Between a rock and a wet place: exploring historical trajectories of exposure, governance and tenure to build resilience to multiple hazards in SIDS

Lead Research Organisation: Overseas Development Inst ODI (Internat)
Department Name: Climate Change, Enviroment and Forests


Resilience building requires integrated approaches to disaster risk management (DRM) to identify overlaps and leverage political support for measures that improve early warning systems, encourage adaptations and improve recovery from a range of hazardous events within the context of sustainable development. As our climate changes, accelerating such integration is paramount to improve responses to intensifying and multiple shocks and risks. The need is even more acute for Small Island Developing States, where isolation, limited land availability, a complex range of environmental hazards and limited resource base further intensify their exposure to risk. In this proposal we suggest that 'all hazards' approaches to building resilience are needed and test the thesis that these will be more effective if placed within the particular historical and cultural contexts through which land use patterns were established in individual SIDS, in order to assess how risk is created and disaster risk management responses evolve.
We test this on two islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean by focussing particularly on exposure and physical vulnerability to multiple hazards, and analysing historical factors that have shaped tenure and governance processes in order to explore how these may have contributed to increased exposure of populations and physical vulnerability to hazards as well as detrimental political and cultural responses. We are particularly interested in the interactions between differing hazards and the implicit competing pressures on resources and tenure, both on- and offshore. We are taking an 'all-hazards' approach to this analysis, to identify strategies and investments that can relieve these pressures and encourage long-term resilience to multiple land and marine-based hazards. We refer to these measures as DRM investments with 'co-benefits', meaning that one action, originally intended for a particular type of hazard, can be adapted and used to produce joint, multiple and/or simultaneous benefits in terms of reducing risk. We will identify measures that have the potential to reduce risk to multiple hazards through the development of future scenarios and an approach to modelling impacts that tests the benefits (in terms of loss avoidance) of different DRM investments. The two islands selected to trial this holistic approach are exposed to a range of environmental hazards, and have colonial and imperial histories and sets of institutions to address risk with some similarities but also differences. Drawing insights across these settings will allow us to better understand the potential for applying this approach to other SIDS around the world, including in the Indian Ocean.
This research will also have implications for implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (SFDRR), linking it more closely with resilience targets in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement by enhancing knowledge of the links between past and future hazard exposure and development, and identifying options for overcoming resource constraints in SIDS and building resilience to multiple shocks and stresses.

Planned Impact

The proposed work represents a foundational step in strengthening integrated research on resilience for SIDS. In the closing stages of the project, via the final workshop event and other dissemination forums, the team will reflect on progress and develop ongoing guidance for wider application of the approach to other regions.

Two key groups of stakeholders are intended to benefit from this research through a strengthening of analysis that will inform future disaster risk management action: a) local communities on islands who directly face the risk from multiple hazards; b) agencies that work to reduce risk faced by residents, including NGOs, disaster management and monitoring agencies, planners, sectoral agencies (including those responsible for infrastructure development and housing) and legislators.
The beneficiaries in the first instance will be those stakeholders from both groups on the islands selected for case study. However, the dissemination of the research and planned rolling out of the methodology to other sites in future should benefit equivalent stakeholders in a much wider range of sites, in SIDS but also in other developing country settings.
We will deliver these benefits through a commitment from the outset to engage, inform and work in partnership with stakeholders in all steps of the research process.There are three main ways we will achieve this:

(b) engaging multiple stakeholders on the ground from early in the project to help design conduct of the project through a series of in-country stakeholder meetings - this will be facilitated by the existing strong linkages between research partners and national government;

(b) communicating findings in focus countries through feedback workshops, which will serve to enhance decision-making information available to stakeholders - this will feature evidence-based arguments and approaches to help support the identification and prioritization of different types of DRM investments with co-benefits.

(c) embedding results in global DRM debates and institutions through a public event at ODI and presentation of briefing note at the Global Platform for DRR in Cancun (May 2017) - results of the studies in two countries will be published in working papers and synthesised in a policy brief.

We are working closely with our Project Partners in the Caribbean and Pacific Region (Seismic Research Centre, University of the West Indies; Lennox Honychurch, Island Heritage Initiatives (Dominica), the Global Water Partnership (Caribbean) and the University of the South Pacific and Secretariat of the Pacific Community of relevance to Vanuatu). This will help us to frame our research correctly and remain mindful of saliency for the initiatives we outline above, and in turn help to build their capacity. It is important to place this within the context of their existing initiatives and analysis in each nation. Our UK Partners (CEFAS and RMS) bring their experience working on relevant research in these settings and will also work with us to frame and disseminate our research.

The project will also impact on the capacities of the wider research team, in ways that are captured in the section 'Academic Beneficiaries'.


