Resilience and Adaptation: Dealing with Tomorrow’s Natural Disasters
The consequences of climate change are already there, with a growing number and increasing severity of natural disasters that pose a long-term threat to people, resources and infrastructure in countries. According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters of the University of Leuven, the 396 disasters recorded in 2019 killed over 11,000 people, affected 95 million people and caused USD 103bn of economic losses.
Natural disasters: A strong impact on development
“The impact of a disaster can set the level of development of a country back by several years”, says Ysabeau Rycx, an expert in preparing for and managing disasters and director of the association TerHum. For example, the droughts in West Africa have “a huge impact on access to water and food resources”, she says. These natural risks contribute to instability, which is especially prevalent in areas affected by political, economic and social difficulties.
Edward Turvill confirms the vulnerability of people to frequent extreme phenomena in the Caribbean, where he is responsible for the “Resilience” component of the RESEMBID programme. In April 2021, the eruption of La Soufrière volcano forced 20,000 people to evacuate the north of the island, an agricultural production area, and Saint-Vincent could lose 50% of its GDP. Commander Meriem Yahiaoui points to the destabilising effect of disasters on State infrastructure and services, which she regularly sees as head of operational planning for Algeria’s civil protection.
Prevent, prepare and respond
In view of this situation, how to limit the impact of natural disasters? In Algeria, initiatives have been developed following the deadly floods in Bab El Oued in 2001: development of an early warning system, review of building regulations in high-risk areas, specialised training and equipment for civil protection… More generally, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction adopted at the United Nations in 2015 identifies four priorities:
• Understand the disaster risk (data collection, risk assessment…);
• Strengthen the governance of risks to manage them more effectively (national or regional plans, coordination, regulation…);
• Invest in risk reduction (equipment, infrastructure…);
• Improve the preparation for an effective intervention (early warning system, awareness-raising, simulation exercises…).
Actions to coordinate at the global and local levels
Coordination between countries is essential for disaster risk management in order to share data or resources and thereby reduce the response time. Cooperate to better protect: this is the rationale of the PPRD South III programme funded by the European Union. Expertise France is working in cooperation with civil protection services in France, Spain, Italy and in eight partner countries in order to better prevent, prepare for and respond to disasters in the Mediterranean.
Eric Bruder, the Director of Emeraude Sécurité Globale who is currently mobilised as an expert for a project to support Jordanian civil protection financed by AFD, mentions the importance of the approach by risk area, for example, for flood risk management in the Middle East: “We need to be able to anticipate by developing common meteorological resources in order to alert the Jordanian authorities in the event of torrential rain in Syria and enable an effective Jordanian response.” This approach is central to the European Union’s HIP FEWS project which Expertise France is implementing. It is supporting the development of the regional flood early warning system between Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
On the other side, the role of local stakeholders is pointed out by Meriem Yahiaoui, who considers that “one of the main barriers is the difficulty in translating the national strategies on paper into local action plans.” This requires informing the local authorities and local stakeholders in risk management of the content of these strategies. They also need to be trained so that they can adapt them at their level and implement them. In this context, in Tunisia, the European Union and Expertise France are supporting the deployment of an operational system to reduce disaster risks in the municipalities of Bou Salem and Tataouine via the DIP ECHO project.
People central to the preparation and response
It is also essential not to forget people. “The first people on the spot at the moment of impact are citizens”, says Ysabeau Rycx. Communication is therefore central, to inform and train beforehand and also reduce the risks of misinformation when the disaster occurs. “People are the key to success”, says Meriem Yahiaoui. She emphasises the need for awareness-raising campaigns adapted to the environment and culture of each country so that citizens take on board the notion of risk.
Gaël Musquet, the founder of TechReef, points out that this very much involves digital tools, which people are massively connected to. “Working upstream with these tools to prepare people to play their role in the event of a natural disaster”, is important he says. For example, this is the objective of Caribe Wave, an annual tsunami warning exercise in the Caribbean organised every year by the United Nations.
A political choice
However, these activities and tools require resources which countries are not always able to mobilise faced with other priorities such as employment, health, education… “Investing in reducing risks is not always an easy choice”, says Edward Turvill. Both Meriem Yahiaoui and Eric Bruder therefore emphasise the importance of informing and raising the awareness of politicians and elected officials who vote laws and budgets.
“Instead of dedicated financing, one of the solutions may be to have sectoral approaches, therefore financing integrated into the main sectors of economic and social life”, says Edward Turvill. “It is also necessary to make choices among the disasters (…) we talk about ‘acceptable risk’”, he adds, mentioning the insurance mechanisms that can be risk transfer tools.
Linking risk reduction and climate change adaptation
From national institutions to civil protection services and local authorities and including researchers, economic actors and civil society: “The only way to manage disasters is through a collaborative, integrated and inclusive approach with a long-term vision”, says Ysabeau Rycx.
It is also not possible to consider risk reduction without climate change adaptation, which is key to the resilience of countries. This is the aim of the RESEMBID programme under which the European Union and Expertise France are working with twelve countries and Caribbean Overseas Territories. The objective: maximise synergies between the protection and sustainable management of marine biodiversity, the development of energy efficiency and the strengthening of resilience to recurrent extreme events.
This is also the approach taken in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, a region threatened by coastal risks such as erosion: the members of the Coastal PIG* and its partners, including from the research community, have been taking action since 2006 to prepare the future of the coast and preserve it from climate change, explains Renaud Lagrave, President of the PIG and Vice-President for Infrastructure, Transport and Mobility of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.
The particular vulnerability of certain territories, the link between climate, natural disasters and development, and the importance of awareness-raising, cooperation and the exchange of expertise: these are the key points for Jérémie Pellet, Chief Executive Officer of Expertise France, who notes that adaptation and resilience will be central to COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.
For further reading: Climate: 2021 remains a crucial year to review the commitments of West African countries
* The public interest group (PIG) of the Aquitaine coast region brings together the services of the State and the Aquitaine Regional Council, the Departmental Councils of Charente-Maritime, Gironde, Landes and Pyrénées-Atlantiques, as well as all the coastal urban communities and communities of municipalities of these four departments.