earth observation satellites such as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) twin satellite mission. Models and satellite data have shown that groundwater levels are falling in many aquifers around the world because of over-abstraction and changes in land-use and climate change. However, due to lack of global-scale monitoring of groundwater levels, mapping of world’s aquifers has not been done at the scale of its use and management.

Current research


New research published in Nature (Rapid groundwater decline and some cases of recovery in aquifers globally) led by researchers from UCL, University of California at Santa Barbara and ETH Zürich has analysed groundwater-level measurements taken over the last two decades from 170,000 wells in about 1,700 aquifer systems. This is the first study that has mapped trends in groundwater levels using ground-based data at the global scale in such an unprecedented detail that no computer models or satellite missions have achieved this so far. The mapping of aquifers in more than 40 countries has revealed great details of the spatiotemporal dynamics in groundwater storage change.

The study has found that groundwater levels are declining by more than 10 cm per year in 36% of the monitored aquifer systems. It has also reported rapid declines of more than 50 cm per year in 12% of the aquifer systems with the most severe declines observed in cultivated lands in dry climates. Many aquifers in Iran, Chile, Mexico, and the USA are declining rapidly in the 21st century. Sustained groundwater depletion can cause seawater intrusion in coastal areas, land subsidence, streamflow depletion and wells running dry when pumping of groundwater is high and the natural rates of aquifer’s replenishment are smaller than the withdrawals rates of water. Depletion of aquifers can seriously affect water and food security, and natural functioning of wetlands and rivers, and more critically, access to clean and convenient freshwater for all.

The study has also shown that groundwater levels have recovered or been recovering in some previously depleted aquifers around the world. For example, aquifers in Spain, Thailand as well as in some parts of the USA have recovered from being depleted over a period of time. These finding are new and can shed light on the scale of groundwater depletion problem that was not possible to visualise from global-scale computer models or satellites. This research highlights some cases of recovery where groundwater-level declines were reversed by interventions such as policy changes, inter-basin water transfers or nature-based but technologically-aided solutions such as managed aquifer recharge. For example, Bangkok in Thailand saw a reversal of groundwater-level decline from the 1980s and 1990s following the implementation of regulations designed to reduce groundwater pumping in the recent decades.

Groundwater is considered to be more resilient to climate change compared to surface water. Experts say climate adaptation means better water management. Globally, the awareness of groundwater is growing very fast. It has been especially highlighted in the latest IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, the UN World Water Development Report 2022 (Groundwater: Making the invisible visible), the UN Water Conference 2023, and more recently in COP28 (Drive Water Up the Agenda). Groundwater should be prioritised in climate and natural hazard and disaster risk reduction strategies, short-term humanitarian crisis response and long-term sustainable development action.

Read the full nature article.


Dr Mohammad Shamsudduha “Shams” is an Associate Professor in IRDR with a research focus on water risks to public health, sustainable development, and climate resilience.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.

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Can we adapt through art?

By Aishath Green, on 11 January 2024

Image of a clapper board with climate change written on it in capitals letters.
Movie clapper with Climate Change text on red background” by focusonmore.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

When first writing this piece, London was in the midst of a late summer heatwave with headlines declaring the ‘unprecedented seventh consecutive day of 30C heat’. It struck my attention not just because of its abnormality for the time of year, but also because of my collaboration as part of UCL’s Performing Planet Activism Programme. The partnership between our research programme on the role of knowledge in adapting to climate change and the Wise Ram Theatre seeks to bring together scientific research and performance to develop a piece of work which responds to the realities of climate change.

Using theatre to adapt

Through their first production ‘Decommissioned’ written by co-director Molly Anne Sweeney, Wise Ram demonstrates how the severity of climate issues such as sea level rise might be conveyed to wider audiences. Taking the real life story of Fairbourne – a village on the west-coast of Wales whose council have made the decision to stop investing in its sea defences – the play imagines a narrative that seeks to convey the reality of a problem that could affect ‘10% of the world’s population that live in coastal areas fewer than 10 metres above sea level’. While discussing the play, Wise Ram’s other co-director Sofia Bagge tells me that the power of theatre is that it can take challenges that may seem abstract (both in their temporality and ability to comprehend) by relating them to our everyday experiences.

In ‘Decommissioned’, a flooding event causes an annual school camping trip to be cancelled and re-imagined inside the classroom. While seemingly a small disruption, Sofia states that by demonstrating how routine might be broken by the climate events we are more frequently confronted with, it becomes possible to address issues as catastrophic as sea level rise or extreme heat. She states that in order to make something compelling, you have to remove a lot of the detail because otherwise it could become too slow. Indeed, climate change research introduces ‘complexities, anxieties and new questions into many areas of life’. By conveying it through performance, however, Sofia remarks that directors have the power to take the audience on a journey and decide how an issue is spoken about or represented.

Memories

While performance has the capacity to help us understand complex issues through narrative and imagination, it also prompts us to remember and reflect. In the context of extreme heat and the increased frequency of related events such as forest fires, this can be fundamental in creating a collective memory around incidents that are easily pushed out of our minds or relegated to the past. The idea of collective amnesia is familiar – there are countless historical events that for various reasons people, communities and governments have wanted to forget. Moments deemed somewhat heroic, or worthy of remembering on the other hand, are repeatedly celebrated and platformed in plays, novels and cinema (World War II rings many bells). Yet, performance has a vital role to play in helping us to continually confront and reflect on urgent and traumatic events: ‘on stage, history is recalled to serve both the present and the future’. Re-imagining, re-forming and re-conceptualising the climate events that have already begun affecting us can ensure that the unusual summer heat is not dismissed.

However, the ways in which performance can choose to address climate related issues need not be so explicit. That is to say, addressing the climate crisis does not only mean ‘making work about climate change’. As Woynarski states ‘the problem-solution model, drawn on when theatre is utilised to ‘communicate’ specific ecological problems and ‘solutions’, often instrumentalises performance in a reductive way and largely focuses on content’. This approach she argues ‘does not leave room for the nuance, complexity or intermeshment of contemporary ecological issues’.

