Our Common Future Under Climate Change

International Scientific Conference 7-10 JULY 2015 Paris, France

Elodie Brich

Elodie Brich

Anticipating the flood: Integrating knowledge improves disaster risk management


By Michelle Kovacevic

BUENOS AIRES (16 May 2015)_It was around this time last year that Argentina experienced one of the worst floods in history. Torrential rains hitting the capital Buenos Aires didn’t take long to make their way south, with villages on the banks of the La Plata River swept away.

To give vulnerable villages the tools and strategies to cope with such disasters, a group of young researchers from the natural and social sciences have been workingon ‘Anticipating the flood’ (Anticipando la crecida) together with local government, weather service and civil society. 

“Global warming has increased the frequency of intense rains in the region and new flood management strategies are urgently needed,” says Carolina Vera, Director of the Argentinean-French Centre for Studies of Climate and its Impacts (UMI-IFAECI),  who is convening a session on Climate variability and social and human dimensions of vulnerability at the Our Common Future Under Climate Change conference.

“It is very exciting to see how vulnerability maps developed by communities and governments in a participatory manner match and can be integrated with, maps developed by researchers applying scientific methods.”

“It is this integration of knowledge...that has helped to improve disaster risk management strategies to enable communities to better adapt.”

Disaster risk reduction strategies are designed to reduce the damage caused by natural hazards, such as earthquakes, floods, and droughts, by analysing and predicting the risks. They also reduce the vulnerability of people by improving preparedness and early warning systems, enabling them to better adapt and respond.
Studies looking at vulnerability are usually carried out by social scientists, saysVera, but “climate scientists are making an important contribution to combine those studies with improvements in the capacity to better monitor, understand and predict disasters triggered by extreme weather patterns.”

This is part of a blog series profiling climate scientists, economists, social scientists and civil society members who are presenting and discussing innovative climate science at Our Common Future. For more follow @ClimatParis2015 and #CFCC15 on Twitter.

Below is an edited transcript of an interview with Carolina Vera, who can be reached for comment at carolina@cima.fcen.uba.ar

Q: You are co-convening a parallel session on climate variability at the conference. What will this session cover?

A: The general goal of the session is to promote the exchange between researchers from natural and social scientists working on vulnerability and adaptation studies. We expect discussions about the way context-specific human vulnerability determine the impacts of the climate variability and change and their role. We also expect to learn lessons from different projects around the world that are developing adaptation strategies to address vulnerability to climate extremes in different socio-economic sectors, such as in agriculture, water, and health. 

Q: What scientific methods are used to estimate vulnerability? How is this field of climate science contributing to disaster risk reduction?

A: Studies looking at social vulnerability are usually made by social scientists. As a climate scientist, I collaborate with them to study the patterns of climate variability and change and their impact on different socio-economic sectors. Climate science contributes to disaster risk reduction by helping to improve the capacity for better monitoring, understanding and predicting weather patterns and extreme events that can trigger a disaster. Climate scientists have actively participated in interdisciplinary projects focused on developing integrated strategies for disaster risk management at local, regional and national levels.

Q: How can we better translate climate data into information that can be used to for management strategies at the regional and local levels?

A: Our experience in southern South America shows that often information is translated into concrete actions when there is platform or ‘space’ that brings together different actors involved in the knowledge production process, such as researchers and decision makers, to communicate effectively on the issues.  Creating these spaces or platforms is the main challenge that we face to address the issue.

Q: Can you give an example of an initiative or project that is helping to find solutions to the challenge of climate change?

One of the most inspiring and successful initiatives that I found very is the ‘Anticipating the flood project’ in Argentina (‘Anticipando la crecida’ in Spanish). Established in the La Ribera district, close to Buenos Aires city, the aim of the project is to develop strategies and tools to help vulnerable villages at the edges of the La Plata River in Argentina to cope with disasters caused by flooding.  Global warming has increased the frequency of intense rains in the region and new flood management strategies are urgently needed.

The project is led by a group of young researchers from both the natural and social sciences who work together with actors from the local government, weather service, as well as other public agencies and civil society. It is very exciting to see how vulnerability maps developed by communities and governments in a participatory manner both matchand are integrated with, maps developed by researchers applying scientific methods. This integration of knowledge provided by the different actors has helped to develop successful strategies to mitigate the impact of flooding in that district.

Q: What message would you like people to leave the conference with?

A: I hope people leave the conference with a better understanding of the state of climate change and its impacts, on the lessons learned from previous efforts to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies, and on possible innovative solutions. I also hope that the outcomes of the discussions will provide valuable and important information for the development of regional and global policies needed to address climate change.

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