In the context of this article, risk governance addresses the ways and means—or institutional framework—to lead and manage the issue of risk related to natural phenomena, events, or hazards, also referred to popularly, although incorrectly, as “natural disasters.” At the present time, risk related to natural phenomena includes a major focus on the issue of climate change with which it is intimately connected, climate change being a major source of risk.
To lead involves mainly defining policies and proposing legislation, hence proposing goals, conducting, promoting, orienting, providing a vision—namely, reducing the loss of lives and livelihoods as part of sustainable development—also, raising awareness and educating on the topic and addressing the ethical perspective that motivates and facilitates engagement by citizens.
To manage involves, among other things, proposing organizational and technical arrangements, as well as regulations allowing the implementation of policies and legislation. Also, it involves monitoring and supervising such implementation to draw further lessons to periodically enhance the policies, legislation, regulations, and organizational and technical arrangements.
UNISDR was established in 2000 to promote and facilitate risk reduction, becoming in a few years one of the main promoters of risk governance in the world and the main global advocate from within the United Nations system. It was an honor to serve as the first director of the UNISDR (2001–2011).
A first lesson to be drawn from this experience was the need to identify, understand, and address the obstacles not allowing the implementation of what seems to be obvious to the scientific community but of difficult implementation by governments, private sector, and civil society; and alternatively, the reasons for shortcomings and weaknesses in risk governance.
A second lesson identified was that risk related to natural phenomena also provides lessons for governance related to other types of risk in society—environmental, financial, health, security, etc., each a separate and specialized topic, sharing, however, common risk governance approaches.
A third lesson was the relevance of understanding leadership and management as essential components in governance. Drawing lessons on one’s own experience is always risky as it involves some subjectivity in the analysis. In the article, the aim has, nonetheless, been at the utmost objectivity on the essential learnings in having conducted the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction—UNISDR—from 2001 to around 2009 when leading and managing was shared with another manager, as I prepared for retirement in 2011.
Additional lessons are identified, including those related to risk governance as it is academically conceived, hence, what risk governance includes and how it has been implemented by different international, regional, national, and local authorities. Secondly, I identify those lessons related to the experience of leading and managing an organization focused on disaster risk at the international level and in the context of the United Nations system.
Rob A. DeLeo
Agenda setting describes the process through which issues are selected for consideration by a decision-making body. Among the myriad of issues policymakers can consider, few are more vexing than natural hazards. By aggregating (or threatening to aggregate) death, destruction, and economic loss, natural hazards represent a serious and persistent threat to public safety. While citizens rightfully expect policymakers to protect them, many of the policy challenges associated natural hazards fail to reach the crowded government agenda. This article reviews the literature on agenda setting and natural hazards, including the strain between preparing for emerging hazards, on the one hand, and responding to existing disasters, on the other hand. It considers the extent to which natural hazards pose distinctive difficulties during the agenda-setting process, focusing specifically on the dynamics of issue identification, problem definition, venue shopping, and interest group mobilization in natural hazard domains. It closes by suggesting a number of future avenues of agenda-setting research.
Brenden Jongman, Hessel C. Winsemius, Stuart A. Fraser, Sanne Muis, and Philip J. Ward
The flooding of rivers and coastlines is the most frequent and damaging of all natural hazards. Between 1980 and 2016, total direct damages exceeded $1.6 trillion, and at least 225,000 people lost their lives. Recent events causing major economic losses include the 2011 river flooding in Thailand ($40 billion) and the 2013 coastal floods in the United States caused by Hurricane Sandy (over $50 billion). Flooding also triggers great humanitarian challenges. The 2015 Malawi floods were the worst in the country’s history and were followed by food shortage across large parts of the country.
Flood losses are increasing rapidly in some world regions, driven by economic development in floodplains and increases in the frequency of extreme precipitation events and global sea level due to climate change. The largest increase in flood losses is seen in low-income countries, where population growth is rapid and many cities are expanding quickly. At the same time, evidence shows that adaptation to flood risk is already happening, and a large proportion of losses can be contained successfully by effective risk management strategies. Such risk management strategies may include floodplain zoning, construction and maintenance of flood defenses, reforestation of land draining into rivers, and use of early warning systems.