Communicating through performance

How might a complex scientific concept such as a climate niche’ be conveyed to wider audiences? The film Parallel Mothers by Pedro Almodóvar provides inspiration. Almodóvar addresses the violence and loss of The Spanish Civil War not by creating a story that centres on this past but rather through an ‘engaging melodrama plot’ about two mothers whose children get switched at birth. The narrative which encourages the audience to reflect on the war is less than a side plot addressing a ‘single victim of falange violence’. It is by no means a film about the Civil War, but through a carefully interwoven narrative that follows the protagonist’s journey to have her great-grandfather exhumed at what she hopes is his burial site, Almodóvar touches on issues of national loss that have led his film to be ‘characterised as an intervention … to reckon with the legacy of Franco and the Civil War’. What this conveys is the ability of storytelling to deal with certain issues, whether from our past or our present, in myriad formats. In the context of work that seeks to address the climate crisis, this enables creators and performers to bring it into ‘contact with any and all kinds of theatre’.

Yet while performance can be effective through its implicitness, the opposite can also be true and in certain contexts this may leave room for more obvious stand points on certain issues. In the recent film How to Blow up a Pipeline, the focus and content of the film is clear from the outset, its intent evident in the title. Following the lives of seven protagonists impacted by the effects of climate change, it depicts them working together to destroy the oil pipeline that they deem to be destroying them. Unlike Parallel Mothers, the film explicitly invites us to engage with climate issues, using the genre of a heist thriller to keep its audience engrossed throughout. While the film’s lasting impact on its audience cannot be certain, what it does do through genre is encourage its viewers to think in a different way. While the characters in the film are depicted as ‘eco-terrorists’, they are also the heroes of the story. Unlike the mainstream media’s treatment of Just Stop Oil protests, this Hollywood film thus allows its viewers to engage with direct climate action in a more sympathetic way. As the film’s director states ‘the idea of empathising with characters who take action like this without ever condemning them for taking it too far, is something I don’t see in the media’.

Looking forward

While we are at the beginning of our project with Wise Ram, the methods above make me hopeful about the possibility of conveying the topic of extreme heat and the wider themes of our research around diverse knowledge practices in relation to climate change. I look forward to exploring the ways in which we can communicate global temperature rise, the ways in which this will affect urban environments and the specific impact this will have on socio-economically marginalised groups. Through our work we hope to generate emotional and creative responses that can inspire action around these topics, as well as learn and evolve through engaging with different forms of knowledge that exist beyond the policy community. Whether through small and personal stories, or bigger productions, performance can take the climate events we are experiencing and ensure they remain present. Yet as the playwright Kristin Idaszak says, ‘there is no one play or playwright that can take on the immensity of this story. Instead, we need a canon of climate plays, from playwrights of all subject positions and aesthetics’… this could be one of them.


Aishath Green is Research Manager at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction on the project Accountable Adaptation. This work was supported by a UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship


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COP28 agreement on adapting to climate change kicks the real challenge down the road

By Susannah Fisher, on 15 December 2023

Jointly posted with the Conversation

photograph of a group of flag poles of multiple nationalities
Do the Cop28 targets go far enough to adapt to climate risks? Susannah Fisher.

COP28 concluded late on Wednesday morning to a mixed reaction. The Dubai agreement extracted a promise from nearly 200 countries to transition away from fossil fuels, but it leaves many questions unanswered when it comes to keeping global average temperatures from warming by more than 1.5°C. The world is rapidly running out of time to limit temperatures to this level – a crucial threshold for many communities living in low-lying islands and delicate ecosystems such as coral reefs.

The last year was the hottest on record, with catastrophic floods in Libya, extreme heat in south Asia, Europe, China and the US, and droughts across east Africa which were all made more likely as a result of climate change.

Even if the world keeps to 1.5°C, countries will still need to adapt to the effects of a harsher climate. If temperatures exceed 1.5°C, this will be even harder. At COP28, countries agreed the first targets to guide the global effort to adapt.

So, do they go far enough to address the growing scale of climate impacts?

Adaptation is essential

I am a researcher writing a book about the hard choices the world must make to adapt to climate change. For 12 years I have been working on adaptation planning and finance, attending the UN negotiations and researching how to make adaptation more ambitious and inclusive.

Every fraction of a degree of warming avoided by cutting emissions will give communities more breathing space to adapt. Adaptation involves making changes to accommodate the hotter climate and lessen its effects.

Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa struggling to grow food due to changes in rainfall can adapt with improved forms of irrigation and new crop varieties to maintain a similar level of productivity. Coastal communities can build seawalls to protect them from storm surges or plant mangrove forests to prevent the land eroding as fast. Bangladesh has developed early warning systems and invested in cyclone shelters.

The global framework for adaptation’s targets set out what countries must do and where the most progress needs to be made for goals like reducing climate-induced water scarcity. Even to get this agreement was a success given the technical and political challenges in measuring something like adaptation, which covers so many different things, from giving farmers in Asia better information on rainfall to increasing shade and cool spaces in cities.

We have limited ways to understand if the world is on track for many of these areas and the agreement contains a two-year work programme to develop indicators. We have more information on the systems and plans needed. For example, 101 countries have multi-hazard early warning systems in place – the goal aims for this to be all countries by 2027.

The framework will guide investment and shape the implementation of adaptation measures for the next decade. It will allow the global community to check if this process is on track, and to change course if it is not.

Will the goal meet the scale of the challenge?

A key sticking point for developing countries across the negotiations in Dubai was securing enough money from developed countries (the largest historical emitters and so the biggest culprits of climate chaos) to actually implement these necessary actions.

Developed countries have failed to deliver the US$40 billion (£31 billion) to US$50 billion a year promised as part of a doubling of money for adaptation agreed in 2021. This is part of the overall finance target of US$100 billion a year – agreed for both mitigation (cutting emissions) and adaptation back in 2009.

The latest UN report on adaptation showed that only US$21 billion was delivered in 2021, while financial needs for adaptation are 10-18 times higher than the amount of public finance available.

