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Friday, 30 September 2016

Looking at Natural Ecosystems for Disaster Risk Reduction

(Dr. Liette Vasseur, UNESCO Chair in Community Sustainability: from Local to Global
Brock University)

Disaster risk reduction includes diverse practices that aim to reduce impacts on social-ecological systems. These practices are not only linked to reducing the risks of natural hazards occurring but they also focus on planning and acting on social and ecological systems in order for societies to withstand hazards. The current unsustainable planning and development in many systems have led to degraded ecosystems that have increased vulnerabilities of communities across the world. At stated in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report (2005, p. 46): Changes to ecosystems have contributed to a significant rise in the number of floods and major wild fires on all continents since the 1940s”. Canada is no exception. Developed and developing countries are all vulnerable when ecosystems are too degraded to contribute to protection against natural disasters.

It is increasingly recognized that the protection of natural ecosystems with appropriate ecosystem-based management can greatly contribute to reducing disaster risks. Indeed, the 2009 and 2011 Global Assessment Reports on Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) state that one of the major drivers of risk is the degradation of natural ecosystems. In their reports and furthermore in the IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events (IPCC 2012), they call for enhancing protection of natural ecosystems to improve ecosystems regulating services. 

In a coupled human-environment system, concepts of vulnerability, resilience, and adaptation are closely linked to how the ecosystem is working in terms of functions and services. This is also true for DRR where healthy ecosystems can improve the capacity of a community to respond and recover from a disaster in a short period of time (Zhou et al. 2010). What it implies is that a system where resilience is improved and vulnerability reduced, communities are also more resilient to disasters.  

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been promoting the use of ecosystem-based DRR (Eco-DRR) and this approach can be coupled with ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA). Both approaches have been useful to provide increased sustainable ecosystem services through the use of appropriate ecosystem management. Such strategies have been the promotion of protected areas (from national parks to small urban parks) to help reduce risks.  Both Eco-DRR and EbA have been shown to reduce vulnerability of communities and enhance resilience (Colls et al. 2009). Japan, for example, has learned from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami by initiating the Sanriku Fukko Reconstruction Park where existing national parks along the Pacific coast where the tsunami occurred are being linked (Ministry of Environment, Japan 2014) as a strategy to protect for future similar events.

Many examples can be found where protection of natural ecosystems has been effective Eco-DRR and EbA. In Southern Ontario, projections are the droughts may become more frequent. A combined approach to this natural disaster and an adaptation to conditions that farmers will have to increasingly experience has been the restoration of pasture land into tall grass prairies. The Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) is a group that has been promoting such a strategy. It is a community-based, farmer-delivered program that enhances ecosystem services that in turn ensures clean water, erosion, and flood control among others. Such approaches demonstrate the need for communities to better understand their natural ecosystems and define which ecosystem management strategies can contribute to Eco-DRR and EbA. They are generally less costly than engineered solutions and more sustainable in the long term.

Colls, N. Ash, and N. Ikkala (2009) Ecosystem-based Adaptation: a natural response to climate change. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. 16 pp.

IPCC (2012) Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C., Barros, V., Stocker T., Qin, D., Dokken, D., Ebi, K. Mastrandrea, M., Mach, K., Plattner G-K., Allen, S., Tignor, M and Midgley, P (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, 582 pp.

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. (2005) Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington DC. 155 pp.

Ministry of Environment, Japan (2014)  http://www.iucn.org/knowledge/focus/asiaparkscongress/?13969/

UNISDR (2009) – Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. http://www.preventionweb.net/english/hyogo/gar/report/index.php?id=9413

UNISDR (2011) - Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. http://www.preventionweb.net/english/hyogo/gar/2011/en/home/index.html

Zhou H, Wang J, Wan J et al (2010) Resilience to natural hazards: a geographic perspective. Nat Hazards 53: 21–41.

This blog post has been written by Dr. Liette Vasseur, who holds the UNESCO Chair in Community Sustainability: from Local to Global at Brock UniversityShe currently leads the thematic group on Climate Change Adaptation of the Commission for Ecosystem Management of the International Union for Conservationof Nature.

Dr. Liette Vasseur is a panelist at CatIQ’s Canadian Catastrophe Conference (C4 2017) on the Societal Impacts session during the conference.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Average Annual Cost of Federal Disaster Assistance due to Weather Events

(Rod Story, Financial Advisor/Analyst, Financial Advisor-Analyst at the Parliamentary Budget Office)

The Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) program, created in 1970, reimburses the provinces and individuals (via the province) for expenses and damages resulting from disasters, natural or manmade. The program shares costs with the provinces on an increasing proportion up to the level reached at $15 multiplied by a province’s population. Above this amount, the DFAA program pays 90 per cent of the costs.

