The European Commission’s new algorithm developed by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) can segment social media messages to identify, verify and help manage disaster events -such as floods, fires or earthquakes- in real-time.
Suppose you are an emergency responder and you see a social media post showing an unusable road in a place not covered by traditional news. Suppose you see a similar message from several accounts. Wouldn’t you wonder if they were referring to the same event or whether that area was worth a more detailed analysis with a satellite image?
It was with this in mind that scientists from the JRC helped deal with the 2021 Haiti Earthquake by using social media data analysis to complement the assessment of impacts in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
This experience was the first real case usage of a software platform that can scan millions of social media texts and images per day for situational awareness and impact assessment. This information is collected, filtered and geocoded automatically and in real-time using machine learning (artificial intelligence) models.
A software that helps responders with flood risk management
The first goal of this platform was to provide an additional geospatial layer in the European Flood Awareness System (EFASSearch for available translations of the preceding linkEN•••) and the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS). These two online systems offer flood forecasts based on model simulations which are crucial to the Copernicus Emergency Management Services Managed by JRC.
The monitoring ability of these early warning systems is mostly anchored in satellite images and numerical models.The integration of this new social media for disaster risk management (SMDRM) software will allow them to assess the likelihood and impacts of a flood event with even greater accuracy.
An open-source tool available to all researchers and technicians
The new layer for EFASSearch for available translations of the preceding linkEN••• and GloFAS is the first product developed using the SMDRM software. Nonetheless, since the software has been released as open-source -free and open to all technicians linked to crisis response who want to leverage it- the scientists expect it to have a wider use and they remain available for collaboration.
The SMDRM software can be adapted for different scales and label relevant images for floods, storms, earthquakes and fires, resulting in valuable information for reports or descriptions of the situation on the ground or in the vicinity.
Technicians or researchers working on map development can use the code to find more data to improve or confirm their findings and complement information extracted from traditional sensors or earth observation sources.
Software that connects citizens to disaster risk management
The SMDRM software data help confirm whether an event is happening and where exactly the most affected locations are.
It is a clear example of how social media and active citizenship can contribute to disaster risk management as it help crisis responders improve their situational awareness in the immediate aftermath of an event.
FEMA has approved grants of more than $4.7 million for two hazard mitigation projects for the city of Panama City to reduce its risk of critical facility failure during future disasters. Funding from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) was approved in response to a proposal by the city after Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Millville Wastewater Treatment Plant: $2,653,956 for the purchase and installation of twin permanent generators to support the critical operations of the plant. They will be connected to the main electrical transfer system by a switchgear and an underground duct bank, which provide a protected pathway for electrical transmission and allow the city to provide continued service to the community during future power outages.
Sanitary Sewer Lift Stations: $2,052,265 for Phase One in a proposed project to provide flood protection and improvements to 13 sanitary sewer lift stations within the city, including surveying, engineering, design, plan preparation, permitting and the bidding for Phase Two approval. If approved, the project proposes different mitigation actions depending on the needs and assessment of each of the 13 sites to include relocation, elevation or strengthening against storm surge and wave-action hazards.
The HMGP provides funding to help communities eliminate or reduce disaster-related damage. Following a major disaster, a percentage of a state’s total federal recovery grants is calculated to help develop more resilient communities. Florida has an Enhanced Hazard Mitigation Plan that allows more funding to be available for post-disaster resilience projects. States with the enhanced plan receive HMGP funds based on 20% of their total estimated eligible federal disaster assistance.
For days leading up to the disaster, Mr. Harisaran Shrestha had been listening to warnings about floods in the Melamchi, a river that flows through the foothills of the Himalayas in central Nepal. At least one local FM radio was repeatedly broadcasting notices about the possible release of water from the reservoir of a nearby drinking-water project and urging the public to avoid river banks and to refrain from activities like fishing, sand mining, and gravel collecting.
The local police and representatives were also issuing similar warnings around the town via microphones and loudspeakers.
Owing to these forewarnings, when the flood eventually hit his hometown, Melamchi Bazar, northeast of Kathmandu in Sindhupalchowk district, in June 2021, Mr. Shrestha was better prepared to react to the deluge. “As soon as it became apparent that the flood was going to sweep the entire town, I used my bus to ferry women, children, and disabled people in the neighbourhood to a safer location,” said Mr. Shrestha.
On June 15, just an hour after the final warning from the radio and police announcement on loudspeaker, massive floods near the confluence of the Melachmi River and the Indrawati River swept through the settlements near Shrestha’s hometown, killing at least five people and destroying property worth millions of rupees. At least a dozen people remain missing more than two months after one of the worst disasters in the town's history.
Despite saving many lives, Mr. Shrestha could not save his belongings because he had underestimated the scale of the disaster. “Our home was at a considerable distance from the river. It never occurred to me that the swollen river’s waters would reach this far,” Mr. Shrestha recalled in an interview.
