Knowing that natural and manmade disasters threaten millions of people each year and cost billions of dollars, the European Union has made disaster management a priority. A recent report, “Science for disaster risk management 2017: Knowing better and losing less,” hopes to illustrate what scientists know about these disasters, but also harness that knowledge to save lives and money through prevention.
National Drought Mitigation Center former director Mike Hayes and Director Mark Svoboda, both at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources, contributed to the chapter dedicated to drought.
“To my memory, I have never seen as complete a document of disaster risk management as this one,” Hayes said. “It covers many disaster types — geophysical, hydrological, meteorological, climatological, biological and technological — but it also has chapters covering management frameworks and methodologies, communication, and future challenges of drought risk management.”
The report is the flagship science report from the Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre and was compiled by the European Commission's Science and Knowledge Service. It is available in final proof form here and will be available in hardcopy later this summer.
Contributions came from 273 scientists from 26 countries and 172 organizations, all mostly in Europe, and was made possible through the collaboration among 11 services of the European Commission. The report was publicly presented in late May at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun, Mexico.
“I wish to express special thanks to all contributors,” said Karmen Poljansek, scientific and technical project officer with the Joint Research Center Disaster Risk Management Unit, in an email to contributors. “Without your expertise, experience and huge commitment to a cause this report could never have been completed on time. This report is the first in a series. We treasure your contributions, and we look forward to future collaborations with you in the next one.”
The report takes a holistic approach to understand disaster risk, exposure and vulnerability, as well as disaster management. It aims to strengthen the science-policy and science-operation interface, according to the knowledge center.
The drought chapter examines types of drought, but also looks at past trends and future projections (drought is expected to increase across much of southern and eastern Europe), as well as drought impacts of drought on society, the environment and public health; determining drought risk; and how to manage drought. Hayes and Svoboda contributed to the drought risk management section of the chapter, but the footprint of the NDMC is sprinkled throughout.
“This report illustrates the reach that Nebraska’s drought work has had globally,” said Hayes, also a climatologist at SNR. “A lot of times the work that is done here (by the drought center) has local impact, but it also has a global one.”
Much of the research on drought conducted in the past 20 years, in Europe, the U.S. and other locales, is based on definitions, methods, processes and impact areas put in place by Don Wilhite, founder of the NDMC, during his peak research years, and many countries and regions have improved their drought monitoring capabilities.
Drought monitoring and forecasting systems provide essential information to decisionmakers in prevention and management, the report states, with the end goal of reducing vulnerabilities to drought and thereby reducing future impacts and effects of drought. The mantra is to prevent, plan and mitigate rather than react.
As drought planning and management improves, the report continues, it drives the need for improved, more specific drought monitoring, a cycle that will continue into the future as policy adapts to the latest science available. The report encourages continued new research to address multi-risk impacts of natural and human-induced hazards as well as the cascading effects into other areas of industry and society so the information can be part of an overall risk assessment.
About participating in the report’s development, Svoboda said, “We jumped at the invitation given that the messaging was so in-tune with the core mission of the NDMC aimed at reducing society’s risk to drought through a proactive drought risk management approach. The fact that it involved so many other colleagues from around the world illustrates that we’re all in this together.”
For more information on the report or the Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Center, click here.
— Shawna Richter-Ryerson, School of Natural Resources.
The EU Science Hub contributed to this report.