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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.

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.

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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Building Resilience with Decision Analysis

By Jeffrey Keisler, on 25 May 2023

I have the wonderful honour of being a MAPS Fellow at UCL. This came about through conversations with my friend and colleague (and now host), Prof. Gianluca Pescaroli. Although we bonded through discussions about used vinyl records, I will instead talk about our work.

My background is in decision analysis, a field that takes quantitative approaches involving probability, utility, and decision trees to identify the overall risks and benefits associated with actions under uncertainty. In the context of resilience, there is much uncertainty but most of the focus is on trying to improve systems.

Thinking of information as a separate dimension of protection–because information helps people make the decisions that lead to optimal recovery–can lead to lower cost ways to bring about greater resilience. But improving information itself is costly. It can be tricky to figure out which information-related efforts are worthwhile. There are different ways to bring information into a decision process.

By taking a concept from decision analysis, value of information (VOI), we can take a more strategic approach. We can actually quantify the benefit of different possible efforts. Basically, we characterise the mix of potential consequences of making the best possible choice given a limited amount of information and compare this with what would happen if the same decisions were made with the benefit of more information. With this analysis, we can improve resilience by making investments to ensure that relevant information will be available after disruptions. These can be just as beneficial as investments in physical assets which can also minimise the damage of disruptions.

In managing resilience, we anticipate possible disruptions, and consider what can happen before, during, and after them. With a VOI approach, we also consider what information will be available for which decisions before, during, and after disruptions, and then can take steps to make that information available during those periods. Examples include purchasing information, building better information systems and communication systems, performing experiments, or potentially buying time for information to arrive by speeding decisions implementation and freezing damage during the time we’re waiting for information.

During my time at UCL I am meeting with a number of researchers in IRDR to apply this idea efficiently to problems in several important areas where we are studying resilience. These include healthcare, natural hazards, and technological or business crises. With these results, we can look toward building more sophisticated analyses or refining the planning process to flesh out the informational dimension. The researchers here have backgrounds in quantitative areas such as risk analysis and systems analysis as well as in the social sciences and in the physical sciences. There are many different types of data and phenomena to consider as we pull together these models. My hope is this will lay the groundwork for future valuable projects and continued collaboration.


MAPS Fellow Jeffrey Keisler is a Professor in the College of Management at University of Massachusetts Boston, where he specialises in Decision and Risk Analysis. He thanks the welcoming and wonderful group at IRDR for their making this visit such a special experience. 

Finding Mosquitoes!

By a.aldosery, on 12 December 2022

Aisha Aldosery


Mosquitos are a fundamental part of testing the novel idea of my PhD, which focuses on developing intervention tools to support developing an early warning system to control the mosquito, thus, combatting mosquito-borne diseases. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was quite hard to fly to Brazil, considered one of the Latin American countries that was hit hard by mosquito-borne disease and has a strong program for mosquito surveillance. Therefore, conducting my fieldwork in a different location was more feasible, such as the Portuguese island of Madeira, located in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, 900 km from mainland Portugal. A volcanic and subtropical island which seems like a perfect location for mosquitoes, it introduced an efficient program in 2005 focusing on mosquito surveillance. Four field trips have been conducted since November 2021 with Patty Kostkova, my primary supervisor, to achieve my project’s overarching goal. We worked together in designing and presenting several workshops on Madeira mobile app surveillance with the local environmental agents, as well as deploying several devices in the fields for environmental monitoring.

Trip One – Mosquito Ovitrap IOT-based System pilot system.

This trip was the first to Madeira after the COVID-19 pandemic; the trip was in late October 2021 and lasted for about three weeks. The main objectives of my first fieldwork trip (three weeks) were to establish a new collaboration with people from ITI / LARSyS, introduce and discuss my PhD idea with the team, and lastly, build a prototype version of the proposed system. Although the trip was considered short, we achieved a significant project milestone. During this trip, we started by calibrating the water sensors, building the IoT-based unit and deploying the prototype version of the MOISS system to understand how various weather and water parameters influence mosquito breeding and habitat favouring. The first version of the system has been deployed and running since November 2021 at the Natural History Museum of Funchal on Madeira Island. All timely data collected in the field by the sensors, such as the air temperature, humidity, pressure, water temperature, pH, DO, and conductivity, will be used along with the entomological data collected by the environmental agents to design and build a model to provide us with a better understanding of the mosquito’s development and presence.

Deployment of the first version of the MOISS system at the Natural History Museum.