Now displaced by the flood, Mr. Shrestha, 38, has been living with a family of six in a temporary shelter. The river, which has changed its course, now runs through his home and farmland.
“The river took everything. Thankfully, all of us are safe,” said Mr. Shrestha.
Mr. Dev Raj Subedi, the manager of Radio Melamchi, which issued the flood warnings, said that the alerts had proved effective in saving hundreds of lives, although only a few households managed to save some of their possessions--those they could carry with them. Radio Melamchi has been ritually providing flood-related warnings to the municipality’s estimated 50,000 inhabitants for the last few years, especially after the Melamchi Drinking Water Project gathered momentum in the 2010s.
“We issued the warning as soon as a government official informed us about the flood upstream. The warning proved especially helpful in the town area, whose inhabitants had the means to access the warning. That was one of the reasons there were no deaths in the town area,” shared Mr. Subedi.
Melamchi’s case is the latest example of how the growing use of mass media and early warning systems through data collected from meteorological and hydrological stations and rainfall-runoff model is proving effective in saving lives in Nepal, which is highly susceptible to disasters, owing to its topography and its hundreds of big and small rivers.
Every year, floods and landslides wreak havoc in Nepal, leading to huge numbers of casualties and untold destruction of property. Hill settlements are particularly vulnerable to landslides and flash floods, while riverine floods routinely deluge the lowland areas bordering India.
Every year during the rainy season, hundreds of families lose their house, agricultural yield, and means of livelihood, pushing them further into poverty.
Between 13 April to 16 October in 2020, floods and landslides killed at least 337 Nepalis, wiped out thousands of houses, and destroyed property worth billions of rupees, according to an estimate by Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs. More than 100 people remain missing on account of those floods.
Numerous factors including the 2015 earthquake, infrastructural projects and climate change have contributed to increasing disasters, according to experts. For instance, Sindhupalchowk district, the epicenter of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled Nepal in 2015, has seen a marked increase in landslides and floods following the tragedy that killed over 9,000 people.
Mr. Bikram Shrestha Zoowa, a senior Divisional Hydrologist at the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, in Kathmandu, said that climate-induced hazards and unplanned development are emerging as challenges in recent decades.
Examples include recent disasters such as the Setigandaki flood in Kaski, Jure landslide-Sindhupalchowk in 2014, a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in Tibet immediately above the Bhotekoshi River in Sindhupalchowk in 2016; a dry landslide in the Kaligandaki Corridor after the 2015 earthquake, another GLOF in Barun valley obstructing the flow of Arun River in 2017, and numerous climate-induced landslides during the 2020 monsoon and this year, said Mr. Shrestha Zoowa.
“Human interventions such as road construction in hill slopes without considering geological studies are certainly the causes of the region’s geological fragility, which results in small and big landslides in hilly regions. This is the man-made effect in addition to earthquakes responsible for hazards.”
According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming averaged over the next 20 years. In 2019, a landmark report
by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, an intergovernmental center based in Nepal, warned that a two-degree temperature rise could melt half of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, destabilising Asia’s rivers.
In recent years, to minimise loss of life and property, an increasing number of communities vulnerable to disasters have begun to integrate social media platforms--such as Facebook and Twitter--and other technologies to provide early warnings. And as with Radio Melamchi, more than 500 FM radio stations across Nepal are being used to disseminate news and timely warnings. Many other local bodies are integrating SMS text messages to provide real-time alerts for people living in disaster-prone zones.
In Kailali, a western Nepal district bordering India’s Uttar Pradesh, flood warnings through SMS alerts and phone calls have proven effective in saving lives in settlements spread along the Karnali River Basin.
“When massive floods hit our village in 2016, most of the villagers with mobile phones had received SMS alerts three hours before the disaster. Those three hours gave us ample time to save not just our lives, but also our livestock and essentials like some grains and documents,” said Ms. Sajita Tharu of Laxmipur village in Kailali district. “Thankfully, we have not faced that kind of flood in recent years but we continue to receive alerts if water rises above the danger level. That allows us to remain mentally prepared and save essentials in case the flood hits us.”
As part of the community-based early warning approach, residents living in catchment areas constantly pass on information about the water level in their area to residents of villages downstream. The community groups also get constant flood alerts from the Department of Hydrology’s regional station. The alerts--including text messages, phone calls, and information from weatherboards--are widely circulated by the members of the Community Disaster Management Committees, which were formed by programs designed to enhance the communities’ flood resilience. Most members of these user committees are women, as many working-age men migrate to India or other countries in search of jobs.
