Disasters, whether large or small in scale, cause great destruction, as well as human and economic losses, and with that hinder the progress towards sustainable development. According to data of the UN Disaster Risk Reduction Office (UNDRR, 2019), over the past decades the number of disasters has been in constant increase throughout the world, with 90% of those disasters linked to climate and hydro-meteorological events (UNISDR & CRED, 2015). However, disasters are not a natural consequence of the existence of threats – the conditions for threats to develop into disasters are created by us, by the way we manage the threats. Disasters are not one-off events where it is enough to secure a quick and efficient response – they are a product of the social, political and economic context in which they occur and are often the consequence of the absence of systematic risk analyses and actions towards their reduction. 60% of the disasters occur in poor, exposed and ill-prepared communities in which the number of victims could be up to 300 times than in well prepared, resilient communities (UNDRR, 2019).
RISK = HAZARD + VULNERABILITY + EXPOSURE. Disaster risk reduction implies action in all elements of the disaster risk equation: reduction of threats by reducing the vulnerability of people, assets and environment, and their exposure to the identified threats. With this cross-sector measure we avoid disasters or greatly mitigate their effects (investment into prevention is up to 15 times cheaper than the costs of rehabilitation; UNDRR, 2020). The report of the 2020 World Economic Forum on Global Risks shows that all of the most probable risks facing humanity today are environment-related: extreme weather conditions due to climate change, loss of biodiversity, ecological disasters and pandemics.
Degraded ecosystems exacerbate the negative effects of climate change, and climate change causes further degradation of ecosystems. A consequence of that is the diminished capacity of the ecosystem to provide for the people important services and benefits, which additionally increases the population’s vulnerability to disasters (UNEP, 2019). The loss of healthy soil and nutrients due to the degradation of forests and land can lead to the reduction of global food production by 12% and an increase in the price of some foodstuffs by up to 30% (IUCN, 2017).
Climate change effects require, therefore, a holistic, integrated approach to risk management that will take into consideration and evaluate the numerous benefits of healthy ecosystems for strengthening the community resilience to disasters (see Strengthening governance for climate action/Integrated governance for adaptation). Disaster Risk Reduction using eco-system services – Eco-DRR includes sustainable management, protection and rehabilitation of nature and its ecosystems in order to reduce disaster risks with the objective of achieving sustainable and resilient development (UNEP, 2019).
In the context of risk management, the global community and the EU strongly advocate solutions based on understanding the advantages offered by nature to human society, and stimulate the integration of “green” solutions into local strategies of disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change. The turning point in the appreciation of nature-based solutions in risk management was the year 2015, i.e. adoption of global treaties such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (SFDRR), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Programme on Sustainable Development by 2030 (Agenda 2030), which recognise that our future depends on the protection and rehabilitation of natural systems which provide us with food, clean water, clean air and a stable climate.
Eco-DRR fulfils also the obligations resulting from the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on wetlands, and the UN Convention on Combating Desertification, contributing, at the same time, to plans of adaptation to climate change. In this decade, the nature-based solutions will additionally contribute to initiatives on conservation of biological diversity, rehabilitation of ecosystems and adaptation to climate change, as well as other international programmes whose ultimate goal is harmony with nature by 2050.
Accordingly, the Republic of Croatia has acquired numerous European and international strategies which stress multiple benefits of nature-based solutions for the long-term solving of social challenges such as climate change. The Croatian Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction and State Assets is preparing the Programme of Development of Green Infrastructure in Urban Areas in the Period 2021 to 2030, which is harmonised with the draft National Development Strategy of the Republic of Croatia by 2030. Application of nature-based solutions will also be integrated into the National Strategy of Disaster Risk Reduction, and is already a key part of the National Strategy of Adaptation to Climate Change.
Costs and benefits
It is well known that the “green“ solutions are more economical and sustainable, from both economic and social points of view, and that such projects bring about long-term values that in time do not get amortised (EEA, 2014). Strategic investments in disaster prevention measures through ecosystem services resolve numerous social challenges and secure considerable long-term social benefits and cost savings. Therefore, Eco-DRR is considered as a “win-win” and “no-regret” method which is also one of the rare approaches that can affect all elements of the disaster risk equation: healthy ecosystems can prevent or mitigate threats, reduce vulnerability by sustaining means of livelihood and reduce exposure functioning as natural protection. Ecosystem management should, therefore, be an integral part of disaster risk management.
Due to the multiple benefits of ecosystem services, the preparation of a quantitative assessment of costs and benefits can be rather complex. However, the economic effects of the application of green infrastructure are fully measurable since it contributes to the reduction of public and private expenses as well as to concrete income. Those are reflected in the savings of heating and cooling energy costs, as well as reduced negative impacts of extreme weather conditions. Important economic benefit results also from the impact of the green infrastructure on the improvement of human health and reduced investment in the treatment of illnesses. Economic benefits are also achieved through food production in urban gardens, and contribution is expected through the opening of new jobs for the needs of construction and maintenance of the green infrastructure. On the other hand, social benefits from the green infrastructure will be directly reflected in the improved quality of life in the cities (MGIP, 2020). Conservation and rehabilitation of the quality of air, water and soil is a direct benefit of the green infrastructure for the environment since it affects the reduction of high summer temperatures and urban heat islands (UHI), reduction of noise and flood risk, and glasshouse gasses emissions, as well as increased sustainability of the ecosystems and resilience to the climate change. The extended cost-benefit analysis of the application of such solutions (www.gggi.org) is a special kind of analysis that monitors carefully the social and ecological effects, as well as the hidden and external costs which are seldom taken into consideration when making decisions. However, the issue of financing “green” solutions doesn’t refer only to finding resources but also to redistribution of the budgets that had originally been dedicated to the grey infrastructure, and redirection of the so-called “pervert subventions” (those causing ecosystem degradation) towards a solution which sustains the ecosystem (UNDRR, 2020).
Implementation time and lifetime
More and more examples show that over the past 15 to 20 years the nature-based solutions to disaster risk reduction have been more cost-effective than the solutions offering purely grey infrastructure. However, the Eco-DRR is not necessarily an individual strategy and it should often be combined with other solutions for risk reduction, including hybrid green-grey solutions, early warning systems and other measures for prevention of preparedness for disasters. Exactly how strong and how long-lasting protection an ecosystem can provide depends on the health of the given ecosystem and the local characteristics.
In many countries, the Eco-DRR is still a concept in the making that needs to be additionally shaped at both political and practical levels. Although many of these solutions are ready to be applied, a better understanding of their potentials and a wider use will be stimulated by further development of policies, standards and guidelines on limitations and examples of good practice. A broader presentation of various policies and actions at the state level that can help create favourable conditions for the integration of ecosystem services into disaster risk reduction and other development strategies can be found in the publication Nature-Based Solutions for Disaster Risk Management.
Source for more detailed information
EC (2015), Final Report of the Horizon 2020 Expert Group on ‘Nature-Based Solutions and Re-Naturing Cities, https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/news/towards-eu-research-and-innovation-policy-agenda-nature-based-solutions-re-naturing-cities , Eco-DRR
EEA (2014) Resource-efficient green economy and EU policies. doi:10.2800/18514, 107 pp.
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IUCN, Forest Brief No. 21, December 2017, https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/content/documents/20171213_ndcs_fbrief.pdf
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Prepared by: Ana Mikačić, Civil Protection Directorate – National Civil Protection Education Centre – Regional Education Centre Split