Risk at the Margins (RAM): a blueprint for defragmenting disaster risk reduction with populations at risk

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Environmental Sciences


The burden of disasters remains grossly unequal: they disproportionately and repeatedly impact the most vulnerable populations in low- and middle- income countries. Thus, we wish to find a way to improve how we address community disaster risk in those contexts. Poor progress in reducing the impacts on lives, livelihoods and sustainable development that natural hazards have on populations in developing countries has been attributed to a weak focus on 'prospective practice' in addressing resilience to multiple hazards. In other words a lack of methods and strategies that allow people to adapt to, cope with or avoid the accumulation of future risk while undergoing sustainable development.

Current academic and development practices are largely siloed, which means they focus on individual hazards, or approaches that are either focussed on understanding and warning people about the hazards, or on understanding how communities can be vulnerable and acting to change that. For example, hazard specialists often frame their analysis of risks 'upstream' on the basis of physical drivers rather than 'downstream' on social and environmental impacts. Those whose analysis focuses on vulnerability outcomes can overlook the way that hazards can change and radically reshape the nature of exposure. This fragmentation creates situations where problems and solutions commonly are not effectively aligned, and it becomes much harder for populations at risk to implement strategies that adapt, cope with or avoid future risk (prospective practice). This problem remains despite a growing recognition of the value that interdisciplinary engagement would bring in solving this.

We aim to address this by bringing together a wide grouping of GCRF and other related projects to drop the disconnect between scientific-technical solutions to disaster risk and projects that address the fundamental social vulnerabilities (the first stage). We will use this in order to develop methods and strategies that encourage prospective practice (to develop in the second stage). We will use the lens of extensive hazards to address this challenge during the first stage. Extensive hazards (those experienced for long periods or more intensely in smaller geographic areas - e.g. drought, ashfall, landsliding, pollution) can generate negative outcomes that are more damaging to sustainable development than infrequent high cost events, particularly for populations with other vulnerabilities. We think that extensive hazards need a multi-hazard approach to their characterisation and monitoring, and that their mitigation could be considered from the point of view of their impacts on the local populations: they need a joined up approach. We will begin by focussing on three 'design challenges' in places where we understand the social, political and cultural context and have identified projects that could benefit from this joined-up approach. These are in Nepal, St Vincent and Ecuador and, importantly, will be grounded by community groupings in situ. We will evaluate how we answer that and wrap around a broader review of the integration gap and how, why and when it is important to overcome. These processes will create 'a safe space' where we can discuss failures as well as successes and air suspicions arising from different ways of working, experiences or perspectives. We will create new solutions in our focus areas, and synthesise the findings across the project (by working together and the consultation represented in the review). This develops a blueprint for prospective practice that will understand how to: (1) monitor, characterise and mitigate extensive hazard from the perspective of those who experience them; (2) how to situate extensive hazards in the context of everyday risk challenges and policies for sustainable development. We will use this in the second stage project and to inform two new projects that begin during our first stage.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?
1. Communities and individuals experiencing high potential risk to life, health and livelihoods as a result of exposure to multiple environmental hazards. Meaningful reduction of risk for such populations requires not just a focus on preparing for extreme events, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, but an integrated analysis of how different forms and magnitudes of hazard interact and superimpose on one another (including smaller-scale events such as landslides and everyday environmental threats such as pollution and land degradation).

2. Government institutions and civil society organisations that work on different forms of environmental risk management. Many such organisations already recognise both the failings of single-hazard approaches to risk management and the difficulties of achieving change purely through top-down, technical-managerial approaches to risk governance. However, institutionally they are often locked into narrowly-conceived policies and practices that are difficult to shift without clear demonstration of the practical value of alternative, more flexible but inherently more holistic responses to risk.

How might they benefit from this research?

1. People at risk from multiple, intersecting hazards will benefit from the proposed projects through both the prospect of achieving enhanced resilience to the threats they face, and the opportunity for active engagement in tackling those risks. In the three case study settings we will work closely with communities to define and respond to the problems raised by previous technological interventions. We will also give people the opportunity to participate actively in citizen science initiatives, strengthening their capacities to identify and analyse problems, but also strengthening their voice in negotiating their needs for support from governmental authorities and other agencies.

