Cities, Flood risk management, Technology & innovation

The new phase of disaster risk management: are we doing it right?

Weather-related disasters are becoming more frequent and more severe due to climate change and the unsustainable development of communities and infrastructure. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in a 2021 report, more than 11,000 disasters in the past 50 years – which accounted for over two million deaths and USD 3.64 trillion in losses – were attributed to weather, climate and water-related hazards. By now, many of us would already have experienced some evidence of this personally and we’re hearing more and more reports about climate risk coming from the news on an almost daily basis.

However, it is not only the hazards and risks that have been transforming over the past few decades under changing climate conditions. The approach we take to addressing disaster risk is also undergoing transformation. But are we on the right track?

In this interview, we talk to Magdalena Komarek, DHI’s climate change adaptation and disaster risk management advocate about the changing landscape of disaster risk management and how cities, in particular, may strengthen resilience for a safer and more sustainable future.

Q: How is the approach to addressing disaster risk changing?

This is a very dynamic and exciting field, and we’ve got much better at understanding hazards, and risk practitioners are constantly improving our understanding of associated risks and potential impacts. Ultimately, we need to embed that knowledge into the planning and decision-making process, and this is improving too. This is mainly due to progress in research, increased investment by donor agencies, advancement in available technologies and improving access to data for decision-makers.

All of that helped us to move from hazard-by-hazard analysis to a multi-hazard risk assessment approach. Essentially moving from early warning systems for hazards towards more beneficial impact-based forecast and warning systems. And from simple hazard modelling to complex decision support systems. New terms and approaches keep emerging e.g., compounding, cascading, systemic risks, and some, like resilience, have been getting quite popular recently. Addressing disaster risk becomes more comprehensive and all-encompassing.

Q: What role do partnerships and collaborations play in addressing disaster risk?

Addressing disaster risk is complex and demanding. It requires a high level of commitment and a great amount of effort from various stakeholders and decision-makers who on top of that need to work together to a much greater extent than in the past.

Forming partnerships and collaborations among different parties is critical to the success of comprehensive disaster risk solutions. For example, developing and implementing traditional extreme weather early warning systems is a primary responsibility of national hydro-meteorological services. They are mostly self-sufficient in describing ‘what the weather will be like’.

Moving towards the ‘what the weather will do’ kind of message, i.e., providing impact-based forecasts, requires weather services to engage in partnerships and collaborations for dedicated data and specific expertise in assessing the level of potential hazard impact on the exposed communities and sectors. Also, the engagement of the end-users of impact-based forecasts is essential. Prioritising users’ needs and expectations is an important step in an attempt to develop fit for purpose and effective system to protect them.

Q: What about the commercial sector? Can they also play a part to help build resilience?

Absolutely! Management of complex and interacting risks often requires innovative technology and advanced expertise. For this reason, the important role of the commercial sector in addressing disaster risk and building resilience is increasingly being recognised.

The commercial sector tends to drive the innovation. It provides advanced tools and solutions that approach the problem comprehensively, that support evidence-based decision-making, and – in the end – minimise the risk of ineffective response, maladaptation and systemic failure. So I would say that increasingly, the commercial sector is playing a bigger role in building resilience and addressing risks brought upon by natural hazards.

As society becomes more vulnerable to extreme weather events, it is important that we are prepared more than ever. This means making sure that our infrastructure can withstand natural disasters and that we have plans in place to manage risk effectively. Integrated services and tools that analyse, forecast and communicate hydrological hazards and risks to stakeholders who need to prioritise, justify and target investments can help drive action and protect society from the impacts of climate change.

Taking a proactive, risk-based approach to climate change adaptation is possible. Learn about integrated solutions and connect with Magdalena to get inspired.