Reflections from Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction: “We need to use nature smarter than we have in the past”

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Are ecosystem based solutions to reducing risk gaining ground? And what can be done to bring these solutions from small pilots to scale and integrated as core parts of disaster risk reduction strategies?

I am at the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun and we posed these questions to participants of the conference, such as finance bodies, civil society, private sector and governments.

It appears that at all levels many people are aware that the importance of ecosystem solutions are recognized in all major post-2015 frameworks and in high ranking scientific journals. They are aware that ecosystems such as wetlands can help to absorb shocks and long term changes and support livelihoods of the most vulnerable people. These are factors that are central to achieving resilience.

Furthermore, there is acknowledgement how closely food security and water-related ecosystems are related, and relatively new in the debate, how degradation of fresh water resources can wreck lives, driving migration, for example in the Sahel.

Still, there is a major gap in terms of implementation at scale, and investments in ‘business as usual’ solutions in terms of major water infrastructure and coastal defence prevail. As over 90% disasters are water-related, then the dramatic, ongoing loss of ecosystems such as wetlands, the water regulators in the landscape, deserves much higher attention in DRR strategies and investments.

Fortunately, we do see more and more examples of initiatives that include ecosystem restoration as core solutions alongside other measures of risk reduction such as building codes and early warning. But how to go beyond project level, to scale up and get green infrastructure considered consistently, equally as grey infrastructure solutions as part of integrated solutions to disaster risk reduction?

Francis Ghesquiere from Global Facility for Risk Reduction and Recovery said that he is not surprised that ecosystems are at the core of the Sendai Framework. “If you want to deal with risk, you need ecosystems as a central pillar in your plans. We need to use nature smarter than we have in the past.”

He said that World Bank tries to stimulate countries to make strategies to invest in these solutions, for example by integrating ecosystem services better in their cost-benefit analyses. “If you are looking at future scenarios, and you make an analysis on that, then ecosystem solutions usually come out as best as they are more robust to deal with the uncertainty due to climate change”, he said.

He also admitted that there are several challenges making it important to reflect on why it is difficult to get them to scale. First of all, ecosystem restoration takes more time than building a dam, so the result is less visible on the short term. There is also still perceived uncertainty of the value of ecosystem based solutions. Furthermore, in many countries governments and other stakeholders are not yet sensitized to these types of solutions.

What we see is that it is hard to get such long sensitizing processes and projects that require flexibility to learn and test financed, so how can that be overcome? The solution may be that if governments and stakeholders become more sensitised, we will see more of these types of solutions being proposed and getting funded.

From different perspectives, I heard that civil society plays a very important role to get this happening. They can bring in perspectives from communities whose lives depend on ecosystems for their survival and livelihoods to the table to inform investments and policies. They can also help to build capacity of governments and other stakeholders on innovative approaches and knowledge and experiences from their field work.

But what we kept on hearing from all sides is that there is a huge need to break through the silos of different sectors and match their interests, planning and instruments. This means we must move towards intersectoral collaboration with regards to ecosystem, water and land management, if we want to prevent that efforts to reduce disaster risks and promote sustainable development will fail in the longer term, impacting communities.

Such collaboration requires the creation of joint understanding of exposure, vulnerability and root causes of risk, and it requires trust between stakeholders and the development of a joint vision.

It is Wetlands International’s experience that by connecting water and land users and other stakeholders on a landscape scale, such as in an entire watershed, a participatory learning process can be facilitated which enables more innovative and integrated solutions such as green infrastructure and optimised initiatives on water governance. It would be a big step forward if we see more initiatives like that along with resources to get such processes funded. We believe that this, along with sharing actual, promising examples, will help build confidence to reach scale.

Susanna Tol specialises in nature based solutions and resilience, in partnership with Partners for Resilience, Ecoshape and the Partnership for Ecosystems for Disaster Risk Reduction and Adaptation (PEDRR).

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