2. A range of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders from the local to the international scale will be engaged in discussion of design challenges for intervention and analysis of ways forward for an integrative approach to reducing risk. We will work with such agencies in each of the case study settings, but also host a series of international discussion workshops with researchers and practitioners (including two side-events at existing major forums on disaster risk), centring on the idea of creating a safe space for critical reflection on what works and what does not. Through this process we aim to strengthen institutional capacities to plan and manage more integrated approaches to risk management.

As the project proceeds to the Second Stage, we will expand and deepen this impact work alongside the scaled up research work, widening the scope of interaction with stakeholders and strengthening the power of demonstration through initiatives designed from the start with community members. Through this we hope to build capacities within and across communities and institutions to work collaboratively toward a sustainable risk reduction.


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Title Changing Landscapes 
Description A photographic exhibition created by the communities working with local artists who produced a display that documented and helped visitors to 're-imagine' their prejudices about living in the Read Zone. In doing this the communities documented their own experiences - and also the landscape recovery and multihazard challenges in the aftermath of an eruption. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact Both the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition travelled to be at the deubt of this exhibit. Local artists reported too changing their attitudes towards these groups and the groups themselves reported a greater appreciation for the interaction between themselves and the environment and a greater sense of pride in place. 
URL https://uwiseismic.com/changing-landscapes-svg-re-imagining-the-red-zone-exhibition-st-vincent-and-t...
Description We have conducted a framing review (please see publication). We present evidence that the most meaningful and effective research interaction with at-risk communities goes much further than simply involving communities in creating and using data. Difference and inequality relationships are inherent, and suggesting otherwise can be self-defeating and undermine trust. An illusion that there is equality in roles and equity in participatory processes will usually rapidly become transparent to the participants. What we argue that is key instead is having the willingness to find open, mutually-valuing, creative and productive ways to work with that difference. It is such a commitment that enables community engagement to move beyond tokenism and façade to something much more meaningful and beneficial to both communities and researchers.
We have created a new and active network of citizens engaged in the documentation of their adaptation and recovery from a volcanic eruption, and have contributed to their engagement with policymakers and decision-makers.
Exploitation Route See above. We will also report further on our evaluation of the direct interactions with marginalised communities we have now been able to complete - but are still evaluating.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://uwiseismic.com/changing-landscapes-svg-re-imagining-the-red-zone-exhibition-st-vincent-and-the-grenadines/
Description We have used these findings to inform a 'recovery focussed' project on St Vincent, with marginalised communities following the 2020-2021 eruptions. This network remains active and the group will report their work at a country conference and held an exhibit in 2022 to which the Premier and the Leader of the opposition both came - to hear of the specific challenges by this group - and they are campaigning for infrastructure that will improve the greatest aspects of their recovery process. We continue progress with this.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Curating crises: the past as a key to improving the stewardship of hazard knowledges for the future
Amount £102,178 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/W00898X/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2022 
End 02/2023
Description SRC 
Organisation University of West Indies
Department Seismic Research Centre
Country Trinidad and Tobago 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided information relating to the research in a format most appropriate to this organisation. THey are the volcano monitoring organisation for the Caribbean.
Collaborator Contribution During research visits to the Caribbean, they have attended meetings, provided input and guidance into fieldwork at no cost to the projects.
Impact We have produced a series of risk communication films for St. Vincent. We are still writing collaborative papers and we are running several workshops together to convey the outcomes of our research to appropriate decision-makers. A report can be found here, for example: http://streva.ac.uk/what-we-do/forensic-workshops/st-vincent
Start Year 2012
Description Workshops on St Vincent 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact We have convened a series of workshops on St Vincent - which include discussions, fieldwalks, photography workshops to begin a long terms project to monitor the changing landscape. This engages with communities in the 'red zone' who are badly impacted by the eruption and the movement of materials post-eruption.
The aim here is for them to become 'leaders' to engage with their wide communities, and policymakers in the country. The material will also inform future hazardous activity in this past of the island.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022