To reduce risk effectively, it is important to know the location and impact of potential floods under current and future social and environmental conditions. In a risk assessment, models can be used to map the flow of water over land after an intense rainfall event or storm surge (the hazard). Modeled for many different potential events, this provides estimates of potential inundation depth in flood-prone areas. Such maps can be constructed for various scenarios of climate change based on specific changes in rainfall, temperature, and sea level.
To assess the impact of the modeled hazard (e.g., cost of damage or lives lost), the potential exposure (including buildings, population, and infrastructure) must be mapped using land-use and population density data and construction information. Population growth and urban expansion can be simulated by increasing the density or extent of the urban area in the model. The effects of floods on people and different types of buildings and infrastructure are determined using a vulnerability function. This indicates the damage expected to occur to a structure or group of people as a function of flood intensity (e.g., inundation depth and flow velocity).
Potential adaptation measures such as land-use change or new flood defenses can be included in the model in order to understand how effective they may be in reducing flood risk. This way, risk assessments can demonstrate the possible approaches available to policymakers to build a less risky future.
Daniel P. Aldrich, Michelle A. Meyer, and Courtney M. Page-Tan
The impact of disasters continues to grow in the early 21st century, as extreme weather events become more frequent and population density in vulnerable coastal and inland cities increases. Against this backdrop of risk, decision-makers persist in focusing primarily on structural measures to reduce losses centered on physical infrastructure such as berms, seawalls, retrofitted buildings, and levees. Yet a growing body of research emphasizes that strengthening social infrastructure, not just physical infrastructure, serves as a cost-effective way to improve the ability of communities to withstand and rebound from disasters. Three distinct kinds of social connections, including bonding, bridging, and linking social ties, support resilience through increasing the provision of emergency information, mutual aid, and collective action within communities to address natural hazards before, during, and after disaster events. Investing in social capital fosters community resilience that transcends natural hazards and positively affects collective governance and community health.
Social capital has a long history in social science research and scholarship, particularly in how it has grown within various disciplines. Broadly, the term describes how social ties generate norms of reciprocity and trust, allow collective action, build solidarity, and foster information and resource flows among people. From education to crime, social capital has been shown to have positive impacts on individual and community outcomes, and research in natural hazards has similarly shown positive outcomes for individual and community resilience. Social capital also can foster negative outcomes, including exclusionary practices, corruption, and increased inequality. Understanding which types of social capital are most useful for increasing resilience is important to move the natural hazards field forward.
Many questions about social capital and natural hazards remain, at best, partially answered. Do different types of social capital matter at different stages of disaster—e.g., mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery? How do social capital’s effects vary across cultural contexts and stratified groups? What measures of social capital are available to practitioners and scholars? What actions are available to decision-makers seeking to invest in the social infrastructure of communities vulnerable to natural hazards? Which programs and interventions have shown merit through field tests? What outcomes can decision-makers anticipate with these investments? Where can scholars find data sets on resilience and social capital? The current state of knowledge about social capital in disaster resilience provides guidance about supporting communities toward more resilience.
Permafrost, or perennially frozen ground, and the processes linked to the water phase change in ground-pore media are sources of specific dangers to infrastructure and economic activity in cold mountainous regions. Additionally, conventional natural hazards (such as earthquakes, floods, and landslides) assume special characteristics in permafrost territories.
Permafrost hazards are created under two conditions. The first is a location with ice-bounded or water-saturated ground, in which the large amount of ice leads to potentially intensive processes of surface settlement or frost heaving. The second is linked with external, natural, and human-made disturbances that change the heat-exchange conditions. The places where ice-bounded ground meets areas that are subject to effective disturbances are the focus of hazard mapping and risk evaluation.
The fundamentals of geohazard evaluation and geohazard mapping in permafrost regions were originally developed by Gunnar Beskow, Vladimir Kudryavtsev, Troy Péwé, Oscar Ferrians, Jerry Brown, and other American, European, and Soviet authors from 1940s to the 1980s.