The agreement on adaptation in Dubai talks generally of the need for more finance, but makes few commitments. This is not enough, but detailed work on the next financial deal is scheduled at COP29. The agreement next year will aim to set a new target for mobilising money to reduce emissions and adapt – the target will replace the US$100 billion a year that runs until 2025.

Research shows that progress on adaptation has been slow, fragmented and uneven across the world. Between 3.3 and 3.6 billion people live in places that are expected to be highly vulnerable to climate change. In Africa, tens of thousands of people will die from extreme heat unless radical measures are taken to adapt. Between 800 million and 3 billion people will not have enough water at 2°C global warming – and up to 4 billion at 4°C. We also have very little evidence that funded adaptation measures are working.

The agreement in Dubai signals that the adaptation effort is off track and highlights areas for action such as water, food, healthcare and infrastructure. Critically, it offers little detail yet to check on global progress – we will need to wait one year for a new financial target and another two years for indicators that can assess progress in adapting lives and livelihoods.

Frameworks can create incentives for action, and it is vital the new global framework creates pressure for ambition and finance. But countries will need to wait to agree the detail on the money and the targets that will give it the teeth it needs.

While COP28 yielded incremental progress, the world waits for a leap forward in the pace and scale of climate adaptation.


Dr Susannah Fisher is UKRI Future Leaders Principal Research Fellow. She works across research, policy and practice on adapting to climate change with an interest in ensuring climate finance supports effective and equitable adaptation, and that adaptation is at the scale and ambition we need for the escalating impacts of climate change.


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Human trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation: the ‘loss and damage’ from climate change a fund will not compensate

By Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, on 13 December 2023

Jointly posted with the Conversation

photograph: a child's doll lies on the floor amongst brick and pebbles.
A child’s doll discarded during a storm. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

Violence against women and children, including sexual abuse and exploitation, remains a taboo subject in the policy debates attended by international delegates at COP28, the latest round of the UN climate negotiations in Dubai. However, the connections between climate change and gender-based violence, including human trafficking, are real and already blight lives worldwide.

Countries at COP28 have agreed to set up a loss and damage fund which would pay poor nations for the irreparable harm caused by the deteriorating climate. How can we compensate non-economic loss and damage – the impacts of climate change that cannot be easily measured in monetary terms?

To answer this question, we must understand how these impacts already affect people in the world’s most vulnerable regions. By interviewing people in Bangladesh, Fiji and Vanuatu, we found that climate change is a trigger that can worsen, intensify or prolong the perpetration of violence and coercive control.

Entrapment in Bangladesh

Aerial photograph of the Bhola slum in Dhaka. Buildings with corrugated metal roofs in the foreground, surrounded by highrise flats in background.
Bhola slum in Dhaka. Most residents migrated from Bangladesh’s disaster-prone southern coast. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

Among the girls and young women I spoke to in Bangladesh, child marriage was a common coping mechanism for the lost income and insecure food supplies associated with unpredictable weather.

Storms, punishing heat and unreliable rain made migration from the countryside to cities inevitable. Many migrant women and girls turned to work in the garment industry. In the factories and nearby dwellings, violence and poor mental health are especially common for female migrant workers.

Hunger has pushed numerous households to marry off their daughters and sisters. Belkis, a woman I interviewed, described how her family struggled with poverty and health issues during her childhood after they migrated from the southern coast of Bangladesh to the capital Dhaka, escaping cyclones and land erosion:

I got married when I was 12 years old. A few years later I gave birth to my first son. I faced a lot of problems giving birth to him … A woman from work was a doctor so she took me to Dhaka Medical Hospital. There they did some tests and noticed that my kidneys were failing.

Her sons may also need to leave school and start working. If she has a daughter, she may be forced to marry as a child. Harsh living and working conditions scar the health and wellbeing of entire families – but hit women and children hardest.

Child sexual exploitation and trafficking in Fiji

young boy pouring water over himself with a bucket.
Informal sanitation can be a safety risk. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

Unrest swept Fiji in 2021 after a ten-year-old girl on Vanua Levu, one of the islands in the north east, was raped by her uncle in a cyclone shelter. He was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.

The incident was not an isolated event. Women we spoke to in Nadi, a city on Fiji’s main island, describe rapes in shelters and report children being trafficked for sexual purposes after the floods.

Overcrowded shelters create unsafe conditions. Many of the toilets have windows but no doors, let alone locks. Disaster evaluation reports also indicate that many emergency responders in Fiji lack necessary training to identify signs of abuse (sexual or otherwise) and so are unable to prevent further violence.

Lusi*, a Red Cross health coordinator, said:

Women are more vulnerable to violence in the wake of cyclones. In tents and makeshift shelters, there’s a lack of privacy and proper lighting, which makes it harder to stay safe.

Nasele*, a 22-year old woman that we interviewed in Nadi, explained:

In the dark [women] have to go out and this places [them] in unsafe conditions. In evacuation centres, women and children get exposed to sexual dangers – children’s rights are ignored. In this country, disaster management [offers no] quick recovery for women and children.

Nacanieli*, a Save the Children officer working in Nadi observed trafficking, sexual exploitation and violence:

The woman moved her family to Nadi to live with her new [Australian] husband. One year later, she returned to our office and told the SCF staff [that]…her new husband had moved the family to Australia and upon their arrival they were held captive in his house. She told me about the sexual exploitation of her oldest daughter (she was 14 years old at the time). …The woman was too scared to go to the police and lived in fear while in Australia. She and her children eventually fled the country with the help of a neighbour. The oldest daughter is now involved in prostitution in Nadi … We saw the scars of what looked like needle marks and cigarette burns on the woman and all four of her children.

In recent years, tourist hotspots such as Nadi in Fiji have seen a peak in child sexual abuse, trafficking and exploitation, primarily by perpetrators from Australia, New Zealand, the US and Europe.

