Disaster risk reduction

Disaster risk reduction
13 October, 2014

Science is key: transformative development and resilience for life

Dr Julie Calkins

Dr Julie Calkins, disaster risk reduction consultant at UKCDS, describes her current work with the post-2015 process.

Dr Julie Calkins, disaster risk reduction consultant at UKCDS, describes her current work with the post-2015 process.

Today is the final session of the UN’s open-ended informal consultations on the Pre-zero draft for the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR). That’s a lot of confusing words for those of you not involved in the process. Let me explain why this is important (especially today, the International Day for Disaster Reduction) and how UKCDS is supporting discussions on how to make disaster science more relevant and more effective.

The aim of the informal consultations was to agree on key elements for the successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action on disaster risk reduction – a global 10-year plan to make the world safer from natural hazards – aptly named HFA2. The zero draft (the next stage in the consultation process) will try to reflect the main messages and concerns voiced by Member States and stakeholders over the last 6 weeks, and is set for release on Monday, 20 October.

I was invited to attend as a delegate for the Science and Technology Major Group: one of the nine ‘Major Groups’ which represent the main stakeholders (e.g. women, businesses, farmers, NGOs, etc.) involved in UN consultations. Sometimes from your seat in the room it’s hard to see how real-world change will be affected by these high-level discussions, especially when you consider that despite many advances in science the impacts of natural and human-induced disasters continue to increase (a recent study by the Norwegian Refugee Council showed that disasters displaced three times as many people as war in 2013).

So why is this happening? Science is about generating knowledge and serving as a ‘critical friend’ – shedding an impartial light on difficult decision-making. Science is about solutions, but it’s not always available to be used where it’s most needed.

There are gaps on every level and in every capacity. We lack equipment/ technology, expertise and staff. So even if we are given equipment, we will not have the experts [or] have staff to train to use the equipment. [If instead] we are given the experts and staff we will not have the correct equipment/technology.


Science can only fulfil its potential to benefit societies by collaborating with governments and key actors to identify the critical questions that need to be answered, and work with them to co-produce knowledge and suitable solutions that can effectively support decisions and actions.

The post-2015 framework for action needs to recognise that DRR and recovery are about more than just dealing with disasters. They are also opportunities to put transformation at the heart of DRR strategies – using them as a chance to drive sustainable and equitable development.  Through DRR activities – especially response and reconstruction – we have the opportunity to build back better but also move beyond just resilience and embrace changes in development and wellbeing.

Science needs to become more relevant to decision-makers and their needs. At the same time communities of research users need to engage more in the process of science generation. This is partly about connecting the dots and enhancing coordination, collaboration, and dialogue towards a shared goal of reducing disaster risks and building resilience in societies.

[The] Role of science in DRR is emerging. But we still don’t always have policies based on science due to [a] lack of communications, understanding on the importance of evident-based strategies and understanding on how policy makers and the public perceive science.


At the recent IDRC Global Risk Forum in Davos, I spoke to a representative from the Government of Kerala who stated that those in charge of disaster risk management decision-making don’t have the time or capacity to access the technical papers (where solutions are often provided by scientists). Instead, she asserted that science needs to first listen to the user, and then deliver appropriate solutions and knowledge in a form that is useful.

UKCDS is working to offer a practical perspective. We are collecting and analysing the DRR science needs of countries and communities with limited capacity to generate or use science, or those wishing to improve their use of evidence. Unsurprisingly, many Member States have responded that their country does not currently have access to sufficient science and technical information and/or capacity to inform DRR and management policy and practice.

Embedding science into the heart of the post-2015 framework for DRR is key to improving the current situation. Hopefully by improving coordination and working as a partner alongside Member States to develop solutions, science can help to overcome the existing barriers.

As we move towards a more integrated and comprehensive approach to DRR and management, improved science and technology allows quicker coordination, communication and results. Setting up methods and the initial stages of training, data collection, etc. are the most time-consuming stages, but it all becomes worth it.


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