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Description On 18th September 2017 Hurricane Maria swept across the Caribbean island of Dominica. The passage of this category 5 hurricane left catastrophic destruction in its wake, with 31 dead and 37 missing, 65,000 people affected and more than 90% of the islands' buildings damaged or destroyed. The impacts of this intense storm were disastrous, but as with all disaster events we have to look at social as well as physical forces to understand the drivers of risk that people faced. Hurricane Maria was one of a long succession of hazard events that have impacted on Dominica, and the effects of these can be traced, at least in part, to social, economic and political processes that are rooted in colonial and post-colonial history. The research finds that colonial policy decisions and practices have led to an accumulation of risk; and that this, combined with multiple hazardous events in Dominica since 1979 (near island wide impacts from intense hydro-meteorological events in 1979, 2015 and 2017, coupled with the annualized attritional damage from smaller floods, landslides, and earthquakes) have precluded the necessary re-structuring that could ensure long term resilience to the inevitable hazardous events the island faces. Identifying these processes and barriers creates an opportunity to tackle them directly during the extensive recovery that is needed in the wake of Hurricane Maria. This situation is not unique to Dominica and a similar analysis for other SIDS would be beneficial. The project also sought to identify DRR strategies with 'co-benefits', so measures that reduce disaster impacts and have other social, environmental and economic co-benefits. We focussed on the role of social support networks in disaster recovery, finding that these make a significant difference to recovery times but that the kind of network is important. The affect that networks have on disaster recovery can be modelled and used to inform disaster risk management policy - encouraging policies and investments that strengthen rather than ignore social support networks. These findings draw on research conducted in Dominica and Vanuatu.
Exploitation Route I am confident that the research will be taken up by policymakers in Dominica, who were very enthusiastic to discuss and explore further options for diversification away from agriculture and thinking about spatial development in Dominica and how this could be promoted using risk information. This longer-term view of recovery is really encouraging. I also hope there will be further opportunities to share the research findings in Caribean fora, so with other countries facing similar challenges and with similar histories.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The findings from this research have now been shared in a number of international and national events, with Caribbean stakeholders, donors , the insurance industry and other key stakeholders engaging now in discussions about building back better in the Caribbean and in climate resilience discussions concerning Small Island Developing States. The findings were used directly to write a policy brief and organise an event at ODI on 'Building Back Better: a resilient Caribbean'. ODI convened over 60 high level stakeholders from Caribbean countries, UK government departments, other donors, UK insurance industry, academics and businesses to help identify investments and policy innovations needed for resilient recovery. Senior officials agreed that rhetoric on BBB has to be translated into concrete policies and actions before donor interest fades and investors go elsewhere. The technical knowledge needed is dispersed and not all available in the region. The event highlighted specific technical capacity and research gaps (particularly on building construction), highlighted need for collective action and strong regional institutions, and galvanised interest to support SIDS on climate finance access and ODA eligibility. Impact: led to further ongoing discussions around the creation of a Caribbean regional institution to oversee building code development and compliance (WB will be putting funding in). Also led to meeting being set up between CommSec and NERC to develop researcher network/ use UK science to support recovery in the Caribbean. The policy brief is being used by FCO in charge of post-Hurricane programme and I have ben asked to support the FCO in developing a disaster management strategy for the UK Overseas Territories. The research findings have been presented in Dominica to a cross-ministerial group of senior civil servants working on post-disaster recovery inclduing the permanent secretary of the economic planning department. The findings on historical drivers of risk resonated strongly with these officials and have been influential in generating longer term thinking about recovery and building resilience. There is growing interest across the Caribbean on developing more particiaptory resilience strategies, to include local experiences and capacities and avoid mistakes of the past. Antigua and Barbuda has requested support in formalising a consultation and education process to help implement its national adaptation plan.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Input to National Consultation on Economic Resilience
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact I presented the results of the historical research on drivers of risk in Dominica at the CDEMA conference in December and was invited by the Permanent Secretary of Planning in Dominica, Gloria Joseph, to make the same presentation in Dominica to government ministries, to support resilient recovery planning after Hurricane Maria and the development of the Climate Resilient Economic Plan. I met with senior officials from the Ministry for Planning, Economic Development and Investment (the government agency leading the development of the climate resilience strategy), Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Services, Ministry of Tourism, and Urban Development, Invest Dominica Authority, Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, Ministry of Housing, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Trade, Energy and Employment, Ministry of Kalinago Affairs and the Ministry of Finance. The historical perspective - and in particular, understanding mistakes made after disasters that created more risk - has helped government officials to reflect on the challenge ahead and the importance of taking a long-term view of recovery and of the need to build resilience to multiple risks. Participants agreed with the principles for building back better (developed on the basis of the historical research and discussions at the Roundtable and Public Events held at ODI in January) and committed to integrating these in policies that were being developed. The Permanent Secretary requested further research and technical support from ODI and from the UK to develop and implement resilience policies over the coming years.
Description NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow
Amount £144,579 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/S0006443/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 08/2021
Description Partnership with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency on historical drivers of risk 
Organisation Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency
Country Barbados 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The research team is collaborating with CDEMA in a longer term endeavour to bring historical perspectives and knowledge of risk drivers to disaster risk management discourse and policy today. We provided information to the CDEMA Director, Ronald Jackson, to include in a presentation he made to the UNISDR Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas in March 2017. We are organising a workshop at the Global Platform in May 2017 to bring a wider range of regional stakeholders (from the greater Caribbean and from DRR,, climate change, environmental conservation and coastal management communities of practice) together to discuss using historical approaches to improve DRR.
Collaborator Contribution CDEMA has played an active role in the partnership, taking part in STREVA meetings and workshops, making presentations and using STREVA research actively in its own work and dialogues.
Impact CDEMA presents key results from STREVA research and journal article on 'The Dilemmas of Risk-Sensitive Development on a Small Volcanic Island' at 5th Regional Platform or Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas.
Start Year 2015