The hardware component of the MOISS system.                                                          

Trip Two – Introducing Madeira Mosquito Surveillance App 

This trip was mainly about the project’s second component, which is about designing a mosquito surveillance app based on the local settings to be adopted by the environmental agents during their routine visits to the mosquito traps. To achieve that, establishing another collaboration with the local health sector is essential. The trip includes a couple of meetings and a workshop:

  • Meetings with Dr Bruna Ornelas de Gouveia, Regional Directorate of Health in Madeira Island, to discuss and design the collaboration protocol with the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE). The collaboration entitles us to pilot our app on the island and gives us access to historical mosquito density data.
  • Meeting with the technical and GIS team, who showed us the mosquito data, hotspot maps and the effective strategies adopted by the local government to control mosquitoes across the island (https://www.iasaude.pt/Mosquito/ ).
  • We ran the first workshop with the environmental agents to introduce the idea of the surveillance app and how it could positively affect their work. During this workshop, we presented some showcases from our Brazilian project (Belmont) and a prototype of the Madeira app. The agents demonstrated different scenarios that could happen on the ground and what actions needed to be considered in each scenario. Finally, we had an interactive session, a very productive session that helped us understand the local settings in different conditions.

Environmental agents, after completing the surveillance app workshop.

Trip Three – Mosquito Ovitrap IOT-based System (MOISS) Large Deployment.

The third fieldwork was the most significant and challenging trip as many milestones needed to be completed, including the IoT-based system units implementation and deployment, along with a lot of logical preparation. Yet, it was one of the most exciting trips to see the theories and paper design coming true. This trip was from July to the beginning of August 2022 (four weeks). The focus of this trip was the MOISS system. During this trip, we calibrated and tested 60 water sensors in a week period, which required specific weather conditions. Then, two engineers from ITI / LARSyS and I assembled 17 system units in a week, including the testing and debugging of each unit. The conducted lab testing was quite challenging, resulting in several issues, including problems with the manufactured IoT shield, slow network connections, power, etc. We ended up with 13 devices deployed across the capital of the Island, Funchal. The decision about how many devices and where to deploy them was collaborative work with environmental agents and the technical team to select suitable study sites based on several criteria, including technical, logistic and mosquito data. The locations include schools, hospitals, one university, the port, and a private building.

Assembly and testing phase of MOISS units at the lab.

MOISS system deployment.

Trip Four – Madeira Mosquito Surveillance App Piloting Workshop

The last trip of this year (September 2022) was a four-day trip for Madeira. The main objective of this trip was to run a three-hour workshop with the environmental agents to show them the first completed developed version of the app, which is designed and implemented based on the requirements collected in the first workshop (second trip). Patty and I gave the agents technical support to install, operate and test the app for about two hours. After that, we had a one-hour interactive session to collect their inputs, which will help us improve the app and develop another sufficient version. The agents were delighted with the mosquito surveillance app and were excited about the next phase, piloting the app for several months.

During this trip, the project gained the attention and interest of local Madeira TV, which was there during the workshop and interviewed Prof Patty Kostkova.

Patty Kostkova interviewed on Telejornal Madeira. Click image to open video (interview at 18:15-20:40).

We are currently looking for funding to develop and deploy the mosquito surveillance mobile app and collect data on a large scale. Finally, although each trip had its challenge, some went differently than we had planned and expected. I have learned much beyond my research scope and gained knowledge on project management and building collaboration. Many thanks to Patty for accompanying me in each project phase and trip to support me in moving the project forward. We had a great time enjoying the weather, and more significantly, we managed to deploy our IoT system and pilot the surveillance app.

Acknowledgements

Trip one was fully funded by the UCL Institution of Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR); trip two was fully funded by UCL Mathematical and Physical Science Faculty, PhD Students Travel Grant; trip three was mainly funded by the  UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) and partially by the UCL Institution of Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR); trip four was fully funded by my PhD sponsor, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia.

A big thanks and appreciation to our IRDR Finance team for their significant support which played a crucial role in helping me while preparing my PhD project. Special thanks to Matthew Lee for his outstanding support in managing equipment quotes and dealing with orders.


Aisha Aldosery is currently a doctoral candidate at the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies at University College London. She is also a researcher at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She earned her master’s degree in Software System Engineering from UCL. Her broad research areas are software engineering and the Applied Internet of Things. She is particularly interested in designing and developing digital health intervention tools such as surveillance and early warning systems. She is also interested in designing environmental IoT-based sensor devices and analysing sensor data using machine learning methodologies. The focus of Aisha’s PhD research project is investigating mobile apps, the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensing technologies for predicting mosquito populations to combat vector-borne diseases – a pertinent global issue with global research significance.

Is Legislation Useful for Disaster Risk Reduction?

By Jesús Garrido Manrique, on 28 November 2022

From when we are born until we die most of our daily activities are controlled by different norms, such as civil registration, house buying/letting, mortgages, work contracts, inheritances. We know that if we do not respect the law we will be faced with criminal or civil penalties. Hence, we act accordingly. Could you imagine a real, rather than an ideal, society without laws? Despite the importance of laws and regulations, experts and organisations without a legal background do not usually think about them in the context of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). In my experience, they usually tend to hide from laws and regulations. They simply pay attention to technical standards and guidelines.