Ms. Manakala Kumari Chaudhari, the deputy mayor of Rajapur Municipality in far-western Nepal, said that the timely early warning system in his area has been instrumental in saving lives and properties. As soon as the water level rises above the danger level upstream, several people who own mobile phones in his municipality--a delta created by the Karnali River--receive warnings.
“Save for some exceptions, most locals respond to warnings and take the required safety measures. The timely alerts also provide ample time for all stakeholders to make the necessary preparations for disasters,” said Ms. Chaudhari.
Such timely warnings are critical because they provide enough time to save lives. The area is susceptible to constant floods from big rivers like the Karnali and Babai and from small streams, which are usually dry in other seasons.
In preparation for the seasonal floods, communities in western Nepal have also built community shelters, animal sheds to shelter their livestock and grain-storage facilities to save grains.
Since Nepal adopted federalism in 2015, there have been efforts at all three levels of government to embrace disaster-resilience policies. The central government, the provincial government, as well as many local governments have adopted policies related to disaster risk reduction. Recently, under the Home Ministry, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority prepared the National Monsoon Early Preparedness and Response Work Plan
2021. However, questions remain around the implementation of these policies and the authorities’ ability to handle large-scale disasters, especially owing to their lack of resources. Moreover, growing landslides along newly constructed highways, hydropower projects and other infrastructures-- many of which were cleared after proper Environment Impact Assessment--- have reinforced the need for better policies to promote resilient infrastructure.
But overall, the early warning systems seem to be reducing the impacts of floods in many parts of Nepal. Mr. Shrestha Zoowa, the hydrologist, said that early warning systems have proven effective in saving hundreds of lives every year, especially in vulnerable settlements along big rivers such as the Karnali, Babai, Narayani, and Koshi. The data gathered from weather stations, rainfall-runoff models are disseminated in form of daily bulletins through various media platforms, while the weather forecast relies on the Weather Research and Forecasting model, an advanced numerical weather prediction framework designed for operational forecasting and atmospheric research needs.
In recent years, the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology has been working with various non-governmental organizations in developing disaster information management systems and online databases to provide real-time information to augment its early warning systems.
The Disaster Risk Reduction Portal and Nepal Government GeoPortal, among other platforms, provide information gathered from various hydro-meteorological stations in Rasuwa, Solukhumbu, Kaski, Dolpa, Humla, Dolakha, Jumla, Sankhuwasabha and Manang districts.
“For most flood events, we have effective plans, technologies, and historical information to issue timely and reliable warnings to vulnerable settlements. But we lack an effective early warning system for flash floods in the hills and for settlements along small rivers, which are highly unpredictable,” said Mr. Shrestha Zoowa.
Nepal also needs to do more to ensure that people respond to early warnings. Although many local communities are making good use of weather forecasts and flood alerts, some are unable to take advantage of the information, often because they lack the economic means and/or technical knowledge to know what to do. Often the warning messages come with technical jargon and they may not effectively relay the impact information of the disaster relevant to people’s day to day life and experience. “The early warning systems have become much better over the years but there is still a lot to be done,” said Mr. Shrestha Zoowa.
The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) have signed a Statement of Cooperation to strengthen the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (Sendai Framework), promote climate and disaster resilience, encourage knowledge sharing for informed decision-making, and improve risk governance across Asia and the Pacific.
ADPC and UNDRR reaffirmed their commitment to promote climate and disaster resilience as core components of risk-informed sustainable development. Both organizations will work together to enhance the dissemination of regional knowledge on disaster risk, address disaster damage and loss data challenges, and strengthen the analytical and evidence base for regional cooperation to implement the Sendai Framework and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
They will collaborate in scaling up the support to countries for the development and implementation of national and local disaster risk reduction strategies in line with national climate change adaptation and national development plans.
The Statement of Cooperation will also strengthen existing collaboration between ADPC and UNDRR in many areas, such as developing online courses on Sendai Framework Monitor, devising a COVID-19 Small Business Continuity and Recovery Planning Toolkit, and the development of disaster risk reduction status reports of countries in Asia and the Pacific.
Promoting transboundary disaster risk management is one of the key points of this Statement of Cooperation, thus both organizations will leverage their existing networks to promote transboundary risk management and fortify collaboration with other regional organizations.
The collaboration will in turn strengthen the implementation of the four Sendai Framework priorities for action and enhance the science-policy-practice interface in disaster risk reduction and climate resilience in Asia-Pacific and beyond.
Member States gathered virtually to adopt the Outcome Document of the 2021 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Forum on Financing for Development. This year’s outcome document provides indispensable intergovernmental policy guidance to countries on financing for disaster risk reduction and risk-informed investing.
