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Men pushing car through floodwater

Floods continue to be a wicked problem, particularly within mountainous regions where extreme floods are becoming more frequent and devastating - with significant loss/ damage to the lives and property of vulnerable people. We must engage with local communities and better understand the risks posed by hydrometeorological extremes and the uniqueness of watershed characteristics to improve flood preparedness, response and mitigation.

World Meteorological Day 2023 (23 March) links climate, water, and people, whilst World Water Day 2023 (22 March) calls for people to “be the change” and take action on water management. Last year’s World Meteorological Day emphasised the importance of information generation and sharing to reduce risks – a call to action that includes: exploring the diverse contextual risk angle and community reactions; developing community trust in government agencies and technology-focused forecasting; minimising data limitations to ensure effective impact-based forecasting; and developing effective communication strategies. All these points need deeper exploration to ensure early warning system are SMART and inclusive – particularly in data-scarce regions.

Our recent work on inclusiveness in designing an early warning system for flood resilience highlights how a SMART approach encourages bottom-up initiatives to develop more inclusive and purposeful early warning systems.

Dr Tahmina Yasmin, Dr Kieran Khamis & Professor David M. Hannah - University of Birmingham.

We must collect information: to generate knowledge on the locality and communities at risk so that we can design a purposeful early warning system. We can analyse exposure and vulnerability through observations, interviews, focus group discussions and stakeholders' meetings. These data may focus on history, geography, and governance structure, as well as environmental, social, and economic aspects. What we are missing, however, is the lens through which we can explore the complexity of the risk portfolio - different angles of exposure and vulnerability perceived by different stakeholders at diverse operational levels.

Our recent work on inclusiveness in designing an early warning system for flood resilience highlights how a SMART approach encourages bottom-up initiatives to develop more inclusive and purposeful early warning systems. These benefit at-risk communities by engaging them at every step, whilst engaging other stakeholders. Inclusiveness integrates science, policy, and local community-led approaches to connect stakeholders and generate knowledge for guiding management decisions that fit the local context.

The study creates a framework for developing an inclusive early warning system incorporating three interdependent steps: mapping risks through data collection and observation; forecasting hazard risks and establishing a real-time alert system; and communication and dissemination. Important questions arise in exploring local context – getting a good understanding on how risk management happens and what this means for technology-focus design - as well as how, when, and why the community should be involved in the development process.

As we communicate risk information, we must ensure that the alert levels reach all who are at risk with easy-to-understand information that prompts the desired reaction.

Our study highlights a SMART approach with crucial activity layers to incorporate into current early warning system (EWS) development that can help guide multi-disciplinary teams including disaster risk managers, hydrologists, engineers, and social scientists.

Using a SMART approach allows us to incorporate these different disciplinary lenses with risk diversity identified by the community at risk – for example, people living in illegal settlements or slums beside riverbanks. This supports exposing vulnerability and risks from different socio-cultural, institutional, and scientific contexts. Following a SMART approach will ensure inclusiveness by helping to identify and connect missing components and linkages when designing an EWS.

The fundamentals of this approach include:

  • Shared understanding of the risks ensuring all stakeholder engagements are diverse and representative, and a wide range of data forms and collection methods are used.
  • Monitoring risks and establishing appropriate warning systems that will help to build trust and exchange critical risk information - enriching data sets and helping to maintain the forecasting system.
  • Building Awareness – through training and capacity development activities which embed understanding of real-time weather and flood alert information. This is a critical and continuous process in developing and using EWS. It also helps to create a more sustainable local warning system.
  • Indicating pre-planning Response actions on Time - by creating comprehensive disaster management and evacuation plans based on the alert produced by the EWS – helping to minimise risks from the anticipated disaster and facilitating effective action by the communities and responsible agencies.

We advocate the SMART convergence approach in developing capacity, and redefining both adaptation and resilience in the face of more extreme water extremes, such as floods and droughts, combined with significant uncertainties under global change.

  • Dr Tahmina Yasmin, Dr Kieran Khamis & Professor David M. Hannah - University of Birmingham.