Environmental legislation usually involves the legal framework for mitigating natural hazards through sectoral legislation in areas such as land, water and coastal management, civil protection or public works and the provision of housing. Legislation could regulate the uncontrolled growth of cities through a land act, which it is usually something that governs the different tools for land use planning. In hazard-prone areas, prohibitions, restrictions, or recommendations could be used. Environmental legislation deals with strategic environmental assessments, which evaluate the plans (for instance, a flood risk management plan or local hazard regulation plans). Meanwhile, a civil protection act regulates different disaster risk reduction actions to be taken before, during and after a potential or actual harmful event. Compulsory building codes or antiseismic norms also contribute to the mitigation of disasters. Legislation establishes a network of procedures and mechanisms for cooperation and collaboration among different institutions so that disaster risk management is gradually adopted through laws and regulations, as is the case in some countries.[1]

Non-structural measures such as legislation and land use planning are some of the most cost-effective DRR tools. They can mitigate or minimise, or even avoid, socio-economic losses related to natural hazards before destructive events happen. Unfortunately, civil protection is usually focused on short-term horizons during and after disaster instead of becoming a cornerstone of long-term actions before the disaster in the fields of prevention and prediction. “It is better to be safe than sorry”, but politicians or planners engaged in disaster risk management (DRM) probably prefer a “safe bet” by spending money in the short term in early warning, response and recovery of a real disaster instead of “wasting money” in prevention and mitigation of future adverse events. Local governments are usually more concerned about making money through construction permissions than in ensuring safety. DRM fails if risk reduction legislation is not enacted and enforced.

Does smart legislation ensure better DRR?

Not necessarily: compliance with laws and regulations is usually low. Although DRR mechanisms may be treated as compulsory in some national or local systems, institutions tend not to enforce them. For instance, flood hazard and risk maps have been established by EU countries after the enactment of Directive 2007/60/EC on the assessment and management of flood risks. Such maps should be considered in local planning, but local authorities do not usually use them to establish land use in relation to the level of hazard, even when flood hazard and risk maps are freely available.

In Spain, according to civil protection legislation, local emergency plans that focus on earthquake, flood and volcanic hazards have been compulsory since the 1990s. However, most municipalities still have no civil protection plans. The Lorca earthquake of 2011 killed nine people, but the earthquake hazard map was blamed instead of the lack of compliance with the seismic building code. The La Palma eruption of 2021 affected more than 1500 houses, but the volcano was treated as the only guilty party, even though some houses were built too close to the ravines in which the lava flowed. For public administrations it is easier to blame scientists or practitioners than recognise their own faults.

In the last century, some natural disasters were considered to be “acts of God”. Currently, climate change is blamed. The authorities are not assuming their own responsibilities and thus, when disaster strikes, all citizens pay for their lack of responsibility.

Barriers to DRR legislation

When dealing with DRR, it is not easy to find the right mix of legislation. Scattered sectoral legislation tends to become lost in this complex legal labyrinth. Conflicts of competency and jurisdiction are particularly common in countries with decentralised administrations. In many cases, methodologies and return periods for hazard and risk maps have not usually been established using appropriate technical standards and guidelines. Unfortunately, cooperation and coordination among different stakeholders do not have a history of effective achievements.

While the legislation is the means, planning is the outcome. Even the presence of compulsory laws and regulations does not guarantee that land use and hazard maps will be effective. Lack of instruments to systematically monitor compliance with legislation, for instance in urban planning, means that it is difficult to assess the proportion of local plans that fail to respect the law. Hazard-prone areas should be classified as rural land instead of developable land, or at least some land uses should be avoided, or some restrictions or recommendations should be considered according to the level of hazard. However, it is difficult to tell whether planning institutions really proceed according to the law. On the other hand, hazard maps to be expressly used for zoning should be created by means of the economic resources of governmental institutions (and probably at a small scale). However, they tend to be created using private resources and at larger scales. In the first instance, DRR legislation is mainly designed to be enforced by public administrations, but prevention is usually transferred to individual stakeholders.

Natural hazards maps are not cheap to make or easy to create. Hence, shortage of economic funds and a deficit of well-prepared human resources constitute more barriers to DRR. However, in my opinion, the lack of accountability of decision makers is the most important barrier. In their own businesses they probably employ a precautionary approach (much as environmental legislation does), but they avoid it in public affairs.

Incompatibility of different land-use planning systems and tools is something that adds difficulties to disaster risk management.

Legislation and the Sendai Framework for DRR

The importance of legislation was underlined in the Hyogo Framework for Action, which focused on the enactment of dedicated DRM laws. The Sendai Framework goes further by promoting the coherence of the entire national legal and policy framework.[2]

All priorities for action (PFAs) of the Sendai Framework for DRR need to be rooted in legislation. In particular, to achieve PFA 2 at the national and local levels, it is important to integrate DRR into national and local frameworks of laws, regulations and public policies by developing new laws or amending existing legislation. There is a need to allocate necessary resources and establish mechanisms to ensure compliance. On the other hand, land-use planning has been considered as a vital means to achieve PFA 2 (from local to global levels) and PFA 3 (at national and local levels).