For this report, PBO obtained historical DFAA payment data directly from Public Safety Canada (PSC) rather than using PSC’s public disaster database. The public database is missing some disaster payments and some other listed payments are incorrect due to payment changes not being updated in the database. Therefore, the DFAA numbers used in this report are not the same as those found in the disaster database.

As shown in Figure 1, over the past five years DFAA’s liabilities have increased substantially because of a number of weather events that have caused heavy damage. As a result, DFAA’s annual transfers to the provinces have been much higher than its nominal appropriation of $100 million (Figure 2).

It is important to note that when a disaster occurs, DFAA in general books the liability in the year of the disaster recognizing its financial obligation. Yet, the actual transfers to the provinces for disasters can take place upwards of eight years after the event. This explains the large estimated transfers shown in Figure 2 going out to fiscal year 2017-2018.

Figure 1: DFAA liabilities
Source: Public Safety

Figure 2: DFAA annual transfers
Source: Public Safety
Note: *Public Safety estimates

In the fiscal year 2012-2013, DFAA transferred $280 million to the provinces; by 2013-2014, this had increased to $1.02 billion and $305 million in 2014-2015. DFAA estimates its transfers resulting from previous events will be higher in subsequent years ($848 million in 2015-2016, $590 million in 2016-2017, and $580 million in 2017-2018).

This report estimates the expected additional average annual cost to the DFAA program resulting from anticipated weather events (floods, hurricanes, convective storms, and winter storms) over the next five years.

PBO used data from numerous sources, including the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), DFAA, Swiss Re, and Risk Management Solutions Inc. (RMS), to determine its estimate. For losses due to hurricanes, convective storms and winter storms, PBO used estimates provided by RMS. For losses due to flooding, PBO used estimates from IBC. RMS had Canadian specific models for hurricanes, convective storms and winter storms. The IBC flood estimate used a Canadian specific flood model based on Canadian flood extent and flood risk.

PBO estimates that over the next five years, on average, DFAA can expect annual costs of $229 million per year because of hurricanes, convective storms and winter storms. Using the IBC estimate for flood losses, PBO estimates that on average, DFAA can expect annual costs of $673 million for floods. Therefore, the total annual costs to the DFAA for weather events are estimated to be $902 million.

The results are listed in Table 1 and Figure 3 below. It is important to stress that these values are averages; in any given year, the losses can be much higher or much lower.

Table 1: Estimated DFAA annual weather event costs
Sources: PBO; RMS; IBC; DFAA and Swiss Re

Therefore, based on the estimated annual DFAA payments for future weather event shown in Table 1, the DFAA will continue to require more than its nominal $100 million appropriation.

Table 1 also shows that the DFAA costs resulting from floods are the largest of the weather events at $673 million and represent 75 per cent of DFAA’s weather expenditures. This high value is partly due to the lack of flood insurance in Canada, as well as regulatory challenges in the Prairie Provinces. Over the past 10 years (2005-2014), Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta have accounted for 82 per cent of all DFAA weather event costs, almost all of which are a result of flooding.

The Prairie Provinces face regulatory challenges of reduced enforcement and compliance when floodplain management is the responsibility of municipalities.

Figure 3: Estimated DFAA annual weather event costs
Sources: PBO; RMS; IBC; DFAA and Swiss Re

Furthermore, Saskatchewan has unlicensed drainage of wetlands that increases peak flows during floods and Alberta appears to have inaccurate flood maps. Furthermore, in creating flood maps, Alberta does not take into account rising groundwater and debris floods on steep mountain creeks.

One last consideration is interprovincial co-ordination of flood management. This currently does not exist in Canada even though it has been shown to be effective at reducing damages in other countries. This is particularly important in the Prairie Provinces where rivers such as the Saskatchewan and its tributaries span all three provinces.

To read the full report, click here.

This blog post has been written by Rod Story, who is a Financial Advisor-Analyst on the Expenditure and Revenue Analysis team at the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO). Rod has a PhD in Management (Finance) and an MBA from Carleton University as well as a BASc from the University of Waterloo.

Rod Story is a panelist at CatIQ’s Canadian Catastrophe Conference (C4 2017) on the Disaster Assistance session during the conference.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Calling all Delegates!

CatIQ is proud to announce that registration for its second annual Canadian Catastrophe Conference (C4 2017) is now open!

Join CatIQ, as well as delegates from across diverse agencies including insurance professionals, government, policymakers, academics, risk managers and more, as we dive into a content-driven discussion that is meant to encourage collaboration between industries before, during and after a catastrophic event.

