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Archive for the ‘Resilient Societies’ Category

Landslides are normally triggered either by hydro-meteorological events or by earthquakes. Whatever the immediate cause, the vegetation cover of the affected area is going to determine the degree of devastation that the landslide will have. Factors such as “topography, geology, soils, hydrological conditions, landslide history and vegetation cover determine the response of a landslide-prone catchment to a specific trigger”[i].

Changes in the vegetation cover may be influenced by:

  • Climate change which might slowly but constantly alter it.
  • Extreme events -fire, wind, rain- which might result in rapid changes
  • Anthropogenic forces such as forest logging, changes in agricultural practices, and waste disposal with an immediate effect

Of the three factors, the third one is the one more clearly in the hands of individuals.

Policymakers and individuals, through their acts and inactions, affect how climate change evolves: positively or negatively. The problem, and probably the reason why “earth’s surface continues to significantly warm, with recent global temperatures being the hottest in the past 2,000-plus years”[ii], is that the solution has to be applied today in order to obtain a result in the mid to long term. Humans are not good at working today for a distant reward: at heart we are all kids.

But anthropogenic forces are different. The effect of deforestation is sensed immediately. A change in crops affects the soil in a matter of months. These actions are very near us: individuals are directly involved in them, policymakers can influence them, but the actors are you and me, our relatives and our neighbors. That being the case, what is preventing us from acting now in the right direction?   


[i] Papathoma-Koehle, M& Glade, T. The role of vegetation cover change in landslide hazard and risk. United Nations University, 2013

[ii] https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/

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A sustainable and practical approach to integrating CCA and DRR appears to still be “in its infancy”[i] The 2019 document published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies points out how the challenge of addressing climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) in a coordinated way is more a desideratum than a reality.

Let us start with climate change. The good news is the Nobel prize given to Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, and Giorgio Parisi of Sapienza University of Rome for their work on climate change. The award was very timely since COP26, the UN summit on climate change, will be held next month in Great Britain. It will certainly be an added incentive for governments and institutions to commit to real actions fighting climate change.

But I think those grandiose actions tend to be built on quicksand There is probably already enough legislation, at least in the developed world which is by far the biggest culprit of climate change, and surely a good number of pledges by big corporations aiming at reducing their carbon footprint. But I think that it is at the base of the pyramid where action should be taken. Consumers are the big culprits in climate change. Consumers are those who vote for that big, oversized car and that plastic-wrapped apple in the supermarket.

Let us move on to disaster risk reduction. I have written several times about the fact that the first first-responders are the people living in the area at risk. If those people keep dumping debris in the dried-up riverbed; if those same people keep razing forests and substituting them for yearly crops, then the effects of an otherwise slightly higher than usual rainfall can be devastating. I am sure that, again at least in the developed world, there is enough legislation today to prosecute those actions; I am not so sure about the actual prosecution of those actions by the authorities. The inaction is prompted by the fact that society condones those actions. Again, the legislation and its implementation are built on quicksand.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its annual climate change conference (COP), as well as the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) as the custodian of the Sendai Framework, are all very good. They promote actions by governments and corporations to act in both areas. But those two areas are intertwingled, as the above-mentioned document “Literature Review on Aligning Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)”i contends. My point is that where the connection is stronger is at the base: the citizen. Only with clear and strong action at citizen level, through education at the base, will we be able to simultaneously tackle climate change and disaster risk reduction effectively.


[i] Literature Review on Aligning Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) http://repo.floodalliance.net/jspui/handle/44111/4100

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The Heat and Health Series published recently by The Lancet focuses on the devastating effects of heat on human beings. It is estimated that “54% of the global population [will be] exposed to more than 20 days of dangerous heat per year by 2100”. A strategy of disaster risk reduction (DRR) is needed because “Society must adapt in ways that not only enable it to survive, but thrive, in a much hotter future.”

Fighting heatwaves has brought up another example of the divide between rich and poor societies, as well as between rich and poor individuals within societies. Air conditioners are by far the preferred tool in fighting heat. But they are an expensive tool. Most vulnerable societies and people cannot have access to an environmentally cooled area, whether it is because they cannot afford it or because their living or working conditions make it impossible to cool the living/working environment. Think about the homeless or those working outdoors.

Another factor making air conditioning a tool that should be put on hold, is the environmental vicious circle created by its use. Most scientific literature recognizes that global warming is here to stay. Air conditioning runs on electricity, the production of which results in CO2 emissions contributing to global warming. A secondary effect is the anthropogenic waste heat they produce, contributing to the urban heat island effect.