Loss and healing in Vanuatu

photo of woman painting designs and letters and numbers onto another's arms with a tube of red paint.
Vanuatu’s woman-led recovery networks are a model for post-disaster mutual aid. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson.

Women in Vanuatu found recovery and healing in their social networks, which stuck together and aided their recovery from cyclones and drought. The women ensured there was support for the most in need, such as widows and people living with disabilities.

Women and children may be more vulnerable, but they should not be seen as passive victims. In Vanuatu, ideals that are typically considered to be feminine traits – such as inclusiveness and caring for the weak – were strengths that supported the entire population’s recovery from natural hazards.

Research such as ours gathers local experiences of non-economic loss and damage. Despite this, few climate change studies apply similar people-centred approaches.

This is a problem because loss and damage is never entirely environmental. As well as the destruction of land, crops or livestock, loss and damage must come to include child marriage, sexual violence, coercive and controlling behaviour, human trafficking and exploitation.

By widening our understanding of what loss and damage means, we can support more people more thoroughly. We must all learn from the women in Vanuatu by caring for those in need and healing collectively from the trauma of climate-related violence.

Losses and damages to wellbeing and dignity can never be wholly measured and compensated within a market.

*Aliases were used to protect people’s identity.


Dr Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson is Associate Professor at IRDR. Her research is broad and interdisciplinary with a particular focus on policy, intersectionality, and violence, as well as their overlaps with migration, refugees and trapped populations, trafficking or health and mental wellbeing.


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Disaster risk reduction must include people with disabilities

By Abigail Ewan, on 11 December 2023

photograph of two people sitting on the porch of a damaged house. Pieces of rubble and materials in the garden in the foreground.
Persons with sight impairment sits outside his house with his family member in Sindhupalchok. Their house was damaged by the 2015 Ghorka earthquake in Nepal in 2015.

The 3rd of December 2023 was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and this year the theme was to “Unite in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for, with and by persons with disabilities”. Twenty- five of these targets relate to disaster risk reduction and people with disabilities are estimated to make up 16% of the global population with 80% of these people living in low- and middle-income countries. This places the inclusion and reduction of risk for people with disabilities as a critically important component to achieving the SDGs. People with disabilities are amongst the most at risk from the impacts of extreme events, including those associated with climate change and may face additional challenges in being recognised and included in community responses, by emergency organisations and gaining access to available aid. Extreme events can also increase and exacerbate existing disabilities which can result from physical impairment, the psychological impacts of disaster exposure and the inability to access services. Responses that fail to consider and include people with disabilities therefore fail to meet the global mandates to ‘leave no one behind’.

Extreme events can expose the pre-existing inequalities, disagreements and tensions in the way societies, communities, and individuals manage their lives, cope with and respond to adversity. This reveals the coping strategies and behaviours of vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities. This can reveal the gaps in policy and response and highlight the dominance of certain knowledge regimes that shape responses and promote either inclusion or exclusion. The responses for people with disabilities during the context of crisis tend to be fragmented and largely approached by specialised disability organisations. The reality is most disaster practitioners are unlikely to have engaged with disability while specialists in disability are unlikely to have engaged with response and recovery.  This can leave social biases and false assumptions of disability unchallenged and in some cases reproduced through intervention which can result in unintentional exclusion or marginalisation, while the voices and knowledge of people with disabilities remains largely in the shadows.

The vulnerabilities and challenges of people with disabilities in the context of extreme events have been discussed for the preceding two decades but a more recent shift in thinking advocates for the role that people with disabilities can play as active contributors and leaders in risk and resilience work.  Despite this, people with disabilities are still highly underrepresented and are little engaged in the planning and design of resilience and policy work. The 2023 UNDRR report on disability inclusion in disasters found that there has been limited progress in disability inclusion in the last ten years, with no significant differences across all the 132 countries included in the report. It is not uncommon to hear anecdotal observations and statements such as ‘this population doesn’t know what it needs’ or ‘it costs too much to include them’. This has left both research and initiatives for people with disabilities tending to be approached as a specialised field, with disability organisations often left filling in the gaps in support left by mainstream disaster organisations and response. The consideration and engagement of people with disabilities and their local advocacy organisations in preparedness activities remains even more limited.

Though generally considered as separate specialist fields the historical roots and objectives of ‘disaster studies’ and ‘disability studies’ are perhaps more cohesive than one might initially imagine. Disaster risk reduction lenses explicitly identify social understandings, behaviours, constraining social conditions and capacities as determinants of exposure, risk and loss. This is comparable to that of critical disability studies which aims to improve the theory and actualisation of inclusion and equality for people with disabilities. These approaches seek to recognise inequality, constraining social conditions and capacities and they both reflect a wider political turn in exposing oppression and discrimination. Fundamentally, they are sociological problems which can be understood by their socially produced nature and require interdisciplinary solutions. There is a pressing need for new methods and approaches that provide locally led solutions as increasing the policy provisions and guidelines that advocate for inclusion seem to have done little to swing the status quo. As Priestly and Hemmingway professed almost two decades ago ‘Just as disability is not the inevitable consequence of physical or cognitive impairment, disaster is not the inevitable consequence of natural hazard’.


Abigail Ewen is a PhD Candidate from the Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction exploring identity and disability in times of crisis in Nepal. 


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Cop28: we need more accountability in adaptation

By Susannah Fisher, on 8 December 2023

photo of cop28 conference panel from audience perspective
Dr Susannah Fisher is in Dubai following the COP28 adaptation negotiations and sends us her account.

After early progress on the loss and damage fund and announcements on energy and health from COP 28 in Dubai, attention in the corridors in week 2 is turning to adapting to the impacts of climate change. One of the major topics of negotiation is the global goal on adaptation. Members of the Accountable Adaptation team at IRDR are following these discussions to understand the politics behind measuring adaptation.

What is the global goal on adaptation?

The global goal on adaptation was established in the Paris Agreement in 2015 and seeks to create a global political commitment to action on adaptation on par with mitigation. The goal seeks to “enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change in the context of the temperature goal of the Agreement”. Progress has been slow since 2015, but work started in earnest after the Glasgow COP in 2021.

