Event Summary

The conference was an overwhelming success and achieved its primary objective of bringing together a wide range of experts from a number of sectors and academic disciplines at a single event. Participants represented the humanitarian and development sectors, academia, business, government, funding agencies and professional institutions. Over the course of two-and-a-half days, there were thirty-one presentations and five formal discussion sessions that examined disaster risk reduction (DRR) research for natural hazards, with the emphasis on putting research into practice.

The core aim of the conference was to examine how natural hazard research is accessed and used by practitioners and decision- and policy-makers, and how policy and practice inform research. It is here that the meeting successfully highlighted the need for much improved understanding and dialogue between all the sectors represented. There is an urgent requirement to better understand respective needs, ways of working and funding mechanisms, as well as the challenges posed by institutional and organisational structures and functions. That said, it is clear that far too much research is still user-unfriendly, and that practitioners do not adequately engage in and with research. Such shortcomings are perhaps more pronounced with the natural sciences than with the social sciences.

Disaster risk reduction and resilience were considered and once again it emerged that natural scientists focus primarily on the physical hazards, while social scientists and practitioners are more connected with broader societal issues such as vulnerability and resilience. However, efforts to cross this divide have been on going for a number of years, and some of the results and challenges were presented. The natural hazards that received most coverage were volcanic and seismic events, but it must not be forgotten that in addition to earthquakes and tsunami, windstorms, floods, droughts and natural contamination cause the greatest human losses. Very little connection was made between natural hazards and climate variability, which is perhaps surprising with the run-up to Copenhagen 2009. Multi-hazard environments received limited attention.

Bottom-up and top-down approaches were examined from a variety of perspectives. The power of community capacity and indigenous knowledge was highlighted as deserving greater respect, and there were suggestions that DRR intervention must be rigorously assessed in order to avoid it increasing vulnerability, particularly in the long term. Research will perhaps have the greatest impact from the top down, by informing international, national and regional agencies. However, researchers are concerned that their analyses and messages are not carried through and are, therefore, much less effective than they should be. Non-government organisations could give research a much greater voice and wider and deeper reach, and research should underpin responsible advocacy.

Disaster risk reduction must be underpinned by thorough risk assessment, and examples of different methods of performing this were presented. The type of assessment is somewhat dependent on spatial and temporal scale, and there is increasing realisation that these must be forward looking, especially as DRR is about anticipating future disaster risk. How far forward is a key question, but the challenge was laid down to focus more attention on the bigger picture of risk over the next two decades, a time by which water, food and energy consumption are all predicted to rise by 40-50% and there will be an extra two billion people on the planet. Perhaps, therefore, DRR is a misleading term and risk reduction or resilience would be more appropriate to encourage rigorous consideration of total risk on decadal timescales, particularly as disasters must be considered along with poverty, affluence, conflict, political and civil unrest, uncertainty, and environmental and resource degradation, to name but a few.

So where do we go from here? Well, the DRR community needs to clearly articulate the knowledge that they require and develop mechanisms for its effective creation and dissemination. To achieve this there are two key areas that should underpin all activities:

• Proper and sustained dialogue between all sectors involved in DRR.

• Dialogue to inform research and for that research to be effectively communicated and applied.


Other important areas for consideration that were highlighted:

• Knowledge is fundamental to reducing risk and building resilience, but it is ineffective without being underpinned by appropriate education. Education in turn must foster imagination and innovation to devise practical solutions.

• How is the research and practitioner community going to assess and manage risk in preparation for the next ten to twenty years and beyond?

• Why is the risk community still not effectively engaging with and making full use of the knowledge, expertise, tools and technologies that are already available.

• How can bottom-up and top-down approaches effectively meet and become integrated?

• How can the business sector be integrated into DRR activities, particularly in terms of risk analysis and micro-insurance?

• How can new donor and funding streams be created to support risk reduction research and its effective application?


Stephen Edwards
November 2009

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