Modern knowledge of permafrost hazards was significantly enriched by the publication of Russian book called Permafrost Hazards, part of the six-volume series Natural Hazards in Russia (2000). The book describes, analyses, and evaluates permafrost-related hazards and includes methods for their modeling and mapping.
Simultaneous work on permafrost hazard evaluation continued in different countries with the active support of the International Permafrost Association. Prominent contributions during the new period of investigation were published by Drozdov, Clarke, Kääb, Pavlov, Koff and several other thematic groups of researchers. The importance of common international works became evident. The international project RiskNat: A Cross-Border European Project Taking into Account Permafrost-Related Hazards was developed as a new phenomenon in scientific development.
The intensive economic development in China presented new challenges for linear transportation routes and hydrologic infrastructures. A study of active fault lines and geological hazards along the Golmud–Lhasa Railway across the Tibetan plateau is a good example of the achievements by Chinese scientists.
The method for evaluating the permafrost hazards was based on survey data, monitoring data, and modeling results. The survey data reflected the current environmental conditions, and they are usually shown on a permafrost map. The monitoring data are helpful in understanding the current tendencies of permafrost evolution in different landscapes and regions. The modeling data provided a permafrost forecast that takes climate change and its impact on humans into account.
The International Conference on Permafrost in 2016, in Potsdam, Germany, demonstrated the new horizons of conventional and special permafrost mapping in offshore and continental areas. Permafrost hazards concern large and diverse aspects of human life. It is necessary to expand the approach to this problem from geology to also include geography, biology, social sciences, engineering, and other spheres of competencies in order to synthesize local and regional information. The relevance of this branch of science grows with taking into account climate change and the growing number of natural disasters.
Vincenzo Bollettino, Tilly Alcayna, Philip Dy, and Patrick Vinck
In recent years, the notion of resilience has grown into an important concept for both scholars and practitioners working on disasters. This evolution reflects a growing interest from diverse disciplines in a holistic understanding of complex systems, including how societies interact with their environment. This new lens offers an opportunity to focus on communities’ ability to prepare for and adapt to the challenges posed by natural hazards, and the mechanism they have developed to cope and adapt to threats. This is important because repeated stresses and shocks still cause serious damages to communities across the world, despite efforts to better prepare for disasters.
Scholars from a variety of disciplines have developed resilience frameworks both to guide macro-level policy decisions about where to invest in preparedness and to measure which systems perform best in limiting losses from disasters and ensuring rapid recovery. Yet there are competing conceptions of what resilience encompasses and how best to measure it. While there is a significant amount of scholarship produced on resilience, the lack of a shared understanding of its conceptual boundaries and means of measurement make it difficult to demonstrate the results or impact of resilience programs.
If resilience is to emerge as a concept capable of aiding decision-makers in identifying socio-geographical areas of vulnerability and improving preparedness, then scholars and practitioners need to adopt a common lexicon on the different elements of the concept and harmonize understandings of the relationships amongst them and means of measuring them. This article reviews the origins and evolution of resilience as an interdisciplinary, conceptual umbrella term for efforts by different disciplines to tackle complex problems arising from more frequent natural disasters. It concludes that resilience is a useful concept for bridging different academic disciplines focused on this complex problem set, while acknowledging that specific measures of resilience will differ as different units and levels of analysis are employed to measure disparate research questions.
Lukas U. Arenson and Matthias Jakob
Mountain environments, home to about 12% of the global population and covering nearly a quarter of the global land surface, create hazardous conditions for various infrastructures. The economic and ecologic importance of these environments for tourism, transportation, hydropower generation, or natural resource extraction requires that direct and indirect interactions between infrastructures and geohazards be evaluated. Construction of infrastructure in mountain permafrost environments can change the ground thermal regime, affect gravity-driven processes, impact the strength of ice-rich foundations, or result in permafrost aggradation via natural convection. The severity of impact, and whether permafrost will degrade or aggrade in response to the construction, is a function of numerous parameters including climate change, which needs to be considered when evaluating the changes in existing or formation of new geohazards. The main challenge relates to the uncertainties associated with the projections of medium- (decadal) and long-term (century-scale) climate change. A fundamental understanding of the various processes at play and a good knowledge of the foundation conditions is required to ascertain that infrastructure in permafrost environment functions as intended. Many of the tools required for identifying geohazards in the periglacial and appropriate risk management strategies are already available.