For the first time at the ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development, Governments recognise the systemic nature of risk and the need to strengthen the understanding of risk in economic and financial planning across all sectors and at all levels. There is a clear call to redress the balance from investing in response towards investing in prevention and risk reduction. Risk-sensitive public investment planning; the consideration of risk in land use planning; risk-sharing mechanisms that create an enabling environment for public-private partnerships; and diagnostics for infrastructure investments that include resilience and climate change adaptation are some of the policy options identified to accelerate financing for disaster risk reduction.
To support these efforts, national and regional development banks and international financial institutions are invited to integrate disaster risk reduction and resilience into COVID-19 economic recovery strategies. The outcome document also breaks new ground in recognizing the need to strengthen the resilience of the financial system through systematically integrating climate, environmental and disaster risks into global risk monitoring to inform future decision making.
Application of this intergovernmental policy guidance at national level will undoubtedly bring significant benefit to the implementation of national and disaster risk reduction strategies. It can also support coherence between financing for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and ensure that the financing for the Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19 socioeconomic recovery strategies build resilience and reduce the risk of future disasters.
Deliberations at the Forum, which ran from 12 to 15 April, were guided by the 2021 Financing for Sustainable Development Report. This year’s report includes a dedicated chapter that provides guidance to ministries of finance and planning to integrate disaster risk reduction into their policy decisions. During the forum, UNDRR, in partnership with UNDESA and the Co-Chairs of the Group of Friends for Disaster Risk Reduction, organized a side event titled “Financing for Disaster Risk Reduction and a Risk-Informed Approach to Investing Across the SDGs”. The event brought together a variety of development finance practitioners from government and the private sector to discuss the comprehensive approach needed to finance disaster risk reduction and capitalize on public sector policy-setting and private sector innovation.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, stated that “the current approach to funding disaster risk reduction is not keeping pace with the exponential rise of disaster risk” and called for “a paradigm shift in political attitudes towards financing for disaster risk reduction especially in places that are largely unprotected from the ravages of the climate emergency and the threat of biological hazards”. Mr. Shaun Tarbuk, Chief Executive of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation, announced an upcoming report with UNDRR titled “From protection to prevention: the role of cooperative and mutual insurance in disaster risk reduction”.
As the realities of climate change take hold across the planet, the risks of natural hazards and disasters are becoming ever more familiar. Meteorologists, aiming to protect increasingly populous countries and communities, are tapping into artificial intelligence (AI) to get them the edge in early detection and disaster relief.
Al shows great potential to support data collection and monitoring, the reconstruction and forecasting of extreme events, and effective and accessible communication before and during a disaster.
This potential was in focus at a recent workshop feeding into the first meeting of the new Focus Group on AI for Natural Disaster Management. The group is open to all interested parties, supported by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) together with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UN Environment.
“AI can help us tackle disasters in development work as well as standardization work. With this new Focus Group, we will explore AI’s ability to analyze large datasets, refine datasets and accelerate disaster-management interventions,” said Chaesub Lee, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, in opening remarks to the workshop.
New solutions for data gaps
"High-quality data are the foundation for understanding natural hazards and underlying mechanisms providing ground truth, calibration data and building reliable AI-based algorithms," said Monique Kuglitsch, Innovation Manager at Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz-Institut and Chair of the new Focus Group.
In Switzerland, the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research uses seismic sensors in combination with a supervised machine-learning algorithm to detect the tremors that precede avalanches.
“You record lots of signals with seismic monitoring systems,” said WSL researcher Alec Van Hermijnen. “But avalanche signals have distinct characteristics that allow the algorithm to find them automatically. If you do this in continuous data, you end up with very accurate avalanche data."
Real-time data from weather stations throughout the Swiss Alps can be turned into a new snowpack stratigraphy simulation model to monitor danger levels and predict avalanches.
Modelling for better predictions
Comparatively rare events, like avalanches, offer limited training data for AI solutions. How models trained on historical data cope with climate change remains to be seen.
At the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data is monitored in support of tsunami warnings. With traditional seismic systems proving inadequate in very large magnitude earthquakes, University of Washington research scientist Brendan Crowell wrote an algorithm, G-FAST (Geodetic First Approximation of Size and Timing), which estimates earthquake magnitudes within seconds of earthquakes’ time of origin.
In north-eastern Germany, deep learning of waveforms produces probabilistic forecasts and helps to warn residents in affected areas. The Transformer Earthquake Alerting Model supports well-informed decision-making, said PhD Researcher Jannes Münchmeyer at the GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam.
Better data practices for a resilient future
How humans react in a disaster is also important to understand. Satellite images of Earth at night - called "night lights" – help to track the interactions between people and river resources. The dataset for Italy helps to manage water-related natural disasters, said Serena Ceola, Senior Assistant Professor at the University of Bologna.
Open data initiatives and public-private partnerships are also using AI in the hope of building a resilient future.
The ClimateNet repository promises a deep database for researchers, while the CLINT (Climate Intelligence) consortium in Europe aims to use machine learning to detect and respond to extreme events.
