What's New in Knowledge | April 2024

What's New in Knowledge, led by AIDR Manager Knowledge Development John Richardson, is a monthly blog series that collates key research, reports and public interest journalism from across the disaster resilience space.

The Australian Government has released the first National Climate Risk Assessment report, a first pass importantly focusing on 8 prioritised systems at risk. It identifies 56 nationally significant risks, and 11 priority risks. Supporting this assessment, a discussion paper has been released to help guide the National Adaptation Plan. While a discussion paper, it is useful in a broader sense as it identifies a range of issues for consideration.

The European Environment Agency have released their first climate risk assessment for the European Union, noting that Europe is the fastest warming continent in the world. The report identifies 36 climate risks, and analyses these in terms of risk severity, policy horizon and readiness, and risk ownership. The priorities for action importantly include a social justice lens.

The World Meteorological Organization have put out their State of the Global Climate 2023 report, noting that 2023 was the warmest year on record with a 1.45C warming from preindustrial averages.

The Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery have released their annual report. It is a detailed report on their activities and highlights several diverse DRR case studies. It is interesting that Urban flooding receives the greatest proportion of the funding. Something for us to ponder given 85 per cent of us live in urban areas.  

The Swiss Re Institute have released their Natural catastrophes in 2023 report, identifying the costs at $280 billion. Imagine what else we could do with that amount of money.

The Sphere Minimum Standards for Humanitarian Response have released the updated Core Humanitarian Standards on Quality and Accountability. These set out 9 commitments to ensure organisations support people and organisations affected by crisis and vulnerability in ways that respect their rights and dignity and promote their primary role in finding solutions to the crises they face. Often seen in Australia as something that applies ‘overseas’, they provide an excellent basis for planning many of our activities. We will be looking at how to embed these standards into the AIDR Handbook Collection as we progress our knowledge development work.

In positive steps, a gender action plan to support the implementation of Sendai Framework has been launched by UN Women and UNDRR, with 9 key objectives and 33 actions to promote gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls in DRR.

Fire to Flourish have released their third annual report, a great compendium of all the diverse work they are undertaking in the community resilience space, research, and policy.

In understanding consequences and recovery, two important pieces of research relate to health and wellbeing impacts from disasters. Phoenix Australia have released a research summary examining the impact of COVID-19 on communities that have experienced multiple disasters.

Researchers from ANU’s Centre for Mental health Research have released findings of a study into the mental health outcomes of over 3,000 people living through both the 19/20 bushfires and then COVID, looking at levels of distress, but also the factors that reduced distress and improved positive outcomes. Ilan Kelman neatly summarises the paper in useful terms to help us use this for framing the complexity of our work. While on the 19/20 Bushfires, the NSW Coroner has released its report into the deaths in the fires, making 28 recommendations. Coroner’s reports can be grueling reading, as they describe the causes of death. In this report, there are descriptions of multiple deaths, so caution should be exercised in reading them. I have made that mistake before.

In the US, research from the always excellent Tricia Wachtendorf and James Kendra from Delaware’s Disaster Research Center has found that 2.5 million people were displaced by disasters in the US in 2023. An ABC news article examines the issues faced by farmers and disaster relief support. This article looks at the impact of disasters on tourism operators in Far North Queensland. This article looks at the fires and the aftermath at Pomonal in Victoria. The rural community of Ballarat has been shaken by several incidents recently, and our very own Executive Director and Ballarat resident, Margaret Moreton helps us understand what is happening in these compounding incidents and what to do.

The mine disaster also prompted memory of the Beaconsfield Mine collapse in Tasmania in 2006. The fabulous Backroads heads to Eugowra, the small town in NSW severely affected by floods in 2022. GenWest have released an excellent report into women’s experiences of the Maribyrnong Floods in Melbourne in October 2022. Flooding on the Nullabor Plain have significant impacts on transport and pastoralists. A panel of the European Humanitarian Forum in 2023 examined the media coverage of forgotten crises. This paper examines resilience, life satisfaction and mental health in Turkey post-earthquake. This paper, drawing on BNHCRC research concepts, looks into citizen responses to the extreme flooding of the Ahr valley in Germany in 2012.

