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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.

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