References to different relationships among policies, strategies and plans can be found throughout the Sendai Framework for DRR. They should lead to normative tools.


References

  1. Garrido, J. and Saunders, W.S.A. (2019). Disaster Risk Reduction and Land Use Planning: Opportunities to Improve Practice. In: Shakoor, A., Cato, K. (eds) IAEG/AEG Annual Meeting Proceedings, San Francisco, California, 2018 – Volume 5. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-93136-4_20.
  2. IFRC and UNDP (2015). Handbook on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and United Nations Development Programme: Geneva, Switzerland. p 76.

Acknowledgments

I gratefully acknowledge discussions with Prof. David Alexander. Thanks for his kind and helpful revision.


Jesús Garrido Manrique is a visiting researcher at IRDR, analysing the application of legislation in urban planning for disaster risk reduction. He is a Lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Granada, Spain, and is the Head of World Geologist NGO (Andalusia Branch), working in DRR and water supply projects in Central America.

Vulnerability is the root cause of Pakistan’s susceptibility to disasters

By Joshua Anthony, on 21 November 2022

Author: Dr. Laila Shahzad*


According to the IPCC AR5, the human influence on the planetary climate system is undeniable and emissions from greenhouse gases (GHGs) are at the highest levels ever seen in the history of mankind. These climatic changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. The most visible effects of changing climate are variation in rainfall pattern, increasing average temperature, glacier melting, rising sea levels, crop diseases, species invasions, weather related disasters and many more. Human activities involved in bringing these changes are industrial processes, fossil fuel burning, vehicular emission, and agriculture. The unpredictable rainfall patterns and variable seasonal precipitation badly influence the soil water availability for crop, loss from floods or drought, and become a serious issue for the farmers of South Asia and policy makers as a greater threat to food security.

South Asia, a region chiefly described as having agricultural-based economies, is considered as the most vulnerable region in the world. As the change in food growth and production will directly affect the food needs of burgeoning population due to disturbance in financial, ecological, and social systems on this part of planet earth. The situation in the region is worsened by locality, topography, socio-political influences, literacy rate, unskilled labourers, economic instability, poverty, and livelihood dependency on natural resources.

Pakistan, a country with 225 million (approx.) inhabitants suffered by the unprecedented floods in June 2022 which lasted for months. Torrential monsoon rains triggered the severe flooding which washed away thousands of houses and crop land leaving people homeless and food insecure.

A little background

Pakistan is the second largest country by its area in South Asia after India, and is highly vulnerable to climatic changes, ranked among the top ten countries by the Global climate risk index of the world in past many years. The country is recurrently affected by the disasters in both the long term index and in the index of a respective year, alluding to the persistent nature of underlying vulnerabilities. The climate of the country ranges from subtropical arid to semi-arid and temperate to alpine. Precipitation varies from 100 to 2000 mm mainly from June to September across the countryside. It is broadly an agrarian country with a contribution of 21% to GDP from agriculture which provides employment to 62% of the population. The main crops are wheat, cotton, and rice grown at different agro-ecological zones of the country with diversified hydrological, soil, and climatic conditions. Temperature and rainfall show constantly increasing and decreasing trends, respectively. Since the start of the 20th century, the rising temperature has caused an increase in demand of evapotranspiration for crops by up to 10-30%. The agricultural system in Pakistan is already worsened by the urbanisation as it has decreased the production due to conversion of fertile land into housing societies. On the other side, recurring floods end up losing the soil fertility and disturbing the crop cycle.

Floods of 2022: a compound disaster

The 2022 Pakistan floods caused unprecedented damage to agriculture crops, livestock, and infrastructure, including damages to storage facilities with tons of grain, posing unmeasurable risk. Badly affected crops include—but are not limited to—rice, sugarcane, cotton, wheat, and small-scale farmers totally lost their livelihood. Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest producer of cotton and produces about 5% of world’s demand which will affect the supply due to flood damages.

According to the World Bank, the worst hit sectors are housing, agriculture, livestock, and, lately, transport and communications with significant damages of USD 5.6 billion, USD 3.7 billion, and USD 3.3 billion, respectively (Pakistan Floods 2022 Post-Disaster Needs Assessment). This actually calls for cascading effects as such massive disasters have tangible and intangible losses; in terms of water borne diseases, shortage of food, price hike, loss of machinery, post disaster trauma, losing mental health and wellbeing, and disturbing the crop cycle due to water logging.