Since Glasgow negotiators and observers have been meeting every few months in a series of workshops to push the idea forward and consider what it means to create a global goal for adaptation. These workshops have covered issues such as transformational adaptation, indigenous knowledge and links with other global frameworks but only in recent months have steps forward been made on a concrete framework for the goal.

Why do we need a goal?

Progress on adaptation action has been very slow and largely incremental. This means governments, communities and the private sector have been making small changes and tweaks to existing activities, policies and programmes to adapt. For example growing a new crop, building an irrigation system or putting sandbags around a house close to water. As the impacts of climate change are becoming clearer, in many cases we know this will not be enough. We will need to make more systemic, more transformative choices to adapt and live well with the scale of the climate impacts anticipated.

Adaptation has not received the same political attention as mitigation, and if we are to make progress on these challenges, this needs to change. There also hasn’t been enough money invested in adaptation and the international community has not fulfilled its promise to deliver $40-50 billion a year for adaptation. The latest UNEP Adaptation Gap report shows that only $21 billion was delivered in 2021, and the needs for adaptation are 10-18 times higher than the amount of public finance available.

Why is it so hard?

There are many challenges to measuring adaptation – outcomes and priorities depend on local contexts and it touches all sectors. Data is limited. In many cases we don’t really know what effective adaptation looks like. This could be different in a 1.5 degree world, 2 or the 3 we are heading for without more ambitious action. To design a global framework has therefore been full of political and technical challenges.

What has happened in the negotiations in Dubai?

Negotiations have been going on all week on the global goal on adaptation but little progress has been made. According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin one observer called them “dire: and negotiators fear what will happen if the goal “crashes and burns”.

In the negotiating room, governments have been debating what role finance should play in the text on the global goal, what thematic areas should be included, what indicators are relevant, and if work should continue beyond this COP. There has been no agreement so far.

Does any of this really matter?

The global goal matters as it will set the level of ambition and the framing for what adaptation success looks like. It is a key tool for accountability allowing the COP to check if the international community is on track with planning, implementation, and finance to address the impacts of climate change, and to change course if it is not.

As part of our research at IRDR, we are analysing how governments and others understand the role of measurement and how adaptation measurement shapes action. These conversations on the global goal can often get lost in finding the best way to measure this complexity, but metrics embody a set of values and an understanding of success. Measurement can be used to raise ambition, build inclusion, and frame what solutions look like. It is inherently a social and political process.

As the doors to Expo City open today, we wait to see how the goal will move forward.


Dr Susannah Fisher is UKRI Future Leaders Principal Research Fellow. She works across research, policy and practice on adapting to climate change with an interest in ensuring climate finance supports effective and equitable adaptation, and that adaptation is at the scale and ambition we need for the escalating impacts of climate change.

Why the Gender and Climate Day at COP 28 is Important

By Peter Sammonds, on 7 December 2023

The first ever Gender and Climate Day was held at COP28 on Monday 4/12/23 and joined by a UCL IRDR GRRIPP team. But why is this important?


Photo of four members of the GRRIPP team stood in an auditorium
GRRIPP team at COP28: Dr Zahra Khan (GRRIPP Research and Outreach), Ella Bedford (BSc Theoretical Physics), Miriam Zallocco (BSc Global Humanitarian Studies), Peter Sammonds. We were part of the WOMENVAI delegation as Observers to COP28.

Women and men experience disasters differently. Women will disproportionately be impacted by climate change for instance from extreme heat. That is women working in the fields, factories and the informal economy. Pregnant women will be particularly affected. These were points made by Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton who was moderating an event on “Women Building a Climate-Resilient World”. This was a centre-piece panel discussion covering the transition to the blue/green economy, climate finance, women in STEM and gender-based violence (GBV). As she commented, it was remarkable to have an audience of hundreds discussing gender—and not just women!

In the transition to a green economy 50% of the population are being left behind and so it is essential to keep a gender lens. Food production and preparation is disproportionately done by women but they have little impact on food decisions and only own 15% of the land. 70% of jobs in the emerging green energy sectors are taken by men. Only 10% of women the skills for the future green economy. There is a massive digital skills gap and unequal access to technology. Only 0.01% of climate finance funding goes to women, but investing in women is investing in our common future. The starting point for action has to be understanding where we are and what are the issues. As the Head of UN Women argued: as a start that means sex and gender responsive data needs to be collected, but this needs to influence gender finance policies—that is not happening. Representatives from Amazon and Microsoft argued for removing barriers in STEM, and building enterprise incubators and accelerators for women who are more likely to innovate climate solutions.

Financing

The Gender and Climate Day started with a “Technical Dialogue on Financing for gender-responsive just transitions and climate action”. A key point of discussion was that women (and some men) in the Care Economy will be left out as industrial sectors transition because only the Production Economy is considered. This was a line of argument which was new to me and I found revealing. We can see this for ourselves in the UK with oil workers in Aberdeen being offered investment and training – but the Care Economy is excluded. And without gender justice there will be no social justice or climate justice.

The intersections with Indigenous women, women of African descent and women with disabilities were discussed. There needs to be a framework to support integration of gender and poverty issues in climate finance. There needs to be capacity building and integrated investment plans. Colombia argued for generating baseline data and prioritisation for women impacted in the transition to the green economy (e.g., re-qualification) and backed by specific actions of government, including changing the law, action on participation in management and action on GBV in employment. Zimbabwe argued that for a gender-responsive just transition it is necessary to look beyond just mitigation and the COP negotiations had to move on to become broader. There needs to be funding for implementation of the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan (GAP) initiated at the Lima COP. Some countries are not even able to develop their own national GAPs because of lack of financing. But as Colombia pointed out legal frameworks can be changed if there is a will so I agree that action cannot hold back just because of a lack of resources.

