M. Lootens, M. Thakkar, S. Stoffels
With the current pandemic shaking our lives at this very moment, cities face the complex challenge to design strategies able to match climate emergency, economic recovery and risk reduction at once! But how to do that? When thinking about climate impacts, or the risk of the virus COVID19 spreading, the mindset about protecting us from those risks is paramount to any other action. But, is that risk-driven approach enough to align and respond to the above mentioned challenges at once?
Luckily, in order to respond to this, we went asking to one of the best experts in risk reduction policies, professor Ebru Gencer, Executive Director of the Center for Urban Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience (CUDRR+R) and Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University. Ebru just spent a week with us, and been the Co-Chair of the Urban Planning Advisory Group (UPAG) to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, who better than her to ask these tricky questions?
During the week of classes we explored together how a portfolio of self-assessment tools for risk reduction was developed against the background of global framework to align policy responses across distinct geographical contexts and risks. And we are happy to share with you here some insight about how these can help cities in building integrated transformative agendas.
A holistic approach to risk reduction
Several policy frameworks for global development, such as SDG’s, the Paris Agreement and the New Urban Agenda 2030, as dosens of tools for their implementation, support governments at different levels in tackling the series of challenges mentioned above.. For Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR henceforth) specifically, the UNDRR Sendai Framework aims for “the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.” (Handbook pag. 15)
It defines some key priorities for action to prevent and reduce disaster risk, among which the pillar of properly define and understand the risks they are dealing with, and risk is not merely the probability of a hazard or shock to occur! You need to get the complexity of it. This requires a proper understanding of the level of 1) exposure to it (how you and your assets are exposed, to flooding, for example), 2) sensitivity about this (even if exposed to a risk, how much sensible, or robust you are, in facing its potential impacts), and finally 3) the coping capacities against it (of a person or assets in preventing, responding, recovering, form a potential impact). Channeling this knowledge feeds into disaster assessments, and thus the possible strategies for reducing your exposure, or sensitivity, or building responding mechanisms – thus preventing, or trying even to mitigate the risks.
Another key point is about the responsibility of governments on all levels (global to local) to actively set up risk management strategies once risks – and their components – are clear. Here is where stakeholder involvement becomes absolutely key, in order to understand all dimensions of risk, and channel these through the government responsibility of getting answers through actions. And of course, the implementation of measures for reducing risk should take place and be managed through integrated approaches, and building economic, social, health and cultural resilience of persons, communities, territories and their assets. Being holistic in setting the strategies. But which are the pitfalls of the self-assessments enabling the implementation of the Sendai Framework?
The 10 essentials and beyond
The UNDRR Disaster Risk Scorecard is one of many tools readily available for local government agencies and authorities to assess their knowledge and action plans against the framework of disaster risk reduction. The Scorecard evaluates the city’s preparedness and resources for managing disaster risks using 10 essentials (Fig. 1), ranging from governance and infrastructure to social resilience and finance. The main strength is that it is available for all cities worldwide and allows them to identify their own challenges and resources under a broad spectrum of domains without relying on external agencies.
However, the Disaster Risk Scorecard could result to be a powerful tool only if the team conducting the assessment comprises all relevant stakeholders, including for example representatives of vulnerable groups (among others). In practice, the assessment is often done during a workshop where the diverse range of stakeholders come together to discuss the essentials and their relationships. Ideally, this would ensure that the interests of all people, communities and their assets are considered, while openening-up the discussion to improve disaster risk management across all domains and for all citizens (ensuring a truthful and effective completion of the Scorecard). From one side, with all the stakeholders around the table, it becomes impossible for governmental authorities to fill in the questions based solely on intentions and their ambitions (thus keep pursuing their own political agenda). From the other side, we are facing the challenge of any participatory process, dealing with issues of representativeness, limitation of spaces and time to involve the most of the communities, the gaps and lack of capacities, sometimes, to gathering, understanding and synthesizing many different inputs within a couple of pages. It turns to be, at the end, the challenge of any planning and development process when facing democracy and the “right of the city”.
Gencer, E., A. (2017). How To Make Cities More Resilient: A Handbook For Local Government Leaders. Geneva, UNISDR. 122p.
Figure 2. Via https://mcr2030.undrr.org/ (last accessed on 02/11/2020)