A more long-term strategy for heat DRR should focus on the individual, coupled with permanent changes in urban planning. In the first centuries of the past millennium in southern Spain, Arabs put nature to work to cool the environment. Some of their ideas are being used in city planning today, introducing urban gardens and fountains to fight the heat island effect.

As for the individual, electric fans are more environmentally friendly than air conditioners, but above all, a good target communication strategy should be designed so as to reach the population more at risk. Workers laboring outside, such as those in agriculture or construction, have special needs. Not only access to water but also shelter and resting times. A strategy to match their needs and those of the employer can only be attained through a well-designed communication tool directed at employees and employers.

We should think more in long term changes to our DRR heat strategy, less air conditioning and more environmentally friendly solutions and communication.

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The second focal point of the TIEMS handbook, Training for rural communities in emergency management & emergency situations, states as an objective the need to “Raising the awareness on technical solutions involving computers, communication and information technology and social sciences to provide emergency and disaster managers with helpful decision support”.

After the recent floods in Germany and the Netherlands, it has been stated that the high incidence on the population may be due to overreliance on ICT technology for communication purposes. It is a fact that ICT relies on the existence of a functioning electrical network. What happens if the electrical flow is cut off? In those situations, the ICT system will go and, with it, internet and mobile communications.

I was living in Germany many years ago, so long ago that the Berlin Wall still existed. One Sunday afternoon sirens started to sound. I don’t know if sirens, used during WWII and after, are the answer. What I know is that we have to put in place a communication network that works even if the electricity goes, even if internet goes, even if mobile communication goes.

Probably, relying on people directly communicating to each other would be the best bet. It would be good to investigate the application of the concept of fractal social organizations to the design of a communication network based on people.

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I have been hearing for a long time that “fires are put out in winter”. What that means is that the work of clearing and cleaning the forest must be done during winter, to prevent fires during the summer. Equally, recovery or reconstruction after a disaster has to be worked out before the disaster occurs.

Priority 4 of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 deals precisely with this. A quote from the introductory paragraph is enough to focus my point: “Disasters have demonstrated that the recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction phase, which needs to be prepared ahead of a disaster, is a critical opportunity to ‘Build Back Better’, including through integrating disaster risk reduction into development measures,”

I know that we are still, probably, in the response phase of the prevention, preparedness, readiness, response, and recovery continuum that summarises crisis management. Nevertheless, the time to think about the recovery phase is coming, if it has not come already.

Again, as in my previous post dealing with population involvement during the emergency, there is not, to my knowledge, anything being done for the “implementation of normative frameworks, standards and plans for disaster risk reduction” involving stakeholders (civil society, volunteers, organized voluntary work organizations and community-based organizations).

The politicians are engaged in the “blame game” of trying to make the political rival responsible for almost 5 million deaths. Meanwhile, nothing is being done to inform the population on how to proceed when the next pandemic, or for that matter the next health emergency, comes. My only hope that something meaningful will be done lies in the current HORIZON EUROPE call on Disaster-Resilient Society for Europe.

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In 2019 the WHO released the document “Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management Framework” (Health-EDRM)[1]. At that time no one had heard of SARS-CoV-2 while, at the same time, it was a premonition of things to come.

A recent paper by Emily Ying Yang Chan et al[2] points out the need to reinforce a bottom-up approach to Health-EDRM in line with my previous post “Citizens’ role in hazard management[3].

A quick review of the Health-EDRM document (see Bullet 5.9) shows how the authors understood the role of the community in an emergency: “Participation of communities in risk assessments to identify local hazards and vulnerabilities can identify actions to reduce health risks prior to an emergency occurring. … The local population will also play the lead role in recovery and reconstruction efforts.”

It is clear that a year and a half after the explosion of Covid-19, “the local population” has been at best a passive actor in the fight against the pandemic. Its participation in the prevention, preparedness, readiness, response, and recovery continuum has been marginal.

I argue in the above-mentioned post, “Citizens’ role in hazard management”, that the involvement of the population should be based on its ability to identify a hazard before it becomes a real risk. For that it is necessary to involve the population by developing diffusion tools covering an array of specific hazards. To my knowledge, nothing existed in this area for a pandemic and, what is even worst, nothing is being done.

If anything has to be learnt from the development of the pandemic, it is that none of the actors were prepared to fight it effectively. But the population was taken completely by surprise, going from normal day to day business to complete lockdown. The population collaborated passively throughout this situation. The problem remains that, having an almost complete lack of knowledge of what the full consequences of the pandemic are, a large percentage of the population has embraced the so called “freedom” with open arms.