Some practitioners, however, are not validating their models with independent data, reinforcing perceptions of AI as a “black box”, says Carlos Gaitan, Co-founder and CTO of Benchmark Labs and a member of the American Meteorological Society Committee on AI Applications to Environmental Science. "For example, sometimes, you have only annual data for the points of observations, and that makes deep neural networks unfeasible."
A lack of quality-controlled data is another obstacle in environmental sciences that continue to rely on human input. Datasets come in different formats, and high-performing computers are not available to all, Gaitan added.
AI to power community-centred communications
Communications around disasters require high awareness of communities and their comprising connections.
"Too often when we are trying to understand the vulnerability and equity implications of our work, we are using data from the census of five or ten years ago,” said Steven Stichter, Director of the Resilient America Program at the US National Academies of Science (NAS). “That's not sufficient as we seek to tailor solutions and messages to communities."
A people-centered mechanism is at the core of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a framework providing countries with concrete actions that they can take to protect development gains from the risk of disaster.
If AI can identify community influencers, it can help to target appropriate messages to reduce vulnerability, Stichter said.
With wider internet access and improved data speeds, information can reach people faster, added Rakiya Babamaaji, Head of Natural Resources Management at Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency and Vice Chair of the Africa Science and Technology Advisory Group on Disaster Risk Reduction (Af-STAG DRR).
AI can combine Earth observation data, street-level imagery, data drawn from connected devices, and volunteered geographical details. However, technology alone cannot solve problems, Babamaaji added. People need to work together, using technology creatively to tackle problems.
With clear guidance on best practices, AI will get better and better in terms of accessibility, interoperability, and reusability, said Jürg Luterbacher, Chief Scientist & Director of Science and Innovation at WMO. But any AI-based framework must also consider human and ecological vulnerabilities. "We have also to identify data biases, or train algorithms to interpret data within an ethical framework that considers minority and vulnerable populations," he added.
Image credit: ITU-Camptocamp.org via Wikimedia Commons
The Joint Research Centre has developed country profiles under the Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS) helping to support wildfire management and disaster risk reduction globally but in particular, in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region.
These profiles provide information on the geographic distribution of wildfires, burnt areas and emissions, and assess wildfire regimes and impacts at country and sub-country level for all continents worldwide.
Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, said: "Wildfires can have catastrophic consequences on the environment and on people. The country profiles designed by the Joint Research Centre will contribute to the risk assessment and mitigation of this danger, proving how science can help improve and protect lives and our planet."
Mette Wilkie, Director of the Forestry Division, FAO said:
"The opportunity for countries around the world to assess their national fire situation through the Wildfire Country Profiles of GWIS is fundamental to understanding fire risk and underpinning plans to mitigate the effects of wildfires. These efforts are critical to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals related to climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods. FAO looks forward to continuing collaboration with the EC through JRC and GWIS, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean."
Leo Heileman, UN Environment Programme's Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean said:
"UNEP is delighted to support, along with FAO, a new information system that will improve wildfire management and strengthen disaster risk reduction in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Amazon region. This kind of initiatives are part of an upgraded framework of cooperation agreed in February 2021 between the European Commission and UNEP aimed to step up efforts to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution crises, thus supporting countries build a healthier and more inclusive and resilient future for all."
Steven Ramage, Head of External Relations at the GEO Secretariat said:
"The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) welcomes the development of the GWIS country profiles by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC). This application is a unique resource to enhance wildfire prevention, preparedness and effectiveness in wildfire management. It provides access to critical wildfire information for governments and practitioners alike to prepare and respond to natural hazards.
GWIS is one of the most successful collaborative initiatives within the GEO Work Programme, providing Earth observations data and tools to enable informed national responses in the context of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Paris Agreement on climate change."
This information is essential to allow a global assessment of wildfire risk and to mitigate the effects of wildfires on land degradation, deforestation, or biomass burning emissions.
They contribute to shaping appropriate policies, reducing community exposure, mitigating damage and increasing resilience to wildfire events. These GWIS services also contribute to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), reducing the impact of climate change and disaster risk.
These country profiles are part of the new European Commission initiative to support wildfire management and disaster risk reduction globally and in particular in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This JRC action will fit into a comprehensive approach by the EU to support conservation and sustainable development of the Amazon forests.
There are at present more than 50 EU programmes on this regional priority, and the new budget for global Europe will also cover a specific Amazon strategy, coordinated with EU Member States.
This will be implemented in collaboration with the EU Delegations in the LAC region, supporting forthcoming EU programs in the region under the EU Green Deal strategy.
Through a Team Europe Initiative for the Amazon basin, coordinated actions in the field of forest conservation, sustainable agriculture, and environmental governance, will strengthen the impact and use of the GWIS services.
