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Evolution of Strategic Flood Risk Management in Support of Social Justice, Ecosystem Health, and Resilience  

Paul Sayers

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.

Article

Hazards, Social Resilience, and Safer Futures  

Lena Dominelli

The concepts of hazards and risks began in engineering when scientists were measuring the points at which materials would become sufficiently stressed by the pressures upon them that they would break. These concepts migrated into the environmental sciences to assess risk in the natural terrain, including the risks that human activities posed to the survival of animals (including fish in streams) and plants in the biosphere. From there, they moved to the social sciences, primarily in formal disaster discourses. With the realization that modern societies constantly faced risks cushioned in uncertainties within everyday life, the media popularized the concept of risk and its accoutrements, including mitigation, adaptation, and preventative measures, among the general populace. A crucial manifestation of this is the media’s accounts of the risks affecting different groups of people or places contracting Covid-19, which burst upon a somnambulant world in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Politicians of diverse hues sought to reassure nervous inhabitants that they had followed robust, scientific advice on risks to facilitate “flattening the curve” by spreading the rate of infection in different communities over a longer period to reduce demand for public health services. Definitions of hazard, risk, vulnerability, and resilience evolved as they moved from the physical sciences into everyday life to reassure edgy populations that their social systems, especially the medical ones, could cope with the demands of disasters. While most countries have managed the risk Covid-19 posed to health services, this has been at a price that people found difficult to accept. Instead, as they reflected upon their experiences of being confronted with the deaths of many loved ones, especially among elders in care homes; adversities foisted upon the disease’s outcomes by existing social inequalities; and loss of associative freedoms, many questioned whether official mitigation strategies were commensurate with apparent risks. The public demanded an end to such inequities and questioned the bases on which politicians made their decisions. They also began to search for certainties in the social responses to risk in the hopes of building better futures as other institutions, schools, and businesses went into lockdown, and social relationships and people’s usual interactions with others ceased. For some, it seemed as if society were crumbling around them, and they wanted a better version of their world to replace the one devastated by Covid-19 (or other disasters). Key to this better version was a safer, fairer, more equitable and reliable future. Responses to the risks within Covid-19 scenarios are similar to responses to other disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, tsunamis, storms, extreme weather events, and climate change. The claims of “building back better” are examined through a resilience lens to determine whether such demands are realizable, and if not, what hinders their realization. Understanding such issues will facilitate identification of an agenda for future research into mitigation, adaptation, and preventative measures necessary to protect people and the planet Earth from the harm of subsequent disasters.

Article

Understanding the Risk Communication Puzzle for Natural Hazards and Disasters  

Emma E. H. Doyle and Julia S. Becker

The study of risk communication has been explored in several diverse contexts, from a range of disciplinary perspectives, including psychology, health, media studies, visualization studies, the public understanding of science, and social science. Such diversity creates a puzzle of recommendations to address the many challenges of communicating risk before, during, and after a natural hazard event and disasters. The history and evolution of risk communication across these diverse contexts is reviewed, followed by a discussion of risk communication particular to natural hazards and disasters. Example models of risk communication in the disaster and natural hazard context are outlined, followed by examples of studies into disaster risk communication from Aotearoa New Zealand, and key best practice principles for communicating risk in these contexts. Considerations are also provided on how science and risk communication can work together more effectively in future in the natural hazard and disaster space. Such considerations include the importance of scientists, risk managers, and officials communicating to meet a diversity of decision-makers’ needs and understanding the evolution of those needs in a crisis across time demands and forecast horizons. To acquire a better understanding of such needs, participatory approaches to risk assessment and communication present the greatest potential in developing risk communication that is useful, useable, and used. Through partnerships forged at the problem formulation stage, risk assessors and communicators can gain an understanding of the science that needs to be developed to meet decision-needs, while communities and decision-makers can develop a greater understanding of the limitations of the science and risk assessment, leading to stronger and more trusting relationships. It is critically important to evaluate these partnership programs due to the challenges that can arise (such as resourcing and trust), particularly given risk communication can often occur in an environment subject to power imbalances due to social structures and sociopolitical landscape. There is also often not enough attention paid to the evaluation of the risk communication products themselves, which is problematic because what we think is being communicated may unintentionally mislead due to formatting and display choices. By working in partnership with affected communities to develop decision-relevant communication products using evidence-based product design, work can be done toward communicating risk in the most effective, and ethical, way.