The whole structure of population involvement has fallen into pieces. Embracing with open arms the new “freedom” is the exact opposite of what involvement of the population in fighting the pandemic should mean. A large percentage of the population is, with “open arms”, exercising its “freedom” to help spread the SARS-CoV-2.


[1] https://www.who.int/hac/techguidance/preparedness/health-emergency-and-disaster-risk-management-framework-eng.pdf accessed 23/07/21

[2] https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01233-2  accessed 23/07/21

[3] https://cgarciamanagement.wordpress.com/2021/07/22/citizens-role-in-hazard-management/ accessed 23/07/21

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Successful hazard management means a perfect working of the flow of identification – communication – early-warning – early-response – reaction. No flow is possible if the first stages of it are missing: identification, communication, early-warning, and early-response.

It does not matter how many fancy devices, based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, are designed to detect hazards; the best device will always be the human being. It has built-in intelligence and is a natural learner.

We should then aim at putting the citizen in the centre of the flow of identification, communication, early-warning, and early-response.

The population should be able to identify a hazard before it becomes a real risk.  It is necessary to involve the population at large by developing diffusion tools covering specific hazards. Those tools should be deployed geographically according to the hazard which applies to that particular area. For instance, flood dissemination tools should be deployed mainly in Central Europe, while fire dissemination tools would be deployed mainly in the Mediterranean areas. The aim is to make the population aware of the most likely hazard in their area and teach them how to act to minimise risks.

Special attention should be given to X-Events[1], the unknown unknown of an entirely unexpected event suddenly befalling an unsuspecting hapless community. Weak signals, such as the lone wolf terrorist, are difficult to identify using ICT-based systems. A network of “objective antennas” should be in place.  They will be people specially instructed to identify and evaluate threats, similar to those volunteers watching the local weather and acting as a network to provide reliable and valuable information about weather events. Only human “objective antennas” will identify weak signals on the ground and, also as importantly, filter fake news.

Identification is followed by communication. There is no need to encourage the use of social networks; as of 2020 the percentage of active social media users (16-74 years old) in the European Union is 55%[2], with countries like Denmark at 85%. The problem is the reliability of the information, or lack of it. People follow people, as the quick spread of fake news has proved many times.

There are very useful human based systems combating fake news, such as the one carried out by the Virtual Operation Support Team (VOST Europe)[3] association. Their objective is to support emergency services social media accounts, by diffusing their messages, and at the same time combating fake news.

The use of ICT tools should be but a complement to the work of humans if our aim is for effective and efficient hazard management.


[1] The X-Events Index. John Casti. The X-Center, Vienna. http://globalxnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/X-eventsIndex.pdf accessed 17/07/21

[2]https://www.statista.com/statistics/276767/social-network-usage-penetration-of-european-populations/ accessed 13/07/21

[3] https://vosteurope.org/

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It was late July 2003 in the city of Auxerre in Burgundy. Authorities had been warning of very high temperatures for August, exceeding 40ºC during the day and no less than 20ºC at night.

M. Collardelle is in his early seventies. He is a healthy person with no more ailments than the usual for his age. He lives downtown, not far from the river, in a two storey-house with a nice small garden around it. With that setting, M. Collardelle does not worry about temperatures; he knows that the river and the garden will make life a lot more pleasant for him than for those who live in apartment houses on the outskirts of the city.

He had just received a telephone call from his only child who is vacationing in Spain with her husband and kids. They had a nice conversation and, to reassure his daughter, he reminded her that he had fought in the Algerian War, where he had endured much more than those forecasted 40ºC. They said goodbye, with M Collardelle telling his daughter not to call again. They would be back in France on the 15th.

So, the first of August arrived and with it, the dreaded 40ºC. And the second was the same and so forth and so on; and M. Collardelle realized that he was not in his twenties but some 45 years older, and he could not cope with the heat. He just sat in his armchair, with the windows open in hope of some respite, but what came from outside was more heat. He didn’t even have the energy to go to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.

The 15th of August his daughter rang the bell, and as there was no answer, she opened the door and found her lifeless father in his beloved armchair. M. Collardelle had joined the more than 70.000 people who died from the heat wave that summer. 70.000 dead that would never have occurred if proper measures had been in place.