The UK Approach

The Gender and Climate Day concluded with a ministerial panel discussion session on “High Level Dialogue on Gender-Responsive Just Transitions and Climate Action Partnership”. This was attended by Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, International Development Minister in the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). He committed to investment to advance gender equality as we are at a critical juncture and that no one should be left behind. He said that the UK is endorsing a gender-responsive just transition and there will be £40 million to support a just transition. The new UK government white paper sets out its approach to tackling world hunger, making the international system fairer and progress towards the UN sustainable global goals. The UK has also announced £1.5 billion for climate finance. There will be focussed efforts on women and girls and there will be direct support to women’s rights organisations. There were similar supportive comments from the Rwandan Environment Minister and Dutch Finance Minster for instance, with all ministers agreeing with the Partnership. But all agreed that implementation is the big issue with climate finance just not getting to women. Actually, I was surprised there was such an explicit commitment to gender equality from the UK government. So COP is more than just a talking shop.

Finally, the COP Parties are negotiating an updated Gender and Climate Change decision requiring a strengthening of national commitments. The UNFCCC Gender Action Plan is under review with final agreement due in July 2024. So there is still an opportunity to make inputs. And yes, in my mind there can be no climate justice without gender justice so it is not an issue that can be separated out. Having a Gender and Climate Change Day at COP is a recognition of this.

Members of the UCL GRRIPP team presented at the Cop 28 event: Opportunity over urgency.

Peter Sammonds is Professor of Geophysics, UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, and GRRIP Gender and Intersectionality Ambassador.

The UKRI Collective Fund award ‘Gender Responsive Resilience and Intersectionality in Policy and Practice (GRRIPP) – Networking Plus Partnering for Resilience’ is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund. It is a 4-year global collaboration and knowledge-exchange project, implemented by a collective of universities. It aims to bring together theory, policy and practice to promote a gender-responsive approach to disaster management and development.

Wagamama: have we thought enough about the impacts of gendered norms in disasters?

By Punam K Yadav and Miwako Kitamura, on 30 November 2023

A damaged house on the side of a road
Tohoku after March 11 by Shinsuke JJ Ikegame is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Recognition of the different impacts of gendered norms is not new. We know that people are impacted differently in disasters and that attention needs to be paid to these differences while planning for preparedness, evacuation, response, and recovery. We also know that, like sexual and gender minorities, women are not a homogeneous group. However, have we paid enough attention to the impacts of culture-specific, often unspoken and implicit, gendered norms, which get exacerbated during crises? Often learnt through everyday practise, they are not only invisible to the outsiders but also to the insiders, taken for granted and seen as normal or obvious. The effects of such norms are often felt and experienced more by women and gender minorities than men. In this blog, we are going to talk about such unspoken norms in Japan and their impacts on people’s lives.

Wagamama

Here we would like to introduce a term, Wagamama. Interestingly many of us who live in the UK already know this term well, however, with a completely different understanding. ‘Wagamama’ is the name of a restaurant chain in the UK, which it says was inspired by fast-paced Japanese ramen bars. Many of us may have been there and enjoyed their delicious food. This restaurant portrays a positive meaning of this term of being self-indulgent, self-centred, picky, fussy, and so on. However, do we know the cultural meaning and interpretation of this term? How is it used and what does it really mean in Japanese culture?

Wagamama is a Japanese word, which means being selfish, demanding, or thinking about yourself and your own needs instead of others. This term is used to describe a certain behaviour of a person in a certain context. In some culture, it may be seen as a positive thing as the Wagamama restaurant portrays it to be. However, in Japan it is often used as a negative term. This term has a temporal element (which could have a long-term impact on people’s lives), as it is not a fixed characteristic of a person; however, it is used to describe a certain behaviour of a person.

Harmony

The opposite of this term is harmony. Harmony is key in Japanese culture and the meaning is quite vague leaving a lot of room for interpretation. Harmony generally means thinking about others and putting their needs before your own, which includes thinking not only about your family but the wider community too—and this becomes even more prevalent in the context of crisis. Although in theory this may look like a very good thing, having to live up to this expectation can create severe consequences for some. Non-compliance to maintaining ‘harmony’ means you are a Wagamama. This applies to all, including women, men, children, elderly, people with disability, and gender minority. However, for some people the consequences of non-compliance are severe. We will use some stories (based on real incidents) to illustrate this concept. However, we will use pseudonyms (and non-Japanese names) to avoid any indirect harm or unintended consequences.

Examples

Mike is a transgender man who was looking for a job. He went to the job centre to ask for help. He said as a transgender man he was facing difficulty in finding a job, so he needed help. Instead of helping him, the person at the job centre told him that it was selfish of him to expect that people should understand his gender identity—that he was thinking about himself and not others. Here one would think he hasn’t asked for anything, so why would anyone call him selfish? In a Japanese context, even disclosing your gender identity is seen as ‘Wagamama’—being selfish and not caring about other people. This becomes even more evident in the context of disaster as they are not meant to ask for any special treatment based on their gender identify, including any medical help.

People who worked in the evacuation centres during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake said it was very difficult to find out what women needed and what challenges they were facing as they would not speak for fear that if they asked for something—even for gender specific needs—people would call them Wagamama. Likewise, if food supplies were not adequate, then they will stay hungry and not announce that they have not eaten anything. Likewise, due to the gender division of roles and expectations, women were supposed to cook and feed everyone in the evacuation centres. Regardless of how tired they were or unwell they felt, they still had to carry on. They feared that if they said anything or asked for help, people will call them Wagamama.

These cultural expectations are also the same for men due to the gender division of labour, although women and gender minorities are disproportionately impacted by the Wagamama culture. Men are expected to be strong and brave. For instance, after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, men struggled to express their feelings and vulnerability to their families and relatives. As a coping mechanism, some men went to sex workers to unburden their physiological distress.  Likewise, even elderly women were feared seeking help as they did not want to be called Wagamama in the times of crisis as there were bigger needs and community harmony was more important than their own needs, so they suffered but did not ask for help.

Despite all that has been done to recognise gendered social norms and their impacts on people, there is still a lot of work to be done in DRR. It is important to understand both spoken and unspoken social and cultural norms and their impacts on people’s everyday lives for inclusive DRR. In this short blog, we discussed some of the examples of Wagamama and its impacts on people’s everyday lives. We are currently working on a full paper where we analyse more cases to illustrate this concept, so watch this space.