So now the question arises: could this event be controlled or at least better managed? What Strategies did Pakistan have to minimise flood losses? The government of Pakistan is currently in the phase of recovery, where bringing people back to normal life is not easy. Though time has proved that this tragic event has to be a turning point when it comes to making disaster risk reduction policy for the vulnerable. The policy should have focused on the most vulnerable in enhancing climate resilience and adaptations by developing community-based disaster management at district and tehsil levels. Focus should be on nonstructural risk reduction measures by giving disaster education to the masses. In the shortest way, the emergency health system, training local farmers, introducing livelihood diversification, and emergency cash transfer system can be prioritized. This calls for interactive and integrated polices where communities need to be prepared for future disasters and be a part of policy making. The government tiers have to be more connected than working in isolation as managing the compound impacts will not be an easy job.

With the theme of building back better, Pakistan should not only manage the losses and provide immediate support to families; rather, a long way to go is “to plan” as climatic emergencies will keep coming with more magnitude and frequency, and to the more vulnerable.


*Dr. Laila Shahzad is a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, UCL London and Assistant professor at Sustainable Development Study Centre, GC University, Lahore, Pakistan. | lailashahzad@gcu.edu.pk

What Do Students of Disaster Research?

By Joshua Anthony, on 12 October 2022

As a trans-disciplinary department, the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) fosters disaster-risk research from a variety of perspectives and experience. From previous and ongoing crises to future perils, work done by our staff and students is positioned to respond to the increasing necessity for disaster research imposed by unrelenting exposure to hazards and vulnerabilities. Students attending IRDR learn about these complex interactions and develop the skills needed to assess the many dimensions of disaster. This article presents a short collection of research projects conducted by some of our master’s students.


Evacuation Decision Model of Flood-Affected People in South Kalimantan, Indonesia

Flood is the most prominent hazard in South Kalimantan Province, Indonesia. On January 2021, South Kalimantan suffered from the most severe flood in the last 60 years, which inundated 10 out of 13 regencies/cities in the province. Moreover, the event generated over 100 thousand dollars of economic losses, nearly 80 thousand people affected, and 21 death tolls. As for December 2021, floods hit the province again and impacted several regions. To save more lives in future events, evacuation for people at risk is an important action in the emergency phase. However, evacuation decision-making involves complex variables such as sociodemographic conditions, capacity, risk, as well as warning systems. Therefore, this study aims to identify the significant variables that influence people’s evacuation decision.

This study will focus on two districts, one in Tabuk River District (rural area) and another one in West Banjarmasin District (urban area). The two regions were severely flooded in January and December 2021. Tabuk River District is frequently flooded due to fluvial (river) flooding, while West Banjarmasin District is frequently flooded due to tidal flooding. My data collection method will distribute questionnaires to people in the flood-affected area and data analysis will be conducted using a binomial regression model.

Khonsa Zulfa | khonsa.zulfa.21@ucl.ac.uk


Copula theory with applications to assess flood risk in the Calgary region, Canada

As a geologist, I have always been intrigued by the occurrence of extreme natural phenomena. For that reason I chose for my dissertation project the study area of Canada, and more specifically the region of South Alberta, in Calgary. Canada is a flood prone country, which has faced extreme floods over the years; however, the 2013 flood in southern Alberta was one of the costliest disasters in Canadian history. That being the case, I was really interested in identifying and estimating the potential flood risk in this particular region with the use of the copula theory, which is a statistical method that allows us to consider a number of factors related to flood risk, and then provide the right mitigation measures to tackle this hazard. 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 general public from an imminent disaster—having always in mind that prevention is better than cure.

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


Agent-Based Tsunami Evacuation Model for Tsunami Risk Assessment in Tanjung Benoa, Bali, Indonesia.

Bali, a world-famous tourist area, is one of Indonesia’s islands prone to megathrust earthquake-generated tsunamis with magnitudes up to M9.0 due to its location on the subduction zone between Eurasia and the Australia plate. Therefore, understanding risk and the ability to evacuate during tsunami is critical and essential to reducing the risk, which is mostly influenced by people-behaviour in decision-making. This study aims to model the tsunami evacuation to analyze the tsunami risk, including casualty estimation and shelter analysis in Tanjung Benoa village, Bali, Indonesia. This study includes tsunami hazard modelling using COMCOT v1.7 software, people-behaviour surveys about tsunami evacuation through questionnaires, and modelling the tsunami evacuation using agent-based model in NetLogo software. The tsunami model shows that the estimated arrival time ranges from 15-20 minutes with 15 meters of maximum tsunami height. Of 300 respondents, the majority (87.7%) will choose to evacuate by foot and the rest (12.3%) by vehicle, with the departure time 5 minutes after the shaking, resulting tsunami evacuation model with a casualty estimation of up to 22.2%. Improving the tsunami preparedness strategies is essential for the stakeholders—especially adding more vertical tsunami shelters, as this study also found that the capacity of the current shelters in Tanjung Benoa is still less than 50% of the total population.