Scott C. Hagen, Davina L. Passeri, Matthew V. Bilskie, Denise E. DeLorme, and David Yoskowitz
The framework presented herein supports a changing paradigm in the approaches used by coastal researchers, engineers, and social scientists to model the impacts of climate change and sea level rise (SLR) in particular along low-gradient coastal landscapes. Use of a System of Systems (SoS) approach to the coastal dynamics of SLR is encouraged to capture the nonlinear feedbacks and dynamic responses of the bio-geo-physical coastal environment to SLR, while assessing the social, economic, and ecologic impacts. The SoS approach divides the coastal environment into smaller subsystems such as morphology, ecology, and hydrodynamics. Integrated models are used to assess the dynamic responses of subsystems to SLR; these models account for complex interactions and feedbacks among individual systems, which provides a more comprehensive evaluation of the future of the coastal system as a whole. Results from the integrated models can be used to inform economic services valuations, in which economic activity is connected back to bio-geo-physical changes in the environment due to SLR by identifying changes in the coastal subsystems, linking them to the understanding of the economic system and assessing the direct and indirect impacts to the economy. These assessments can be translated from scientific data to application through various stakeholder engagement mechanisms, which provide useful feedback for accountability as well as benchmarks and diagnostic insights for future planning. This allows regional and local coastal managers to create more comprehensive policies to reduce the risks associated with future SLR and enhance coastal resilience.
Evolution of Strategic Flood Risk Management in Support of Social Justice, Ecosystem Health, and Resilience
Throughout history, flood management practice has evolved in response to flood events. This heuristic approach has yielded some important incremental shifts in both policy and planning (from the need to plan at a catchment scale to the recognition that flooding arises from multiple sources and that defenses, no matter how reliable, fail). Progress, however, has been painfully slow and sporadic, but a new, more strategic, approach is now emerging.
A strategic approach does not, however, simply sustain an acceptable level of flood defence. Strategic Flood Risk Management (SFRM) is an approach that relies upon an adaptable portfolio of measures and policies to deliver outcomes that are socially just (when assessed against egalitarian, utilitarian, and Rawlsian principles), contribute positively to ecosystem services, and promote resilience. In doing so, SFRM offers a practical policy and planning framework to transform our understanding of risk and move toward a flood-resilient society. A strategic approach to flood management involves much more than simply reducing the chance of damage through the provision of “strong” structures and recognizes adaptive management as much more than simply “wait and see.” SFRM is inherently risk based and implemented through a continuous process of review and adaptation that seeks to actively manage future uncertainty, a characteristic that sets it apart from the linear flood defense planning paradigm based upon a more certain view of the future.
In doing so, SFRM accepts there is no silver bullet to flood issues and that people and economies cannot always be protected from flooding. It accepts flooding as an important ecosystem function and that a legitimate ecosystem service is its contribution to flood risk management. Perhaps most importantly, however, SFRM enables the inherent conflicts as well as opportunities that characterize flood management choices to be openly debated, priorities to be set, and difficult investment choices to be made.
Fatalism about natural disasters hinders action to prepare for those disasters, and overcoming this fatalism is one key element to preparing people for these disasters. Research by Bostrom and colleagues shows that failure to act often reflects gaps and misconceptions in citizen’s mental models of disasters. Research by McClure and colleagues shows that fatalistic attitudes reflect people’s attributing damage to uncontrollable natural causes rather than controllable human actions, such as preparation. Research shows which precise features of risk communications lead people to see damage as preventable and to attribute damage to controllable human actions. Messages that enhance the accuracy of mental models of disasters by including human factors recognized by experts lead to increased preparedness. Effective messages also communicate that major damage in disasters is often distinctive and reflects controllable causes. These messages underpin causal judgments that reduce fatalism and enhance preparation. Many of these messages are not only beneficial but also newsworthy. Messages that are logically equivalent but are differently framed have varying effects on risk judgments and preparedness. The causes of harm in disasters are often contested, because they often imply human responsibility for the outcomes and entail significant cost.