Dr Punam Yadav is Associate Professor of Humanitarian Studies and Co-director of the Centre for Gender and Disaster at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London. Click here to learn more about her work.

Dr Miwako Kitamura is an Assistant Professor at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS) at Tohoku University, Japan. She is one of the founder of a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting special minorities and people with disabilities in disaster.

Redundant Charities: Escaping the Cycle of Dependence

By Estella Carpi, on 24 November 2023

Generic books on a desk
Photo by Abee5 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In a world where humanitarian work is now a career aspiration and not just an ad hoc grassroots mission, Weh Yeoh believes foreign charities working in contexts of disaster and vulnerability should make themselves redundant. Redundant Charities. Escaping the Cycle of Dependence, takes us through Yeoh’s professional journey in Cambodia as a founder of OIC, the Organization to Improve Communication and Swallowing Therapy Services.

Redundant Charities is an easy-to-read book adopting a first-person style, which charity practitioners, researchers and beneficiaries can fully relate to. The book is composed of eight chapters all offering ethical as well as practical considerations on charity work in disadvantaged geographies.

On the one hand, Yeoh does not talk indistinguishably about practitioners: the ones who occupy the lowest grades of the charity hierarchy remain the locals. On the other, the book only refers to a general category of charities, while the insights of the book go well beyond the charity sector, also speaking more broadly to the whole humanitarian and development world.

Moral self-licensing

One of the main take-away messages is the importance of not indulging in “moral self-licensing” (p. 22). According to Yeoh, it is a frequent practice for charity founders to propose activities that can boost their own egos rather than basing such activities on what is really needed from a local perspective. Without explicitly engaging with the related debates in international academia, Yeoh gets deep into discussions that relate to what scholars have discussed in terms of “moral economy”: he challenges the glorification of the practitioner’s sacrifice, the extraction of their egos from work itself (see p. 25) and the narcissism of feeling essential (p. 104). All traits that quite commonly define the approach of international charity professionals to the areas in which they operate: an unbearable lightness of expats, which anthropologist Redfield theorized as the shallow engagement of NGO practitioners with local societies while receiving economic benefits and accruing professional authority.

Along these lines, the author argues that this problematic focus on the self rather than on actual needs is often translated into “voluntourism” (p. 23), where western volunteers are willing to pay great sums in order to gain “field experience” and then claim such experiences as “expertise” once back in their countries. Such claims happen either in the form of professional assets on their CVs, or as moral claims to have done something good, regardless of charities’ impact and the volunteers’ knowledge about the societies in which they have gained such experiences. This section of the book offers important self-reflections from the author, reminding me of well-known Monsignor Ivan Illich’s To hell with good intentions speech, which was delivered in light of foreign volunteers going to Mexico in the 1960s to engage in acts of assistance and care.

Localization

Another fundamental take-away message is how unneeded it is to learn local languages and cultures before intervening in a needy area when undertaking a career in the charity sector. This especially happens when the charity founder (or, more broadly, the practitioner) is a vector of white, male-dominated forms of hegemonic humanitarianism, and therefore likely to emerge as a professional authority. In the past, I named this attitude of neglecting local cultures and language “epistemic failure”, which is rampant in the western approaches to the so-called Global South. In-depth knowledge of local languages and cultures would instead make us better placed to understand actual needs on the ground and, importantly, avoid a minimalist logic of believing that “something is better than nothing”, as Yeoh critically contends (p. 47).

In a nutshell, to radically reform the charity sector, Yeoh implies that foreign practitioners should make bigger efforts to learn local languages and cultures, and thus advocate for an internal change within the system itself. In fact, to reform the charity power-based structure, the “localization of aid”, which undergirds the 2023 UN Sustainable Development Goals, should be a principle shared by foreign as well as local practitioners.

Yeoh also reflects upon the idea of local ownership, which stands as one of the key values underpinning his personal work in Cambodia with his own charity OIC as well as the work of several other colleagues he mentions in the book. His thoughts invite us to value local knowledge and views as they are paramount to conduct charity work ethically and accurately. The book triggers fundamental questions: Should “local ownership”, therefore, be the end of the story? How do we ensure local ownership when external capacity and resources are still thought of as the very first step for any sort of subsequent ownership to take place? Can something like “ownership” come next, after capacity-building processes are managed from the outside?

Becoming redundant

Importantly, according to the author, an effective exit strategy cannot but lie in challenging the power structure and rendering us unneeded and redundant on the ground. In the current scenario, where charities tend to roll out long-term programmes due to protracted crises and/or diversified chronic needs, organizational continuity emerges as a priority and is forgetful about the need-based approach it formally keeps fostering.

The author clearly states that he avoids sharing experiences of failure, because there would be too many. Instead, to my mind, a public failure discourse, highly unlikely in the charity sector due to the threats to funding, would enable concrete steps towards ethical and eventually redundant charities.

Yet a thought about the very concept of redundancy, which necessarily involves shifting temporal dimensions: to make yourself redundant, you need to be able to remain and work in a setting for a long period of time. While charities – either humanitarian or development oriented (or both) – all adopt a different approach to time, their professional staff are known to move frequently from one country to another, from one human need to another. Such frequently short timeframes make Yeoh’s five-year experience of leading OIC in Cambodia quite exceptional. Indeed, the politics of professional recruitment in many international charities are often grounded in an accumulation of different geographic experiences, which, thus, rewards such a frantic personal mobility. This very structural flaw in the recruitment system should change before we can ever encourage practitioners – and founders, to begin with – to make themselves redundant.

On the practical side, Yeoh’s recommendations are sound and clear: live up to the key mission you have studied hard for; make yourself redundant by leaving sooner rather than later; and, consequently, make donors unneeded – and this, when charity is not centred entirely around economic investments, should be good news to them. This book proposes redundancy as an ethical value as well as an effectiveness proof in the charity sector. In this way, it can challenge the abstract and abused anti-donor talk, which is widespread in the charity sector as it is used to motivate and justify beneficiaries’ discontents. Much can still be done at a practitioner level, and Redundant Charities powerfully remind us of how.