Giovanni Cynthia Pradipta | giovanni.pradipta.21@ucl.ac.uk


How far do India’s Disaster Risk Reduction policies consider the sustainable livelihood needs of tribal women: A case of Keonjhar District, Odisha

In this study, I evaluated whether disaster risk reduction (DRR) policies reduce tribal women’s vulnerability and offer sustainable livelihood options. Moreover, I proposed ways to improve the effectiveness of these policies by identifying their shortcomings. Using a gender lens and Sendai Framework, this study contributes to the literature on the convergence of DRR with the Sustainable Development Goals in the context of the marginalized group of tribal women. Presently we don’t find any DRR policy explicitly addressing this issue of tribal women. Though different Central and State programs for reducing the overall vulnerability of women are in progress. The government is taking a variety of measures and gender-inclusive disaster governance is gradually gaining ground.

Swati Sharma | swati.sharma.21@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 of IRDR blog.

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

Resilience, semantic satiation, conflation, and Maslow’s hierarchy: I can only take so much!

By Joshua Anthony, on 24 August 2022

Author: Dr Chris Needham-Bennett


I am getting worried with hearing ‘resilience’ used incautiously. The word (a general noun) which, once a welcome umbrella term to describe the results of the contributory disciplines of business continuity, disaster recovery, crisis management, emergency response, etc., has become a hackneyed media mantra. The England middle order cricket team batsmen, the Lioness’s England football team are ‘resilient’, a company or local council has ‘built in resiliency’ (whatever that is). The Ukrainians are resilient. My local community needs to achieve resilience. I need to achieve personal resilience for my mental well-being; I am not sure to what?

This blog makes two fundamental points, the first is a conflation of resilience with mental well-being, stress management and associated issues, the second is the overuse of the term and a consequent diminution of its genuine meaning.

Alexander (2013)[1] (noting several other authorities), cautioned that resilience might not have the ‘power’ to be a paradigm, yet almost a decade later—whilst it arguably is far from a paradigm—there is little doubt of a fascination with the phrase and burgeoning academic research[2] (some of which is attributable to climate change research). Moser et al. (2019)[3] note in their abstract that, ‘Resilience has experienced exponential growth in scholarship and practice over the past several decades.…it is an increasingly contested concept.’

The question to my mind is why is there such a fascination with the word? First let us discount hitherto traditional uses of the word which could include its proper application to botany, pharmacology, risk in some instances, material sciences, and metallurgy.

My increasing suspicion is that it is to do with a burgeoning societal self-obsession and narcissism combined with a notion of zero risk. Society appears to have latched onto a phrase which has been hijacked by a quasi-utopian vision which is manifested as follows.

The conflation with ‘well-being’

At the macro level, the OECD measures resilient cities using the criteria outlined below[4]. Some of these seem an expression of good economic common sense. Others such as ‘% of citizens near open space’ seem a little tentative and debatable as to their links to resilience.

 

Four areas that drive resilience. Source: OECD Regional Development[4].

Perhaps as importantly, their definition as to what is resilience is, is tinged with slightly trendy overtones of a ‘brave new world’.

‘Resilient cities are cities that have the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for future shocks (economic, environmental, social & institutional). Resilient cities promote sustainable development, well-being and inclusive growth.’

Sadly, the definition does not really define precisely what the city will be resilient to, rather it is left in vague terms of ‘shock’. It does not mention some of the more critical resilience issues lower down on Maslow’s hierarchy (1943 version; cited by McLeod 2022)[5] such as power, housing, water, sewage, defence, health, and food, without which the ability to live ‘500 metres from services or near an open space or well-being and inclusive growth’ might appear somewhat academic.

At the opposite end of the resilience spectrum, at the individual level, a simple google search of ‘personal resilience course’, offers a spectacular array of over 82 million results. A brief survey of the top five of them indicates that their duration is one day or in some cases half a day. The general view is that personal resilience is a skill or attribute that can be acquired in about 8 hours (the extreme min/max range for the duration of such courses appears to be 90 minutes to a 12-week period).

Robertson et al. (2015) expressed some reservations as to the evidence of the efficacy of such courses. Naturally since 2015 more evidence might be apparent but truly longitudinal studies of the ongoing effect of course completed a decade ago are yet to be available. Their practitioner notes state that,

‘Despite conceptual and theoretical support for resilience training, the empirical evidence is tentative, with the exception of a large effect for mental health and subjective well-being outcomes.’[6]

One BBC report cites Dr Michael Pluess from Queen Mary University of London who is testing for the resilience gene, in which case if discovered it would potentially invalidate the courses cited above.

There is a real danger that resilience, which is a fundamentally practical issue at both the macro and micro level is suborned by the burgeoning but evidentially limited literature on resilience’s relationship to well-being, inclusivity, and mental health. Such links also veneer the unpalatable hard choices that real resilience demands. Put as simply as possible we all might live near open spaces and be very inclusive, but if London’s water supply remains dependent solely on abstraction from the rivers Thames and Lee[7] then it does not matter how ‘positive’ you might feel about the City in about 20 years you will not have enough to drink (perhaps counterintuitively based on a multi-year average, London has only 100mm more rainfall than Jerusalem)[8].

