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UK Alliance for Disaster Research Conference: Day 2 Part 1 - building on the progress so far (3/4)

Morning Keynotes

Democracy and politics appear to be the biggest inhibitors to human development progress is the greatest point I took away from this morning’s session. Perhaps a somewhat contentious start to the day but one I had nonetheless. Day 2 began with an expert presentation from prof. Suzanne Wilkinson from Massey University New Zealand. Here we were given a detailed overview of building resilience in the construction sector to create better recovery through the CanConstructNZ project.

This is an incredibly interesting and important project looking at understanding the pipeline of activities in national infrastructure delivery and the impacts of shocks and stresses on the existing capacity and capabilities. It’s clear there’s a sectoral mismatch which we have here in the UK and that any shock and stress will have significant repercussions. The framework of analysis is based on the traditional PESTEL approach, and we were given an overview of each factor and the subsequent impacts on the pipeline of activity with various case studies used in emphasis.

The biggest point was the notion of perpetual change arising from political considerations resulting in constant uncertainty, U-turns and resource wastage of an epic and unrivalled proportion. Ring any bells here in the UK?

The intended outcome of the project will be having the ability to map impacts from historic factors to extrapolate and determine likely impacts to future shocks and/or stresses and how the sector can build resilience to this. A number of key points were made around; organisational agility through distributed decision making and subsidiarity. The need to mainstream resilience organisational resilience into core activities and embedding this into business as usual. A need to provide standardised guidance for industry and government to enable resilience to be demonstrated. The role of incentivisation and investment. And finally, the need to develop a comprehensive approach to training based on resilience needs now and, in the future, and embedding this into existing training programmes and CPD.

The second session of the morning provided reflections from COP28 by Dr Marie Aronsson-Storrier. This was extremely impactful and quite frankly heart-breaking. But as Kanza Ahmed rightly pointed out in the Q&A from her own reflections, we need to focus on the small victories of which the session was able to bring back to the room, such victories include the creation of the loss and damage fund, the beginning of disaster risk language making it into the finalised text with a focus on ‘reducing vulnerability, adaptive capacity and resilience’, despite there being no mention of disasters and disaster risk reduction directly. Again, signalling back to that paradigm shift mentioned on day 1 and the move away from disaster discourse and rhetoric, to a new pragmatic risk and resilience agenda that’s more communicable to markets and sectors. Another victory is the commitment to goals, for risk and resilience to inform national plans and policies and for establishing multi-hazard early warning systems.


Technical Session 3: Risk Governance: Planning, and Policy

The first technical session of the day was again an absolute whirlwind of projects, another 6 presentations. I attended the session on risk governance, planning and policy. This was enormously interesting, but again fast paced. This was particularly unfortunate as many of the sessions relating to UNDRR and UK engagement in this. On reflection I would have appreciated more time to dig into these deeper.

Hannah Watson gave us a lightning overview of the Hazard Information Profiles review (HIPs) that has just commenced. Providing a very clear and definitive answer to the question of why we need standard definitions to improve communication, coordination, interoperability, monitoring and evaluation. An overview of the HIP History, from 2020 to present and where it intends to go. The purpose of the review program and how it will be undertaken and outputs evaluated according to rationale, useful, useable. Embedded within this presentation was a call for support and engagement in the review process from stakeholders and end users to inform the HIPs through the review process to ensure they achieve the intended goals. Specific areas of focus will be on (i) improving application, and (ii) integrating statistical data and indicators, and (iii) understanding of complex and cascade hazard interactions. I certainly see a role for ICPEM disaster science to support this workstream over the review project and future iterations.

Lara Mani then presented on developing a transdisciplinary approach to global catastrophic risk, specifically to large volcanic eruptions. The key takeaways being that (i) volcanoes are a significantly underestimated risk with only 30% studied, (ii) presently there is no global coordinated governance and risk management, (iii) as a result of this there’s a critical gap in preparedness at all levels, emphasising preparedness is the only sensible course of action, response will be too late and (iv) lastly with increasing volcanic risk, there’s an increasingly urgent need to develop early, a global early warning system and action protocols. This includes; for governance, funding and resource management, enhance tour collective understanding of volcanic risk to food security and common consequences building out on the work from the Hazards with Escalation Potential research to further develop and enhance understanding of systemic risk and vulnerability.

U.T.G Perera presented on enhancing university - enterprise collaboration. Extremely interesting work with global application’s for advancing the collaboration between science and industry to have real world impact. Emphasising that the output and implications of our work must always be practical application. This presented a relational framework built from a participatory approach ensuring it is robust and comprehensive, in capturing the vast array of challenges and barriers, alongside the identification of potential levers and enabling strategies for enhancing collaboration, dividing this into 4 core themes; structural, relational, cultural and material across the macro, meso and micro scales.

Anuradha Senanayake presented on the theme of disaster justice. This was a sensitively delivered and incredibly thought-provoking session that outlined the current understanding of Justice through the lens of disasters to uncover what the characteristics of disaster justice are currently perceived as through a two-tier qualitative grounded theory approach. Stage 1 has revealed socio-economic, environmental, spatial, legal and political factors. This will then be tested and discussed further through field research. For me this raised the questions asked by many in the room around the temporal aspects of justice particularly with regards to spatial/political aspects I.e. long-term planning develop, housing land use and property rights that have created systemic vulnerabilities and inequality. Additionally, for me I wonder to what extent the flip side of disaster injustice is being analysed and evaluated. On the premise that, to truly understand what good looks like, we must also know what bad looks like to ensure this is avoided.

Abigail Ewen then presented on disability and identity using a counter method approach with research undertaken in Nepal, specifically in a local area with multi hazards where people are confronted by these all the time. This project involved policy and discourse analysis, followed by use of the counter method framework for interviews on people’s experience of disaster. The key insight is the top-down narrative of vulnerability isn’t always help or appropriate, failing to consider adaptive capacity and resilience. Key findings of using the counter method indicate that despite being treated as ‘less-than’, in truth people with disabilities have proven to be ‘more-than’. The presentation also introduced the concept of cultural capital something often left out of capital-based approaches, that originate from western discourse.

SU QiaoTuo presented on research exploring the theme of unlimited responsibility and power, this was phenomenally interesting, exploring the influence of Marxist and imperialist ideologies on the origins and politics of Chinese disaster response strategy and capabilities.

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