Tuesday, 17 January 2012

COMPLEXITY AND UNCERTAINTY TO SUPPORT DISASTER RISK REDUCTION AND ADAPTATION

Research has shown that scientists need to collaborate more closely with local knowledge networks and take into account people’s risk perceptions, as well as the decision-making processes these communities use. However, reducing disaster risk and vulnerability also requires close interaction between scientists who produce knowledge about changing patterns of risk and researchers and practitioners who use such information for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

Currently, the spatial resolution of many climate change projections is too coarse to enable effective disaster risk reduction at the local or regional scale. The gap between climate forecasts and projections and the needs of resource managers may pose some challenges to effective responses. Past experiences with reducing risks associated with climate variability can provide some important insights into disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

In southern Africa, for example, research has demonstrated strong linkages between El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and rainfall patterns. In particular, drought events in parts of southern Africa in the early 1980s were closely correlated to ENSO events. However, more recent evidence (particularly from the late 1990s ENSO events) suggests that the relationship between ENSO and summer rainfall does not always hold in this region, particularly at the local scale where many important livelihood decisions are made. One lesson from this area of research is that over-reliance on only one indicator (e.g., ENSO signals) can be problematic for effective disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Consequently, there is a need for a better understanding of complex and compound hazards, both from physical and social perspectives.

 The complexity of future extreme events, which are likely to be characterized by one or more hazard that is compounded by other factors (e.g. flooding combined with a cholera outbreak that coincides with an economic crisis), requires more robust and flexible disaster risk strategies and institutional responses than has been typically used in the past.

Indeed, a recent report on disaster risk reduction in sub-Saharan Africa calls for better identification, assessment and awareness of disaster risks, which will require efforts from both the disaster risk reduction community and climate scientists. Communication about climate change needs to be made accessible in order to engage vulnerable people without compromising scientific credibility.

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