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Assessment and Adaptation to Climate Change-Related Flood Risks  

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.


Gender Mainstreaming and Climate Change  

Margaret Alston

Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate change, not because of innate characteristics but as a result of the social structures and cultural norms that shape gender inequalities. Feminist activists and transnational organizations continue to voice their concerns regarding the need for greater attention to gender inequalities in the context of climate change. Gender mainstreaming is a policy process designed to address the gendered consequences of any planned actions—the ultimate aim being to achieve gender equality. Gender mainstreaming emerged in the late 1990s at the Beijing Women’s Conference as a result of the frustrations of feminist activists and international nongovernmental organizations about the lack of attention to gender equality. Yet its implementation has been hampered both by a lack of vision as to its purpose and by ongoing tensions, particularly between those who espouse equality and those who support the mainstream. This has led to resistance to gender mainstreaming within departments and units that are charged with its implementation, and indeed a reluctance of key players to commit to gender equality. Yet there is still strong support for the original feminist intent from activists and researchers addressing the impacts of climate change. The transformational potential of gender mainstreaming is still viewed as a process that could address and challenge gender inequalities in the context of increasing climate challenges. However, there are barriers that must be overcome for the transformational potential of gender mainstreaming to be realized. These include equating climate justice with gender justice, ensuring that the radical feminist intent of gender mainstreaming is not co-opted by the neoliberal agenda of maximizing economic development over gender equality and women’s empowerment, and ensuring that organizations tasked with facilitating gender mainstreaming not only understand its intent but also address gender inequalities within their own organizational structures and practices.


Intersectionality as a Forward-Thinking Approach in Disaster Research  

Cassandra Jean, Tilly E. Hall, and Jamie Vickery

Disaster researchers, policymakers, and practitioners are confronted with the pressing need to understand and address how and why certain individuals and groups of individuals experience inequities leading up to, during, and postdisaster. These efforts must consider how to address such inequities through collaborative efforts toward intentional and systemic change. The use of intersectional approaches supports better analyze and critique of discriminatory and oppressive practices that disproportionately impact historically marginalized peoples, especially in the face of hazards and disasters. Intersectionality calls for understanding how different forms of privilege, power, and oppression interact and compound to create unequal socioeconomic outcomes across individuals and groups of individuals based on their identities (e.g., age, race, sexuality, and gender) and conditions (e.g., housing composition, immigration, and marital status). A review of inter- and multidisciplinary terrains of disaster studies shows that there are multifaceted utilities, capabilities, and advantages of adopting an intersectional approach. By considering historical discriminatory practices and the root causes of vulnerability, intersectionality highlights the systemic and institutionalized patterns that create precarious situations for some people while simultaneously protecting others. Intersectionality is also well suited to support insight into individuals’ capacities that affect their ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disastrous events, as well as assist them in avoiding or reducing risks that make them susceptible to disaster in the first place. However, intersectional approaches within disaster studies remain underutilized and, sometimes, superficially applied. Simplistic representations, the unequal attention given to certain intersections, and the domination of Western epistemologies must be attended to in order to challenge, disrupt, and diligently undo the interactions of systematic privilege, power, and oppression that render unequal disaster experiences and outcomes.