Science supports politics

Resilience Academy Capstone Conference 2017

40 graduates of the Resilience Academies 2013 to 2016 followed our invitation to Washington D.C. The goal was further subject-related networking between all academy graduates of the last years and to publish the most important results. How are resilience, livelihoods and damage from climate change connected? How can society be strengthened?

Resilience is – vastly simplified – the ability of individuals, societies or systems to resist shocks or slowly imminent perils and to overcome adverse consequences. The term "Livelihoods" describes the way of life and maintenance opportunities available to people in a specific region. A small fishing village on the coast of Bangladesh, for example, may initially be limited to fishing. When people are able to operate agriculture, new vistas will be opened up. If they also have access to local markets, stores and new economic options may appear. 

About 40 graduates of the Resilience Academies from 20 countries participated in the Capstone Conference in Washington.

What is the link between resilience and risk management in case of natural disasters? When a storm or tidal wave hits a village community and destroys its fishing boats, this implies a great loss for the people. If they depend exclusively on their income from fishing, this event not only poses a risk of short-term economic loss (the fishing boat), but of long-term unemployment and potential poverty as well as greater vulnerability to perils. Income opportunities that are not affected can mitigate the effects of natural disasters. This means that diversification of "livelihoods" plays an important role for the stability of individuals, families and communities. 

Damage from climate change – the "Loss and Damage" debate
Climate change is real. We already perceive its effects. The number of climate-related disasters increases, and single events become more intense. To counteract this, there are two great approaches of action, which are also covered in the world climate negotiations: Avoiding greenhouse gases (mitigation), in order to limit global warming, and adjustment to the consequences of weather disasters and environmental changes (adaptation). The academy showed many examples of how processes of adaption may be arranged. Nandan Mukerjee from the Dundee University in England, for example, reports the results of innovative housesboats in Bangladesh that replace traditional wood cabins and mud huts. "Fish cages are attached below the boats, and small chicken coops are included on a higher level. Above this, there are the family's living areas." This offers new ways of generating an income and clearly reduces the risk of loss in case of floods. 

Both concepts (mitigation and adaptation) are insufficient, however, as recent history has shown: there are regions where the consequences of climate change causes unavoidable damage or destroys entire human habitats irreparably. There are some promising instruments to reduce or buffer damage. Insurance products can be a solution. Sönke Kreft, secretary general of the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative (MCII), showed an example from the Caribbean. Poor but economically active people can purchase a "Livelihood Protection Policy" here to protect them from weather disasters. The annual premium is no more than the price of about three lunches. If a storm in a certain region exceeds a specific force, policyholders will receive a payment within a few days. This permits faster recovery after a disaster. For example, a small kiosk at the coast can be re-constructed quickly, the insured vendor will be able to work and generate income for his family again sooner.

Climate change - migration as a way out?
Finding solutions for the complete loss of human habitats is much harder: Thawing of the permafrost ground in the High North threatens the livelihoods of the Inuit in Alaska. The accelerated rising of the sea level and salinisation of soils endangers small island states and low coastal areas. In particular river deltas like Bangladesh are affected by this. Other densely populated regions, like the Nile Delta in North Africa, however, are at risk as well. Prolonged hot spells and draughts also destroy human habitats, e.g. in the Sahel region. The final escape often is migration or flight. People are forced to leave their homes and find new residential areas and job opportunities elsewhere. Migration thus is also closely connected to resilience and discussions around "Loss and Damage" as a consequence of climate change. 

Some academy attendees are involved in resettlement programs or study how migration flows emerge by environmental changes and how to best manage them. Alberto Praeto, working for the international organisation for migration (IOM) in Niger, draws attention to a missing link in many studies and programmes: "Migration really comprises three large steps: leaving the region of origin, moving to the new home and arriving at the destination. While steps one and three are in the focus, everything in between often is not properly considered in response strategies." This is, however, where people are the most vulnerable and require help. Risk management and planning for accompanied resettlement must also be given more attention during this important phase.

At the Capstone academy, anthropologists, risk managers, social scientists, migration researchers, geographers, urban planners and many others discussed how to deal best with these difficult challenges. They specifically talked about how to contribute the results from research to political decision-making processes. Alice C. Hill, who worked as consultant for resilience and safety matters at Homeland Security in the White House under President Obama, answered questions. "It is important to find a shared language!" Politicians who are responsible for a specific area are not necessarily experts for it as well. Therefore, results from research must be elaborated in a way that even those new to the subject can work with them.

Roger-Mark De Souza from the Wilson Center and Alice C. Hill (Hoover Institute) discussed how to contribute the results from research to political processes.

Roger-Mark De Souza, director for population and environmental safety at the Wilson Institute in Washington, picked up this demand and emphasised the significance of the Resilience Academy series: "Interdisciplinary meetings like ours create a proper and safe environment to approach each other and to promote mutual understanding." The Capstone Conference of the Resilience Academies formed the official closure of the five-year academy series. Rather than the many specialist publications developed, the unique network of people and experts from around the world were the greatest success.


The Resilience Academy, 16 to 20 October 2017, was organised by the Munich Re Foundation together with the Institute for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh (ICCCAD), the Institute for Environment and Human Safety at the University of the United Nations (UNU-EHS) and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars (WWCIS) in Washington D.C. 

26 October 2017

Name Affiliation Title of presentation Download
Alberto Praeto International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Migrant resources and response mechanisms  > more
Amy Quandt University of Colorado Mobile apps for sustainable land management  > more
Beth Tellmann Cloud to Street Dynamic flood risk mapping to unlock microinsurance  > more
Camari Koto School of Geography, Fiji Island resilience of pacific coastal communities  > more
Chris Lawless Durham University The California sustainable groundwater management act  > more
Christian Barthelt Munich Re Foundation Why did the EWS in Tonga fail after the Samoa Earthquake 2009?  > more
Diana Contreras Global Earthquake Model The fight of the Wayuu Communityagainst the Drought in La Guajira - Colombia  > more
Ebinezer Florano University of the Phillipines Proposed integrated Loss & Damage CCA-DRR framework  > more
Erin Derrington Coastal Resources Specialist Building resilience in CNMI  > more
Jana Junghardt Caritas Switzerland At the Frontline - Building a coalition for local level monitoring of risk governance and resilience  > more
Nandan Mukherjee University of Dundee Systematic innovations for transformative solutions to flooding in Bangladesh  > more
Nishara Fernando University of Colombo Returning back to the buffer zone sixteen years after the 2004 Asian Tsunami disaster  > more
Ryan Alaniz California State University Embracing failure  > more
Sarah Henley-Sheperd Mercy Corps Operationalizing resilience in fragile contexts  > more
Vishal Pathak All India Disaster Mitigation Institute Building community resilience through safer schools  > more
Vivek Prasad Georg Mason University Creating livelihoods and rural employment in Africa  > more



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