The conference begins with an overview of natural and man-made catastrophes in 2016, which is immediately followed by a discussion on Canada’s costliest catastrophe to date: The Fort McMurray Wildfire.

Several sector perspectives are going to be explored, so there are sessions for everyone. Concerned about the societal impacts of catastrophes? Are you interested in the disasters themselves and how to better prepare for them? What about the financial implications of catastrophes? Of course, to prepare for catastrophes, access to Canadian hazard data is a necessity. Where can it be found? What format is it in?

All of these perspectives, topics and questions, plus student delegate presentations, an exciting presentation from storm chaser George Kourounis and two interactive workshops, will be tackled over the course of the three-day conference.

Trust us when we say, you don’t want to miss it!

Join us February 1-3, 2017 at the Allstream Centre in Toronto

For the full agenda and detailed session descriptions please visit

Take advantage of the early bird window!
Register by November 30, 2016 and save $100.
Save a further $100 by registering 3 or more delegates.

To learn more about our program details, or to get information on our sponsors, community partners and our exciting student scholarship program contact Carolyn Rennie: carolyn.rennie@catiq.com

Sessions and speakers include:

CatIQ’s 2016 CATs in Review
Carolyn Rennie (CatIQ)

The Fort McMurray Wildfire
Skip McHardy (CRU)
Darby Allen (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo)

Societal Impacts
Rebecca Wagner (Environment and Climate Change Canada)
Dr. David Laplante (Douglas Mental Health University Institute)
Dr. Bill Tibbo (Bill Tibbo & Associates)
Dr. Liette Vasseur (Brock University)
Jean-Phillipe Tizi (Canadian Red Cross)

Terrorism Risk: International & Canadian Perspectives
Mazdak Moini (Aviva Canada)
Charlene Chia (AIR Worldwide)
Scott Bolton (Aon Risk Solutions)
Terry Chowanec (Cadillac Fairview)
Harris Silver (CBC Radio Canada)

Resilient Indigenous Communities
Pat Van Bakel (Crawford & Company (Canada) Inc.)
Chief Matilda Ramjattan (Lennox Island First Nation)
Chief Steve Thomas (Mohawk Council of Akwesasne)
Regina Jacobs (Mohawk Council of Akwesasne)

CAT Models – Model & Hazard Uncertainty
Paul Cutbush (Aon Benfield Analytics)
Dr. Elliot Klein (AIR Worldwide)
Justin Moresco (RMS)
Maiclaire Bolton (CoreLogic)
Alexander Allmann (Munich Re)

Disaster Assistance
Mazdak Moini (Aviva Canada)
Jennifer Dolecki (Alberta Emergency Management Agency)
Matthew Godsoe (Public Safety Canada)
Johanna Morrow (Emergency Management BC)
Rod Story (Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer)

Lessons Learned from Ice, Flood & Hail
Kyle Winston (CRU)
Geoff Coulson (Environment and Climate Change Canada)
Sharon Pollyck (City of Airdrie)
John Duong (Halton Region)

Geomagnetic Storms – The Next Black Swan
Paul Cutbush (Aon Benfield Analytics)
Dr. Balz Grollimund (Swiss Re)
Dr. Luis Marti (Hydro One)

Municipal Mitigation Success Stories
Megan Meany (ICLEI Canada)
Fiona Dercole (District of North Vancouver)
(City of Montreal)
(City of Toronto)
(City of Halifax)

How to Create an Inventory of Canadian Hazard Data
Jason Thistlethwaite (University of Waterloo)
Jim Abraham (Canadian Climate Forum)
Nicky Hastings (Geological Survey of Canada)
Carl Lambert (Co-operators)
Steve Taylor (Canadian Forest Service)
(Environment and Climate Change Canada)

Wildfire Risk Management
Glenn McGillivray (ICLR)
Claudette Cantin (Munich Re)
Sean Russell (Guy Carpenter)
Ian Frost (Wawanesa)

Flood Workshop: Perspectives in Flood Risk Assessment and Mitigation (Sponsored by Partners for Action)
Shawna Peddle (Partners for Action, University of Waterloo)
Lapo Calamai (IBC)
Matthew Godsoe (Public Safety Canada)
Steve Litke (Fraser Basin Council)
Rehana Rejabali (TRCA)
Ingrid Robinson (Brookfield GIS)

Weather Workshop: Improving the Diagnosis of Extreme Weather – “From Forecasting to Reality” (Sponsored by AMEC Foster Wheeler)
Rebecca Wagner (Environment and Climate Change Canada)
Jim Abraham (Canadian Climate Forum)
Carolyn Rennie (CatIQ)
Shawn Allen (AMEC Foster Wheeler)