Looking at knowledge, UK’s Emergency Planning College Lessons Digest Issue 4 examines learning to adapt to climate change. This article poses the question about whether safe and ethical disaster research can be conducted. Australia’s chief scientist takes aim at pay-walled research journals. We have a solution for those of you who are frustrated by this, in the good news section. Read on!

In thinking about systemic risk, the Centre for Global Development has released a paper on what steps to take to prepare for the next pandemic, including a recognition that pandemics are global security issues, and that there are global public goods. The Strategist examines food security and national security, this can also apply to thinking about DRR, as we continue to be surprised when the shelves are empty. This paper examines humanitarian supply networks through a social capital lens. The European Commission released the 10th anniversary report of the INFORM index, which collates information about risk to help inform managing crises.

Looking at First Nations knowledge, this article focuses on the benefits to soil of cultural burning. This Nature paper suggests that firestick management in Australia commenced around 11,000 years ago. In the US, research found that bushfire smoke disproportionately affected First Nations communities. Still in the US, this project looks at mapping the lands of the Grand Caillou/Dulac peoples that are sinking as a result of climate change, in order to help preserve cultural practices and lands. In Vanuatu, this project empowers local communities to use traditional knowledge to build climate resilience.

For children and young people, there are several pieces on the impacts of disasters and climate on children and young people. This one focuses on enrolment in higher education, while the disruption to school programming and its impact is the focus of this paper. This very sad and confronting research is simply titled How long before climate change destroys the earth and examines the burden that children are carrying about climate change. Shifting to what we can do about it, this news article focuses on Red Cross’ Pillowcase Project, and what kids need to pack for an emergency. This article outlines the World Bank’s Global Safer Schools Program.

Considering animals in disasters, this article looks at the challenges of animal welfare in disaster management in British Columbia. This Conversation article examines the survival rate from the 19/20 bushfires. This ABC piece examines how climate change is changing the way we need to protect endangered animal and plant species.

Recognising inequity as the root cause of disaster risk, the Inter-American Development Bank highlight the impacts of disasters on women. While vulnerability is a framework that focuses on the individual, the authors of this paper argue that a slow violence framework may be more useful in looking at root causes of risk and vulnerability.

In Disaster Risk Reduction, this article presents case studies of good uses of spatial and urban planning to reduce disaster risk. Tonga women are empowered to take action to prepare for disasters. The challenges and limitations of insurance continue to be focused upon, this piece looking at what is happening in Florida, and this one more broadly in the US. This article calls out the phenomena of billionaires getting into prepping. This is a fascinating article on the role of folklorists in understanding the changes wrought by climate change, and reminder of the importance of the creative arts in helping us understand and manage change. Tourism in Brazil gets examined in this article from the Inter-American Development Bank, a good reminder for our regions highly dependent on tourism.

Interior designers are starting to look at the contribution they can make through a publication, Design Brief: Climate, Building Resiliency and Human Health. Researchers from Japan propose a disaster resilience scale for households. The American Red Cross examined 24 communities to evaluate what makes a community disaster ready, among other things finding that community preparedness should foster a systems approach, ensure risk knowledge leads to action, make inclusion a reality and committee to context analysis. This is an excellent interview with my friend, Eva Yeung, the Senior Community Resilience Manager for Hong Kong Red Cross on the work they do in a very complex environment. This paper is a scoping review of the role of preparedness and behavioural training in natural hazards.

Looking at weather matters and climate change, while the Anthropocene is taking hold in the vernacular, the scientists are saying ‘not so fast’. This report analyses the impact of climate framework laws in three countries, Germany, Ireland and New Zealand, based on evidence from 73 expert interviews and desk research. This report looks at climate legal frameworks and covers impacts on climate governance; political debate; climate policies; citizens and stakeholders; and society and climate. The Climate Council released polling that found 1 in 3 people worried they may be forced to move because of climate change.

This is what we know about the top ten wild climatic events in Australia last year. The 2023 temperature anomaly can’t be explained by existing models, leading to the thought that we might be entering uncharted territory. This one examines the behavioural and cultural barriers to addressing climate change, and what we can do. We think of global warming as associated with heat, yet this piece outlines how it contributes to cold spells. While on cold, this study suggest the Australian Alps snow cover will fare the worse under climate change. A marine heatwave is affecting the supply of rock oysters to Sydney. Over in the US, it is suggested that climate change could shorten the life span of bridges, increasing corrosion, buckling and cracking (not good news for those of us who are fearful of bridges).

