Disaster risk reduction (1)

Tuesday was the day devoted to share experiences and knowledge regarding different aspects of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). We were lucky to have a nice and comfortable room in the Perth Museum, which was inspiring for the speakers and the audience.

The first session comprised 6 papers presented by gender-balanced speakers (3 male/3 female). Geographical distribution of the study cases discussed in the session included the Americas (USA and México), Asia (China, India, and Nepal) and Europe (Austria).

Detection and identification of sediment-related disasters based on acoustic signals, was presented by A. Schimmel. A high tech acoustic based detection system for debris flows developed in the University of Vienna was shown as an expression of the role of science in the understanding of the geodynamic of the Earth, particularly on natural hazards of gravitational type. Along the same line P. Su shared a novel approach to analyse Precipitation Water Vapor Inversed by Ground-based GPS during the Local Rainstorm in Mountain Small Watershed in China. As mountain hazards are a major issue in China, and in different mountain areas of the world, including Japan, and Hongkong (countries where the method also has been applied), the accurate monitoring of rainfall become a primary input for establishing Early Warning Systems.

Since the occurrence of the 2004 tsunami of the Indian Ocean and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami (not to mention Fukushima), the impact of the concatenation of hazards has been addressed more carefully by scientists, insurance companies and decision makers. We had the opportunity to learn from an impressive talk given by A. Byers, the Impacts of the 27 April, 2015 Nepal earthquake on three potentially dangerous glacial lakes in Nepal. One of the main messages of this enlightening talk was the need to develop community based approaches for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Therefore, it is not only the potential impact of unstable terminal and lateral moraines in the downstream communities what should be taken into account for identifying DRR strategies, but the religious and traditional values built by the communities through history regarding the closeness of communities, territories and the whole landscapes. Moreover, given the existing glacial lake hazards, it is necessary to develop new approaches to lowering the lakes to safe levels, preparing flood hazard maps and establishing user friendly Early Warning Systems, such as mobiles, which have been proved high efficiency during recent events in the same region.

Within the same Nepalese context, we were offered some insights about the work carried out by B. Thapa, regarding Risk Assessment of Downstream Communities, in Pokhara Nepal, derived from the Seti River disaster that took place on May 5th, 2012. In addition to learning the scenario of the disaster and its aftermath, a preliminary analysis of the exposed communities to flood was integrated into an evaluation of risk perception. Community participation can be regarded as one of the cardinal points for DRR.

An interesting case of a landslide disaster that occurred in Teziutlán, Puebla, in Mexico, was presented by F. Murillo, and illustrated the potential risk impact of future mass movements. The area affected is characterized by unstable slopes formed by low-resistance volcanic deposits, on which rainfall acts as the main triggering mechanism of landsliding. People affected by the 1999 disaster were relocated to a new-formed neighborhood, however, the attachment to the original place, the needs of space for undertaking activities such as house-cattle raising and farming remain a major issue for daily life and hence some of the relocated inhabitants have gone back to the area affected by the major landslide. Moreover, new residents who are not aware of the disaster history live now in areas at risk. The lack of institutional and legal frameworks has become a major issue for disaster risk reduction. Unfortunately, this is not a unique case

Increased land use change and human settlements in areas at risk play a role in the configuration of risk in mountain areas of India and other regions of the globe. To this regard and in order to understand the heritage, vulnerability and resilience of mountain communities, E. Edwards shared with us an interesting appraisal applied to a flood case study in the Phojal Nalla catchment, in Himachal Pradesh, India. Economic, social and environmental capital in terms of vulnerability and resilience was analysed in terms of tangible and intangible heritage. Of particular significance was the fact of addressing the historical succession of governance for the actual socio-economic conditions and the importance of the inter-generation impacts of the loss of wealth for shaping the vulnerability dimensions of existing communities. This evidently takes us to the need of understanding root causes of disasters (see Forensic Investigations of Disasters at http://www.irdrinternational.org/projects/forin/).

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