Semantic Satiation

But is there any evidence that the overuse of a word diminishes somehow its value. Broadly speaking yes there is, and it is technically called ‘semantic satiation’. Smith and Klein (1990) noted that ‘Prolonged repetition of a word results in the subjective experience of loss of meaning, or semantic satiation’[9]. At risk of oversimplifying their diligent study, it works something like this; on a relatively infrequent basis I inform my partner that I love her. It seems to cheer her up. If I informed her of my love on a daily basis she would be delighted for a while, then she would suspect that I am having an affair, then she would get bored with it and then perhaps later even angry. The phrase would become increasingly less meaningful and impactful.

At a more serious level it does seem to me to do some harm. In reality a lot of ‘building resilience’ is really risk mitigation or some type or diversification in the case of supply chains. If for instance, we take Markovic’s 1952 diversification theory[10] (disputed by later critics) it does supposedly make an investment portfolio more resilient to market volatility, but the critical issue or activity is diversification which is a ‘thing’ in its own right with a word all of its own to describe it. Now one can make the argument that the end result is a more resilient portfolio, but one should not be tempted to change resilience to an activity which requires it to be a verb. Diversify is the verb or ‘doing word’; resilience is the result. Similarly, if we claim that all activities are resilience measures it somehow diminishes the utility or worth of risk assessments, risk mitigation, plans and responses all of which combine to achieve resilience.

Conclusion

It might be easy to dismiss these concerns as semantic academic posturing yet the power of words, their definitions, associations, and nuances are what will shape the future of resilience. I would wish resilience to remain practical, efficacious, and most importantly simple. Let us leave resilience as an ambition or end state that is achieved through an array of distinct professional activities. Let us also ensure that the fundamental hard and often costly problems associated with resilience are not whitewashed with an ephemera of pleasantries normally found at the higher altitudes of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There may well be benefits to stress or coping management courses but let us call them just that, not personal resilience.


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

Email Chris at: chris@needhams1834.com


References

[1] Alexander, D. E.: Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 2707–2716, https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-13-2707-2013, 2013.

[2] https://ensia.com/articles/what-is-resilience/

[3] Moser, S., Meerow, S., Arnott, J. et al. The turbulent world of resilience: interpretations and themes for transdisciplinary dialogue. Climatic Change 153, 21–40 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2358-0

[4] https://www.oecd.org/cfe/regionaldevelopment/resilient-cities.htm

[5] McLeod, S. A. (2022, April 04). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

[6] Robertson, I.T., Cooper, C.L., Sarkar, M. and Curran, T. (2015), Resilience training in the workplace from 2003 to 2014: A systematic review. J Occup Organ Psychol, 88: 533-562. https://doi.org/10.1111/joop.12120

[7] https://web.archive.org/web/20150325074128/http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/water-strategy-oct11.pdf

[8] https://www.sdjewishworld.com/2011/11/20/rain-in-jerusalem-almost-as-much-as-london/

[9] Smith, Lee, Klein, Raymond Evidence for semantic satiation: Repeating a category slows subsequent semantic processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol 16(5), Sep 1990, 852-861

[10]  Portfolio Selection, Harry Markowitz – The Journal of Finance, Vol. 7, No. 1. (Mar., 1952), pp. 77-91

 

 

Inclusion, Intersectionality, and the Humanitarian Shelter Sector

By Mhari Gordon, on 4 July 2022

Mhari Gordon is an IRDR PhD Student.


The 28th UK Shelter Forum (UKSF) in May 2022 included thought-provoking talks by practitioners and academics on whether the humanitarian shelter sector is ready to respond to the effects of climate change. The ‘Climate Charter’ emphasises the need to “support those who are the most at risk, taking into account the influence that individual characteristics… have on people’s capacities and vulnerabilities.” The importance of inclusive approaches is widely recognised by humanitarian organisations, but how should they put this commitment into practice? At the UKSF Phil Duloy from FCDO chaired a breakout group exploring opportunities for the shelter sector to be more inclusive and intersectional in its approach to the climate crisis. The panel included Hayley Capp from CARE International UK, Kevin Blanchard from DRR Dynamics and Maria Kett from UCL Population Health Sciences.

Photo of Panel including, from left to right, Phil Duloy, Hayley Capp, Kevin Blanchard and Maria Kett. Photo by Ilan Kelman.

