Reflecting on this year’s Understanding Risk Global Forum

The 10th edition of the Understanding Risk (UR) Global Forum, organised by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the National University of Singapore (NUS), was recently held as a virtual event (1-3 December 2020).

Originally devised as a traditional conference to be held in Singapore earlier in 2020, the Understanding Risk Global Forum (UR2020) signalled the drawdown of a 2020 which we can all reflect on as challenging. The stated aim of the conference, ‘to facilitate non-traditional interactions and partnerships‘, certainly resonated given the complexities faced to deliver the program for all involved. Of the 182 sessions, we attended more than 50 – coordinating ourselves across time zones and content.

Community sessions and workshops

We organised a community session on Modelling of Nature Based Solutions (NBS) for Flood Risk Reduction and Analytics, in partnership with Arup, Deltares and Imperial College London. We took part as panellists in a workshop organised by the Insurance Development forum (IDF) about The Development Impact of Open Risk Analytics.

We also took part as panellists in a session organised by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on Nature-based Solutions for Flood Risk Management in Southeast Asia – How Much Do We (Not) Know?

Over a wide range of themes and multidisciplinary content, we congratulate the GFDRR, NUS and the World Bank for delivering yet another engaging and enlightening UR.

Understanding flood risk

We approach flood risk from a deeply technical, but interdisciplinary perspective, as one of the world’s largest specialist flood risk consultancies. We think quantification of flood hazard through existing tools and understanding of hydrology, hydraulics and coastal processes is generally a capability we already have in our toolkit. And while these tools are constantly evolving and developing, these technologies are not the ‘bottleneck’ which inhibits societal resilience to flood risk.

This is a position that was largely validated over the course of the UR2020, particularly by some of the more technical actors in applied research and engineering working in the flood risk space.

From Community Session, ‘What is a Flood? Risk Perceptions and Decisions’:

We have the scientific tools and the data to communicate the short and the long-term risks and influence actions on the ground. But can we translate the risk information into action before it’s too late?

Key themes

The key take-aways from UR2020 for JBA can be categorised as:

  • Risk communication.
  • All-level engagement in the design of flood mitigation strategies.
  • The alignment of economic drivers to determine optimal solutions.

There is a need to close the gap between the real and the perceived risk. As we urbanise, communities push into riskier areas within hydrological and coastal systems. Significant flood events occur across timeframes that stretch beyond ‘living memory’ and it is largely in the hands of policy makers and technical practitioners to ensure the appropriate planning frameworks and knowledge tools are used effectively to reduce risk. We need to be constantly pushing the envelope in developing new ways of communicating risk and in understanding what works and what doesn’t in this regard.

There was a strong theme for more, and more relevant, stakeholder participation in decision-making around flood risk mitigation strategies. Policy makers and civil society often have very different views on which measures should be implemented. Marginalised parts of society may not be fully engaged stakeholders.

Institutions in different contexts may face unique and discrete constraints in which even best-practice technical approaches may not alone be enough to reach optimal strategic outcomes. Flood risk mitigation requires the levers of government and society to be activated in a coordinated and considered way.

Perverse economic structures still exist to incentivise sub-optimal societal outcomes when considering the long-term, which of course will be influenced by a changing climate. Despite the acceptance of climate change, short term financial outcomes are powerful drivers of sub-optimal strategic decisions. The need for enhanced economic tools to determine the true total cost to society of strategic decisions made now, especially in valuing green infrastructure and in justifying the use of NBS, is a widely accepted view.

Want to know more?

UR2020 was a welcome opportunity for us to engage in content we are passionate about and connect with relevant collaborators and new ideas. We look forward to the next Understanding Risk.

Email Mark Lawless for more information about our participation in this year’s event. All community sessions and workshops are available to view on the UR2020 website.



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