On March 11th, 2011 a Magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the northeast coast of Japan, near the Tohoku region. The force of the earthquake sent a tsunami rushing towards the Tohoku coastline, a black wall of water which wiped away entire towns and villages. Sea walls were overrun. 200,000 lives were lost. The scale of destruction to housing, infrastructure, industry and agriculture was extreme in Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi prefectures. In addition to the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes, the earthquake and tsunami contributed to an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, requiring additional mass evacuations. The impacts not only shook Japan’s society and economy as a whole, but also had ripple effects in global supply chains. In the 21st century, a disaster of this scale is a global phenomenon.
The severity and complexity of the cascading disasters was not anticipated. The events during and following the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) showed just how ruinous and complex a low-probability, high-impact disaster can be. However, although the impacts of the triple-disaster were devastating, Japan’s legacy of DRM likely reduced losses. Japan’s structural investments in warning systems and infrastructure were effective in many cases, and preparedness training helped many act and evacuate quickly. The large spatial impact of the disaster, and the region’s largely rural and elderly population, posed additional challenges for response and recovery.
Over recent years, the Japan-World Bank Program on Mainstreaming DRM in Developing Countries has furthered the work of the Learning from Megadisasters report, continuing to gather, analyze and share the knowledge and lessons learned from GEJE, together with past disaster experiences, to enhance the resilience of next generation development investments around the world. Ten years on from the GEJE, we take a moment to revisit the lessons gathered, and reflect on how they may continue to be relevant in the next decade, in a world faced with both seismic disasters and other emergent hazards such as pandemics and climate change.
Through synthesizing a decade of research on the GEJE and accumulation of the lessons from the past disaster experience, this story highlights three key strategies which recurred across many of the cases we studied. They are:
1) the importance of planning for disasters before they strike,
2) DRM cannot be addressed by either the public or private sector alone but enabled only when it is shared among many stakeholders,
3) institutionalize the culture of continuous enhancement of the resilience.
For example, business continuity plans, or BCPs, can help both public and private organizations minimize damages and disruptions. BCPs are documents prepared in advance which provide guidance on how to respond to a disruption and resume the delivery of products and services. Additionally, the creation of pre-arranged agreements among independent public and/or private organizations can help share essential responsibilities and information both before and after a disaster. This might include agreements with private firms to repair public infrastructures, among private firms to share the costs of mitigation infrastructure, or among municipalities to share rapid response teams and other resources. These three approaches recur throughout the more specific lessons and strategies identified in the following section, which is organized along the three areas of disaster risk management: resilient infrastructure; risk identification, reduction and preparedness; and disaster risk finance and insurance.
Lessons from the Megadisaster Resilient Infrastructure
The GEJE had severe impacts on critical ‘lifelines’—infrastructures and facilities that provide essential services such as transportation, communication, sanitation, education, and medical care. Impacts of megadisasters include not only damages to assets (direct impacts), but also disruptions of key services, and the resulting social and economic effects (indirect impacts). For example, the GEJE caused a water supply disruption for up to 500,000 people in Sendai city, as well as completely submerging the city’s water treatment plant. Lack of access to water and sanitation had a ripple effect on public health and other emergency services, impacting response and recovery. Smart investment in infrastructure resilience can help minimize both direct and indirect impacts, reducing lifeline disruptions. The 2019 report Lifelines: The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity found through a global study that every dollar invested in the resilience of lifelines had a $4 benefit in the long run.
In the case of water infrastructure, the World Bank report Resilient Water Supply and Sanitation Services: The Case of Japan documents how Sendai City learned from the disaster to improve the resilience of these infrastructures. Steps included retrofitting existing systems with seismic resilience upgrades, enhancing business continuity planning for sanitation systems, and creating a geographic information system (GIS)-based asset management system that allows for quick identification and repair of damaged pipes and other assets. During the GEJE, damages and disruptions to water delivery services were minimized through existing programs, including mutual aid agreements with other water supply utility operators. Through these agreements, the Sendai City Waterworks Bureau received support from more than 60 water utilities to provide emergency water supplies. Policies which promote structural resilience strategies were also essential to preserving water and sanitation services. After the 1995 Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake (GHAE), Japanese utilities invested in earthquake resistant piping in water supply and sanitation systems. The commonly used earthquake-resistant ductile iron pipe (ERDIP) has not shown any damage from major earthquakes including the 2011 GEJE and the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake. Changes were also made to internal policies after the GEJE based on the challenges faced, such as decentralizing emergency decision-making and providing training for local communities to set up emergency water supplies without utility workers with the goal of speeding up recovery efforts.