Unequal Realities

It has become well-established that individuals are affected by crises and disasters to different extents and that, simply put, the marginalised and minority populations are ‘hit the hardest’. There are numerous examples of double injustices whereby certain individuals are marginalised and experience higher levels of poverty due to social, gender, sexuality, or cultural norms and are therefore more susceptible to the effects of climate change. Capp shared specific examples in the case of women and girls. Women tend to have limited access to and control of resources such as mobile phones, cash transfers, and insurance mechanisms. These resources are important during crises as they foster disaster resilience and recovery. Additionally, women and girls can be faced with lose-lose situations. For example, on one hand, there may be barriers to mobility for leaving their home and on the other, they may face gender-based violence risks in shelters if there are inadequate divisions or security considerations. These limitations are reflected in disaster statistics, such as the 2014 earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia whereby females accounted for two-thirds of the deaths. So, this leads to bigger questions such as how does the shelter sector deal with the underlying reasons and situations which have created such vulnerabilities within its humanitarian response?

Intersectionality and Labels

The use of the ‘intersectionality’ concept, which can recognize personal identities and characteristics, is offered as a framework to understand how different groups experience vulnerability, exposure, and resilience. However, this is not an easy task. Kett observed that even when the intersectionality framework is used within humanitarianism, there is still the presence of ‘silo-ing’ and that the sector does not “necessarily have the tools yet to really operationalise this on the ground.”. The categorisations of gender, sexuality, age, disability, etc., disenable an individual from being truly reflected. It can lose nuances such as a woman who is queer, elderly, and has hearing difficulties. Moreover, it does not necessarily measure vulnerabilities comparatively. For example, a man with a disability can be less marginalised than a woman without in some social contexts. The context of where the humanitarian assistance is being delivered is crucial to understand.

There needs to be careful consideration of how these individual characteristics are being termed, framed, and assessed; that the labelling does not further emphasise the marginalisation or difference from what is considered ‘mainstream’ or ‘acceptable’ within certain norms. Kate Crawford, a panellist from the preceding Humanitarian Institute Evening Conference, noted that labelling can place the vulnerability onto the individual, instead of recognising that it is the societal system that has created vulnerabilities for them. Additionally, there is a danger that labels may create further risks for individuals; for example, if the national state does not recognise an ethnicity. This leads to several ethical questions. How willing are people to be (self-) enumerated? What if an individual has a ‘characteristic’ they are able or want to hide, but it is a determinant of being more vulnerable?

Next Steps

These discussions raise questions about how to put into practice the first commitment of the Climate Charter on supporting those most at risk whilst accounting for individual characteristics and situations, as well as the third commitment on inclusive participation of people in humanitarian programmes. From the opinions shared by the panellists, there are currently few success stories of vulnerable people or minority groups being meaningfully included in wider humanitarian responses, expect where the specific aim of the project had a particular focus on inclusion. However, there remains only limited inclusion mainstreaming in humanitarian projects. Moreover, inclusion frameworks are largely missing in disaster policies. Blanchard identified that there are presently six countries that actively include LGBTQIA+ people in disaster risk reduction (DRR) policies. Additionally, the concept of inclusion is largely missing from the UNDRR Sendai Framework thus leaving a desert in disaster policies. So, what does this mean in terms of the humanitarian response to present and future disasters? How can we better represent inclusion frameworks within wider policies and, most importantly, ensure their application on the ground?

The panellists shared that there is still an opportunity for using the intersectionality framework when well applied, as it can collect representative data of the diversity in our communities. Moreover, intersectionality can also identify tools and knowledge that communities need to respond to vulnerabilities and foster resilience. This would help to design appropriate humanitarian shelter responses for people in need. However, the intersectionality framework may face barriers. Some characteristics, such as ethnicity or sexual orientation, can be protected in one country and legal cause for persecution in another. Therefore, not all data sets represent the most marginalised or at-risk people. Social protection schemes, also known as public safety net programmes, have previously been used in humanitarian responses in the form of increased cash transfers or disability allowances to support more vulnerable individuals during disasters. However, if certain individuals are excluded from beneficiary lists (data sets), there is the danger that they are further marginalised during the humanitarian and disaster response. This example highlights how certain data presentations can lead to pitfalls of not reaching individuals most in need during disasters. Furthermore, it demonstrates the difficult task at hand for humanitarian assistance to reach those most at risk, whilst working with and respecting the sovereignty of the host nation. Therefore, it is paramount that attention is paid to how the data is collected and stored – especially for hyper-marginalised groups – as well as how data is analysed and used.

The key suggestion made by the panellists was to work with existing support groups that are either in the country or the region. Networks such as women’s rights groups, disabled people’s organisations, or LGBTQIA+ groups already contain a wealth of knowledge and strong social networks that can identify those most in need whilst doing it in a safe manner. The caveat is that these groups are typically underfunded and work with limited resources. However, this avenue presents an opportunity for the shelter sector to work with and support local-level actors whilst driving a more inclusive humanitarian response to ensure that no one gets left behind.


More details on the 28th UK Shelter Forum (including videos of several sessions) can be found here: https://www.shelterforum.info/uk-shelter-forum-28-climate-change/