Impact of mapping high-risk areas on disaster management

Impact of mapping high-risk areas on disaster management

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Using satellite and observational data to map risks on a regional scale ranging from floods, droughts, heat waves to sea-level rise can help locate high-risk areas and can thus save many lives. The impact of mapping on disaster management is enormous

The developmental discourse has made a paradigm shift with its emphasis on ‘sustainable’ growth. With the 2030 agenda of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), there is a reaffirmation of the need to follow a growth pathway that reflects reduced risks of disasters which is instrumental in addressing vulnerability of millions of people. Specific agendas adopted, like the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015, highlight the refurbished focus of the international community for reducing disaster related risks which is essential for achieving many of the goals stated in the SDGs.

Impact of mapping on disaster management
Population exposure to multiple climate hazards in eastern India and Bangladesh

Research in action

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) with support from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is contributing towards these efforts through its research and expertise in the area and is garnering global attention for its report titled, ‘Mapping Multiple Climate-related Hazards in South Asia’. The report presents methods for mapping primary risks and estimates their potential impacts on people in general and more specifically on agricultural systems.

Researchers at IWMI used both historical and current satellite and observational data to map risks on a regional scale ranging from floods, droughts, heat waves to sea-level rise and coastal vulnerability due to the same. To illustrate, there is flood risk mapping for which rainfall patterns and recurrent flooded spots were examined using remote sensing and field data. This led to the development of algorithms that pointed out those mountainous areas where high rainfall would pose a potential risk of flood downstream. Spatial population and agricultural data were used to examine where high risks are, form both individual and multiple hazards.

The study undertaken reveals that approximately 750 million people, constituting over 45% of South Asia’s entire population have been affected by climatic hazards for the period between 2000 and 2015. Out of this, nearly 72% were in India, 12% each in Pakistan and Bangladesh and 4% in Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. More specifically the study highlights that the critical vulnerability of agriculture to climate extremes such as extreme droughts and floods. More than 58% of the agricultural areas across the region has been projected to have suffered damage due to multiple hazards. The largest area i.e. 786,000 square kilometres has been affected by droughts, followed by extreme temperature, extreme rainfall, floods and sea-level rise.

Technology in aid of vulnerable population

As a natural next step, those locations were identified that displayed the greatest vulnerability to hazards. The process included the overlaying of data from the Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). With details of indicators such as life expectancy, education, per capita income, derived from UNDP, vulnerability was assessed taking into account the risks from disasters. Based on these data, a comparative analysis could be drawn of countries at the sub-national level on the adaptation capability to vulnerability. For instance, it was deduced that countries such as Sri Lanka and Bhutan have a reasonably good capacity to cope with hazards, since they have higher HDI due to proper education, medical facilities and employment levels as compared to their neighbors. On the other hand, countries such as Bangladesh exhibit a low HDI which in-turn affects its adaptive capacity, seen to be reduced when affected by climatic events.

Making headway

The IWMI report has drawn immensely positive attention from different stakeholders, especially development banks such as the Asian Development Bank which seeks to deploy the mapping method prescribed in the report to investigate financial exposure. The organization plans to use IWMI’s climate risk mapping data within its climate screening tool to identify climate change risks for assessing performance in the early stages of project development and incorporate adaptation measures in the design of projects at risk. Similarly, the World Bank has sought IWMI’s collaboration for identifying hotspots of high risks for sea-level rise at the sub-national level in the coastal areas of South Asia.

Since its publication in September 2017, the report has been utilized to inform on field interventions such as in case of flood insurance in the East Indian State of Bihar. In Bihar, Index Based Flood Insurance (IBFI) that has been developed by IWMI, CCAFS and the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, was successfully piloted in 2017 to provide insurance to hundreds of farmers against flood damaged crops.
IBFI enables insurers to provide compensation to flood-affected households quickly, particularly during localized and mid-season flooding events, ensuring timely access to finance for smallholder famers, which helps them utilize residual soil moisture to produce crops before the next crop season. IWMI’s risk mapping aided the exercise as it allowed for the prioritization of areas where flood insurance could be implemented. Based on the success of the pilot in Bihar, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of India plans to discuss wider scaling of the scheme and support technological innovation to the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bhima Yojana (PMFBY) crop insurance scheme.

False Color Composite (FCC) from Landsat satellite data taken on 26 August 2017 showing the extent of flooding along the Kosi river, India
Delving into details for the future

Based on the success of the multi hazard mapping exercise at the regional level, IWMI now plans to develop a village-level water risk mitigation tool, which will help in more accurately pinpointing vulnerable rural communities. This upcoming ‘Water Risks and Disaster Mitigation Tool’ will help identify climate change risks and vulnerability at a finer scale to that of the village level, to report levels of risks and suggest climate proofing measures. The information from remote sensing and climate models on the hazard, exposure and vulnerability from time-series socio-economic data will be used to develop scenarios of adaptation options for better disaster planning and sustainable development in the region. The tool will provide valuable information that can be used by the insurance industry, private sector, government and also taken up as for Corporate Social Responsibility programs.

Courtesy: Giriraj Amarnath, Research Group Leader: Water Risk and Disasters, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Sri Lanka

Shehnab Sahin, Communications Specialist, CCAFS South Asia

Alok Sikka, IWMI India Representative, IWMI, India

Pramod Aggarwal, Regional Program Leader, CCAFS/BISA-CIMMYT South Asia