Redundancy is another structural strategy that contributed to resilience during and after GEJE. In Sendai City, redundancy and seismic reinforcement in water supply infrastructure allowed the utility to continue to operate pipelines that were not physically damaged in the earthquake The Lifelines report describes how in the context of telecommunications infrastructure, the redundancy created through a diversity of routes in Japan’s submarine internet cable system limited disruptions to national connectivity during the megadisaster. However, the report emphasizes that redundancy must be calibrated to the needs and resources of a particular context. For private firms, redundancy and backups for critical infrastructure can be achieved through collaboration; after the GEJE, firms are increasingly collaborating to defray the costs of these investments.
The GEJE also illustrated the importance of planning for transportation resilience. A Japan Case Study Report on Road Geohazard Risk Management shows the role that both national policy and public-private agreements can play. In response to the GEJE, Japan’s central disaster legislation, the DCBA (Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act) was amended in 2012, with particular focus on the need to reopen roads for emergency response. Quick road repairs were made possible after the GEJE in part due to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT)’s emergency action plans, the swift action of the rapid response agency Technical Emergency Control Force (TEC-FORCE), and prearranged agreements with private construction companies for emergency recovery work. During the GEJE, roads were used as evacuation sites and were shown effective in controlling the spread of floods. After the disaster, public-private partnerships (PPPs) were also made to accommodate the use of expressway embankments as tsunami evacuation sites. As research on Resilient Infrastructure PPPs highlights, clear definitions of roles and responsibilities are essential to effective arrangements between the government and private companies. In Japan, lessons from the GEJE and other earthquakes have led to a refinement of disaster definitions, such as numerical standards for triggering force majeure provisions of infrastructure PPP contracts. In Sendai City, clarifying the post-disaster responsibilities of public and private actors across various sectors sped up the response process. This experience was built upon after the disaster, when Miyagi prefecture conferred operation of the Sendai International Airport to a private consortium through a concession scheme which included refined force majeure definitions. In the context of a hazard-prone region, the agreement clearly defines disaster-related roles and responsibilities as well as relevant triggering events.
The need to increase investments in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) is a well-accepted priority to minimize losses from disaster and climate change. However, there are challenges in articulating how much countries ought to spend, what areas they should prioritize, and which type of measure are more effective in achieving risk and losses reduction. The absence of baseline information on expenditure trends hampers the analysis of most cost-efficient ways to reduce risk.
One way to gain insights into the current levels of investments is by conducting a review of public expenditure. The goal of such a review and budget tracking is to advise decision-makers on where gaps exist to realign budgets with priorities.
To aid this, some tools and methodologies have been developed to help governments track expenditures. Among these are ‘policy markers’ to conduct risk-sensitive budget reviews, climate and disaster risk management Public Expenditure and Institutional Reviews (PEIR), or longer-term initiatives on climate budget tagging. Other methods of financial tracking include using national accounting systems and environmental expenditure reviews.
While there have been a few national exercises that have applied these tools and some success stories on institutionalizing budget tagging within performance budgeting and public financial management reforms, most countries in Asia-Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa do not track disaster-related investments and expenditures.
To increase uptake among countries, UNDRR’s Regional Offices for Asia-Pacific and Africa collaborated with UNDP to organize a two-day consultation on 3-4 February that brought together 69 representatives of organizations who have experience in conducting such reviews to exchange lessons and discuss how the methodology could be improved to better link DRR and CCA public expenditures.
“Disaster risk management public expenditure and institutional reviews have emerged as a critical tool for advocating for greater investment in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, especially from the context of results-based decision making,” said Mr. Ronald Jackson, Head of UNDP’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery team.
Where public expenditure reviews have been conducted, they have helped shed a light on current levels of investment, such as a recent review conducted by the UNDRR Regional Office for Africa of 16 African countries found that investments in DRR projects represent only 4% of national budgets on average.
“With the social-economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and the ongoing climate emergency, it is becoming increasingly evident that governments need to increase budgetary allocations for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation,” commented Mr. Amjad Abbashar, Chief of the UNDRR Regional Office for Africa.
The purpose of budget tracking is not only to ensure proper allocation to line ministries at the central level but also to ensure that local governments receive support that is proportional to the disaster risks and impacts they are facing and their responsibilities to address them.
“In Malawi, we found that only 1% of environmental expenditure was spent at the district level. Yet it is at the district level that many of the environmental and climate resilience challenges exist and need to be addressed,” said Mr. David Smith of the joint UNDP-UNEP Poverty and Environment Initiative for Africa.
Another example is Nepal, which has transitioned to a federal system and devolved responsibilities to the local level, but is allocating only 15% of national appropriations to municipal governments, according to an example highlighted by Ms. Charlotte Benson, Principal Disaster Risk Management Specialist with the Asian Development Bank.