Estella Carpi is an Assistant Professor of Humanitarian Studies in the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London. With a background in social anthropology and sociology, her work mostly revolves around humanitarianism, identity politics, and forced displacement in Lebanon and Türkiye.

Do we need more ‘pre-emptive retrospection’?

By Chris Needham-Bennett, on 12 October 2023

If something went wrong and in two years’ time the investigative documentary, ‘Panorama’ or the like, made a programme about the sequence of events, hosted by the most antagonistic of interviewers, would my organisation and/or me, look prudent or reckless?

Risk and its popular acceptance are determined by whomsoever one might define as ‘society’. The intensely complex relationship of risk and society has been debated in detail by the likes of Ulrich Beck, and shaped by Anthony Giddens. The sociological perspectives and arguments available are lengthy and intricate but are basically about how a society responds to risk.

Titan

A recent tragic example was the Titan submersible in its final decent to the Titanic. A great deal of commentary has revolved around the ‘I told you so.’ retrospective, the lack of regulation, ‘certification’ and the alleged irresponsibility of the designer who also died in his own craft. The risks were, at least when measured in media column inches, unacceptable. Yet the development of flight, which we now almost take for granted and accept as being ‘safe,’ demanded a far higher death toll of its pioneers. Lilienthal, now regarded by many as the father of flight, (he invented the concept of the first modern wing) died of injuries suffered in a stall from 50 feet. The ‘Comet’, the first commercial pressurised jet passenger aircraft lost three aircraft in twelve months from catastrophic in-flight break ups. There appears to be a ‘balance sheet of fatalities’ required to achieve progress, and the terms used by society, ‘reckless’ or ‘pioneering’ are generally a product of the time in which the events occurred, and the relatively recent loss of two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft was not generally viewed with the same phlegmatic, post war acceptance of the Comet losses.

Making Progress

Based on the assumption that progress in any discipline, despite ethics committees, will involve some risk to someone at some time, the critical question is what degree of risk and consequent loss is acceptable to maintain progress in such a discipline. Remember that we are in the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (not its Eradication). Most disciplines have developed their own particular measures in line with their industry’s ethical milieu. The more familiar are medical trials and processes of drug licencing which are rigorous, expensive and time consuming for all the right reasons. Additionally, one can plainly see the evolution of such risk management measures from 1796 and Jenner’s retrospectively unethical but brilliant action of the vaccination of a single 8-year old.

Many other industries, food, cosmetics, and furniture all have some form of standards. The EU even has rules for makers of hot air balloons who rejoice in a publication Easy access rules for balloonswhich is a mere 345 pages long. But, where we are confronted by a plexiglass and carbon fibre submarine, metaphorically made in an inventor’s shed, the position is less clear. There is no real licencing authority for voluntary and informed consent pleasure trips into the Abyss; and if we are seeking to define the acceptable level of risk proportionate to progress in any field then it is equally apparent that it lies neither with the increasing imposition of banal risk/Health & Safety regulatory bureaucracy, nor a laissez faire arrogance as to genuine risks.

Reasonableness

How do we strike the right note on the spectrum between impotent over-precaution and wilful recklessness? First, as (Professor) James Reason humanely advocated, we need to guard against hindsight bias:

Before judging too harshly the human failings that concatenate to cause a disaster, we need to make a clear distinction between the way the precursors appear now, given the knowledge of the unhappy outcome, and the way they seemed at the time.

James Reason in Human Error, 1990. Cambridge University Press.

But as Reason implied some degree of judgement is required and the question remains what level of judgement should be applied. In English civil law cases the test of ‘reasonableness’ is long established as a principle of judgement. It was exemplified by the term, the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’. This was updated by Lord Steyn’s analogy of the “commuter on the underground”. The principle in this test is that what is deemed ‘reasonable’ in a legal context in a civil case, would be that which the normal person on public transport felt was reasonable. In other words, “What would a reasonable person of ordinary prudence have done in the defendant’s situation?”

However, the problem of reasonableness is that it seems remarkably easy to convince oneself as to one’s own reasonableness, how indeed could it be otherwise? Naturally, the test of reasonableness is almost always applied retrospectively and, as Reason notes above, the person taking the risk at the time of the event might have had little cause to appreciate the risk. Like Lilienthal, if you are the first person to successfully fly a glider there is no reason, a priori, to understand the aerodynamics of a stall. Therefore, one is left with a further question of how one might fail to appreciate a risk but nonetheless demonstrate sufficient reasonableness to still convince the reasonable commuter of your prudence, especially a commuter who has, by the time of the inquiry or trial, read all of the initial news reports.

Pre-emptive retrospection

At this point we introduce the new notion of ‘pre-emptive retrospection’ (PER). Mentally one goes forward in time from now to a point say two years in the future and one asks the question as follows. If something went wrong and in two years’ time the investigative documentary, ‘Panorama’ or the like, made a programme about the sequence of events, hosted by the most antagonistic of interviewers, would my organisation and/or me, look prudent or reckless? This notion introduces an introspection of the activity that goes beyond the test of reasonableness (of which it is easy to convince oneself). This technique, forces an emphasis on foresight as to how one’s action could be perceived in the future with the dubious benefit of hindsight, it is not merely the question, ‘does it seem reasonable to me/us right now?’ It can also be applied from a variety of perspectives, consumer opinion, victim perception, stakeholder interest, shareholder confidence, and the media influenced reasonable person; this goes beyond one’s contemplation of one’s own potential reasonableness.

Pre-emptive retrospection is not a legal test like reasonableness, nor does it inhibit risk taking, rather it simply demands a pause for objective thought as to how ones current actions could be perceived in the future.


Dr Chris Needham-Bennett is Managing Director at Needhams1834 Ltd and Visiting Professor at University College London.


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