Hazards become real risks when the flow of early-warning-surveillance-preparedness- reaction breaks down for some reason. In the case at hand, it is clear that the early-warning system in place was not enough and that the flow never started; no surveillance, preparedness, or reaction were put in place.

Since 2003 things have improved; the European Climate Adaptation Platform[i] is a good example of how much things have changed. Today most countries have Heat-Health Action Plans to ensure that something like that will never happen again. Nevertheless, most plans focus on the activities that institutions at national, regional, and local levels have to carry out in case of an emergency. The diffusion and communication with citizens is mostly one way, from the institution to the public, at most an open line for people to report back, but with no real engagement or tracing whatsoever.

A comprehensive system for preventing a hazard from becoming a real problem is lacking. To start with, most plans are limited to a specific hazard or to a particular respondent. Very rarely is there a comprehensive focus on a situation that, in many cases, involves the occurrence of various simultaneous hazards.

It is also symptomatic that crisis management is only put in place once the crisis has reached a certain level. Those moments, from the occurrence of the event till the recognition by the relevant authorities that the event is in place, are mostly wasted. In fact, there is a lack of co-responsibility on the part of the citizenry in the response to an event.


[i] http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/about accessed 12.07.21

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For once, an international body has recognized that something has to be done to avoid another COVID-19 disaster. The European Commission is promoting the design and launching of a new agency: the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). The HERA will be tasked with the risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication of future health emergencies.

Five pillars constitute the core of HERA:

  1. Supporting technological innovation.
  2. Fostering coordination among EU and non-EU countries as well as with related international organizations.
  3. Establishing monitoring, preparedness, and response mechanisms.
  4. Instituting a robust EU and WHO surveillance system.
  5. Building specific competence for health and non-health personnel.

All five pillars, together with the promotion of research and innovation for a preparedness agenda and enhancing partnerships with non-EU countries, should put the EU and, by extension, the rest of the world in a better situation than the one it was in a year ago.

We can bet that, if in a few years’ time, no new pandemic has developed, many people will start pointing out how the EU is a machine that wastes money on useless agencies whose only objective is to maintain the good life of many eurocrats. That will be good for two reasons. First, it will mean that we have been spared a new devastating pandemic; second it will probably mean that the mechanisms designed by HERA have worked and we have avoided a new pandemic.

Let’s hope that HERA will have to be faced only with the above kind of criticism, and that its design is as good as we all hope for. Another devastating pandemic like COVID-19 will surely cripple the fabric of the world more than the recent financial and health crises.

Note: this post has been inspired by the paper by Villa, S et al. HERA: a new era for health emergency preparedness in Europe? The Lancet. Published Online May 17, 2021 https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01107-7

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There is a lot of talk about how to deal with the next pandemic. The consensus is that there is going to be a next pandemic; we do not know when, but we do know there is going to be one. So, are we ready for it?

If we believe the panellists on a recent webinar by The Economist, the answer is an unqualified no. Of all the possible explanations on why we are in such a situation of unpreparedness I subscribe that of Dr. John Nkengasong (Director of African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention): There is a deficit of “trust capital”.

The deficit exists among governments, and between governments and their citizens. Let’s start with lack of trust among governments. No one claims that a pandemic is not a world health problem. But if it is a global problem, why are we still ignoring the obvious fact that if we do not collaborate globally we are not going to solve “our” problem? A pandemic is not going to disappear until it has been eradicated from the most remote country. Trusting other governments means that part of our resources should be directed to other countries so that we can advance in unison.

As for the second aspect, the lack of trust between a government and its citizens, there are plenty of examples. Do we need to be reminded how some people stormed the USA Congress? What about those who refuse to be vaccinated because they believe in weird conspiracy theories? This aspect of lack of trust is as dangerous as the previous. Why? Because citizens are the first responders in a pandemic.

If we want to manage the next pandemic more efficiently, we need to involve first responders. A paper by Ying Yang et al[1] points out that “Epidemics start and end in communities, where citizens are often the first to observe changes in the environment and in animal health, and the first to be exposed to new or re-emerging pathogens”. We should follow the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030 so as “… to promote a culture of disaster prevention, resilience and responsible citizenship, generate understanding of disaster risk …”. We should invest in educating citizens so that they can identify changes that foreshadow a possible pandemic. They are the cornerstone of a more efficient future preparation and response to the next pandemic.


[1] Ying Yang Chan E, Gobat N, Dubois C, Bedson J, Rangel de Almeida J. Bottom-up citizen engagement for health emergency and disaster risk management: directions since COVID-19. The Lancet Published Online June 4, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01233-2

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