In addition to vertical and horizontal distributions of funds, another aspect of expenditure tracking that countries should consider are “negative expenditures”, which are expenses from risk-blind initiatives that negatively impact the achievement of climate and disaster resilience goals. This was a point echoed by both Mr. Asad Maken, UNDP’s Regional Advisor Governance of Climate Change Finance for the Asia Pacific Region, and Mr. Nohman Ishtiaq, UNDP Advisor to Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance.
Regardless of what methodology is adopted in reviewing, tagging and tracking expenditures, there was a consensus on the need to build the capacity of climate and disaster risk management agencies, in addition to the ministries of finance, to ensure that such coding expenditure and tracking become embedded in routine government processes.
This capacity building is particularly important considering that many of the country examples that were shared - Fiji, Mauritius, Mozambique and Pakistan - highlighted the need to contextualize tracking processes to local circumstances.
Moreover, conducting a budget tagging exercise or a public expenditure review can help developing countries access new streams of financing to implement DRR and CCA plans:
“We work very closely with National Designated Authorities that are ambitious in preparing Green Climate Fund proposals only to find that their lack of knowledge of ongoing climate and disaster-related expenditure is a huge hurdle for them to fill out the proposal,” noted Ms. Shivaranjani Venkatramani, a consultant with Oxford Policy Management, who has supported NDAs in South and Southeast Asia.
More importantly, simply engaging ministries of finance and planning in a budget tracking or public expenditure review can help bring DRR and CCA efforts into “the heart of economic decision making” and “shift climate and disaster resilience away from being an external environmental agenda to a domestic development priority,” according to Mr. Paul Steele Chief Economist at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
Beyond the benefits of helping governments uncover funding gaps, monitor the effectiveness of spending, facilitate decision making, improve transparency and raise awareness among critical partners, budget tagging and expenditure reviews can be part of a larger approach towards strengthening risk financing and risk-informing development process as a whole.
“Governments should move from a contingent liability approach of public financing to a social risk management approach to reduce unplanned expenditures. It is equally important that we complement public finance tagging and tracking with the required level of political advocacy, such as with the ongoing work on the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures,” noted Mr. Animesh Kumar, Officer-in-Charge of UNDRR’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
Developing a good understanding of the budgetary landscape can also help countries develop integrated national financing frameworks (INFF), which are a tool to finance national priorities, including the implementation of national DRR strategies.
At the global level, it was noted that much of what was discussed at the consultation can feed into ongoing global intergovernmental processes related to the 2030 Agenda.
“The timeliness of this workshop is essential in that there are very important global initiatives that are unfolding, and the knowledge unearthed in this conversation can benefit the considerations and deliberations for the implementation of these initiatives,” said Mr. Marco Toscano-Rivalta, Head of UNDRR’s Liaison Office in New York and Chief (designate) of UNDRR’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
Examples of such initiatives include the Interagency Task Force on Financing for Development and High-Level Meeting on ‘Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond.’ Mr. Toscano-Rivalta also highlighted the potential role of national supreme auditors in budgetary and expenditure tracking to generate the desired level of accountability and transparency.
As a follow-up to the consultation, the group will consider documenting the methodologies and case studies in the form of a publication and potentially consider an analysis of how DRR and CCA could be imbedded in COVID-19 economic recovery efforts.
A new AI model that harnesses the power of the world's fastest supercomputer, Fugaku, can rapidly predict tsunami flooding in coastal areas before the tsunami reaches land.
The development of the new technology was announced as part of a joint project between the International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IREDeS) at Tohoku University, the Earthquake Research Institute at the University of Tokyo, and Fujitsu Laboratories.
The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami highlighted the shortcomings in disaster mitigation and the need to utilize information for efficient and safe evacuations.
While tsunami observation networks in Japanese coastal waters have been strengthened since then, using the data produced from those networks to predict a tsunami's path once it hits land has gained greater urgency. This is especially true since a major earthquake is likely to hit Japan's densely populated east coast sometime in the near future.
Tsunami prediction technologies will allow authorities to obtain accurate information quickly and aid them in effectively directing evacuation orders.
Fujitsu, Tohoku University, and The University of Tokyo leveraged the power of Fugaku to generate training data for 20,000 possible tsunami scenarios based on high-resolution simulations. These scenarios were used to streamline an AI model that uses offshore waveform data generated by the tsunami to predict flooding before landfall at high spatial resolution.
Conventional prediction technologies require the use of supercomputers and make rapid prediction systems difficult to implement. The current AI model, however, can be run in seconds on ordinary PCs.
When the model was applied to a simulation of tsunami flooding in Tokyo Bay following a large earthquake, it achieved highly accurate predictions with a regular PC within seconds. The results matched tsunami flooding of the tsunami source models released by the Cabinet Office of Japan.
The research team will continue to make use of Fugaku's high-speed performance in the future by training the system with additional tsunami scenarios. Doing so will help realize AI that can predict tsunami flooding over even wider areas.