Democratising climate resilience and disaster response

Democratising climate resilience and disaster response

More than $1.5 trillion in damage was caused as a result of natural disasters across the globe during 2003-2013. Every year millions in North America are affected by natural disasters whether it is drought, hurricanes, flood, earthquakes, forest fires and landslides. Flooding affects more people than any other disaster. In 2016, the U.S. saw more floods than ever in response to rapidly changing systems of weather patterns.

Hurricane Katrina (2005) was one of the worst natural disasters in US history responsible for thousands of homes to be flooded and destroyed, causing one million people displaced and killing almost 2,000 people.

Hurricane Matthew (2016) caused the largest natural disaster Haiti has faced since the 2010 earthquake. The Category 4 hurricane killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 175,000 Haitians, according to U.N. figures. Food security, nutrition and emergency agriculture comprised half of the total $120 million funding appeal.

In the next 12 years, the number of people affected by climate change will double. Disaster relief and humanitarian professionals are constantly on the lookout for inventions and technology to improve effectiveness of aid delivery and crisis response. Latest innovations in disaster preparedness assist the humanitarian community in being better prepared for any future calamities.

To democratise climate resilience and help people respond more quickly to natural disasters, Bessie Schwarz co-founded Cloud to Street. Cloud to Street uses satellite records of historic floods, preceding rainfalls and landscape characteristics in order to evaluate flood vulnerability of a region. By combining mobile phone data with social vulnerability modelling, Cloud to Street helps disaster responders to locate those previously left out of flood maps. It also assesses social vulnerability of the communities and individuals in the given region in order to prioritise emergency aid to those who need it the most.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has developed a virtual reality (VR) program, called Immersed, in order to advance education of local officials and community leaders on flood response. In partnership with Ogilvy and Brightline Interactive, the first large-scale VR platform offers an immersive experience into a flood situation. The program shows a 360-degree video of what can happen if a flood hits and how local communities can prepare in three flood situations: a flooded home, a washed-out road, or a rescue from the roof of a flooded building. The aim of Immersed is to demonstrate how flood-mitigation steps can avert each situation and urge local councils to improve disaster preparedness, including installation of drainage systems or porous pavements in flood-risk areas.

To advance early warning systems, Liquid Robotics has developed an autonomous marine robot, Wave Glider, which collects and transmits real time seismic data from under the sea to a satellite with the aim to counter the emerging threat of a tsunami. The bot can survey volcanos by translating the pattern and motion of waves, storing wave and solar energy to power itself. The subsea technology will be piloted in Japan’s Ogasawara Island during three months starting in May 2017. If successful, a team of tsunami-detecting bots will be deployed across other parts of Japan, home to 10% of the world’s active volcanoes.

In Germany, scientists are working on creating an early warning system in the form of commercial underwater cable systems which are used for submarine telecommunications. The Science Monitoring and Reliable Telecommunications (SMART) are networking cables that can sense their environment and quickly detect and characterise potential tsunamis and earthquakes. This concept is being advanced by a joint task force of the International Telecommunication Union, the World Meteorological Organization, and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Learn more about disaster relief and resilience at the upcoming Global Disaster Relief and Development Summit 2017. Taking place in Washington D.C. on September 6-7, the Summit will address topics on disasters and climate change and how to manage risks and crises differently.

The agenda will focus on innovations and technologies that strengthen disaster resilience and early-warning systems, best practice for data collection and mapping for disaster relief operations and achieving an agile approach for communication and information management. It will also include a panel on how to build and manage an effective team for disaster response, post-disaster settlement planning and shelter assistance.  

The 9th Global Disaster Relief and Development Summit will provide decision-makers from the UN, NGOs, aid agencies, civil society and the private sector with a unique networking opportunity. For more information and to register your participation, please visit

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