Worst still for all the dull men out there, banana prices are set to rise with increasing temperatures, as will food in general. But in good news, this is an interesting art based climate resilience toolkit, with a range of activities, such as Theatre of the Resilient and Found Poetry, that are focused on climate change adaptation. This is a very good Nature essay on climate anxiety.

There’s been quite a focus on different hazards, the Baltimore Bridge collapse has captured our imagination, with articles on the collapse, the nature of the shipping sector, and port emergency plans. Those who are fans of The Wire season 2 will understand the impacts of the collapse on the Baltimore port, and city. It has also brought back memories of the Tasman Bridge collapse in Hobart in 1977. The National Fire Eradication Program rolls out over northern NSW, and while on pest, this piece focuses on the varroa mite and the threat to Almond crops. The tragic terrorist attack in Moscow has been a reminder of the vulnerability of crowded spaces. The fifth anniversary of the Christchurch terrorist attacks has passed, and this article also reminds us of terrorism’s continuing presence. On more familiar territory, this article from David Bowman highlights how catastrophic bushfire conditions could happen anytime. This one questions the need to fight and stop every fire, while this one outlines a debate about fire modelling.

Focusing on extreme heat, Western Australia had its hottest ever summer, and significant heatwaves and health issues, but it was hardly reported. A number of music festivals were affected by the extreme heat of the Labour Day weekend. Sport in Australia, from grassroots to the elite, is also feeling the impacts of extreme heat. Cool pavements, paint and green roofs reduce extreme heat in cities, if you have a dark roof, you are likely to be paying more to cool your house. Around 1 billion outdoor workers are at risk of humidity fueled extreme heat in the tropics. This paper looks at gender differences in using extreme heat protection, while this one outlines how extreme heat drives up food prices.

In health, this article recognises that pandemic prevention relies heavily on behaviour, and the ‘One Health’ concept needs more social science. Research from the US supports what we have known for over a decade now, that bushfires increase mental health burden. This paper examines students' safety behaviours in class during the pandemic. This paper examines standards of care in disasters for intensive care units. This paper looks at the intersection of quantification and metrics and the COVID-19 pandemic and proposes the idea of the quandemic, where among other things, a few metrics crowd out others. Can’t wait for the board game.

Looking at governance and leadership, the folks from the Disaster Law program from the International Red Cross have released this excellent handbook on disaster law reform. This paper from Rebecca McNaught and colleagues looks at climate and disaster governance across seven local governments in the Northern Rivers. This paper proposes a maturity model for exercising, while this one looks at which components of full scale exercises improve disaster response learning. In volunteering, this paper looks at rural firefighting capacity in Sweden.

Examining the frontiers in technology, for those in the ‘HAL9000-AI is an existential risk camp’, this Q and A from the Rand Corporation might be of interest. This is a webinar from the Standards Australia on Responsible AI use.  In Denmark, AI is being used to predict flooding, while a new digital twin of the Earth, the Digital Twin Earth Hydrology Platform combines high resolution satellite observations and cutting-edge modelling to predict water-based disasters. This article from Nature looks at how AI is improving weather forecasting.

Back in time

It’s been ten years since MH370 disappeared, and these articles explains why we haven’t found the plane. A 120-year-old shipwreck mystery is solved.

Looking down from space.

Images from the ISS this month, heat stress on the Great Barrier Reef.

Did you know?

What makes a thunderstorm severe? And what are the solstices and equinoxes are?

In good news, you will be able to access full text in academic journals through the EBSCO database by becoming a member of the Australian Emergency Management Library.

And finally

While not directly disaster related, sleep is one of those things that does get affected by our work in disasters. This is an interesting article on how art and literature can help with sleep problems.

Thanks to Isabel Cornes, Darryl Glover, Sandy Whight for providing tips on good content.

Sources: Prevention Web, The Conversation, ABC, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, Global Disaster Preparedness Center, Nature, RAND Corporation, Disaster Research Center.