RISC-KIT: Socio-Economic and Cultural Perspectives of Coastal Flood Management

Below is the second part of a series of articles by Dr. Zoi Konstantinou of EurOcean – The European Centre for Information on Marine Sciences and Technology, introducing the RISC-KIT project. The project is aimed at increasing coastal resilience to flooding caused by extreme weather events.

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RISC-KIT: Adding Socio-Economic and Cultural perspectives to Coastal Flood Management – why and how?

EU FP 7 project RISC-KIT aspires to include the social, economic and cultural components of coastal communities to the development of coherent and efficient coastal resilience policies.

The introductory article about the EU project RISC-KIT gave an insight of its foundations and its basic principles regarding the development of increased resilience strategies for coastal zones. This article aims at providing a deeper insight to one of RISC-KIT’s innovations: the incorporation of the socio-economic aspects of a given cultural setting for the development and implementation of coastal resilience policies.

One of the most challenging parts in developing coherent and efficient resilience policies is the variability of the physical characteristics of the hazardous phenomena combined with the variability of the ecological characteristics of each coastal area. Nowadays, the scientific community agrees that the complexity of these issues is better addressed through the development of probabilistic approaches that utilize mathematical models and explore alternative situations through scenarios. What is usually not as clearly perceived is the added complexity deriving from the fact that the development of policies is also very much affected by the -permanent or circumstantial- social, economic and cultural characteristics of any given area. RISC-KIT aims to meet this complexity through inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary research, targeted in providing innovative, cost-effective and efficient solutions.

So far, research on flood risk management has often excluded social, cultural, political and administrative reality in cases of flood events or risk management mainly because of two reasons: a) the focus was placed in the technical solutions that would provide the desirable “safety” and b) a certain in-depth analysis is required for this kind of approach, in a field where “hard data” are often unavailable.

Risk management planning is the result of social relations among people living in a certain area where culture and cultural influences play a crucial role. “Each regional context is characterized by particularities of history, by attitudes, beliefs and values, political and legal traditions, different socio-economic patterns and concepts of justice, interpretations of risk planning tasks and responsibilities, and different structures of governance. This demonstrates how each region has its own culture leading to different solutions to similar problems” emphasizes Dr. Grit Martinez from the RISC-KIT project team. In order to acquire the insights regarding those aspects for a given area it is necessary to:

  • have a good understanding of the respective socio-political structures,
  • achieve in-depth analysis of the social values, mentalities and motivations in each historical and political framework and
  • provide a valid interpretation of stakeholders’ statements and actions, in each historical and cultural context.

In RISC-KIT, to achieve this goal, an intensive research effort is taking place in each of the Case Study Sites in order to collect, besides the crucial physical and ecological data, information connected to the historical and present impact of extreme, weather related events. This information is multidimensional and covers aspects that vary from the social reaction before, during and after a disaster to the level of social coherence and stakeholders’ involvement in crucial decision making regarding resilience policies.

The identification and data collection process was initiated by reviewing the current local risk management status and the civil protection strategies at every Case Study Site, a task mainly carried out through the analysis of the available official documents. Additional information was generated by a two-part stakeholders’ engagement process: a) consultations of key decision-makers with experience in disaster management and post-disaster assessment and b) interviews of local citizens who witnessed and were affected by these disasters. In order to gain as much as possible from this process but also in order to create a long-term collaboration environment, a combination of interactive engagement methods were used. These methods varied from qualitative interviews to moderated group and round tables discussions, and were chosen and applied according to the specific situation in each Case Study Site, focusing on its socio-cultural particularities.

More than 150 interactions with the stakeholders were conducted, engaging people from a wide range of expertise, knowledge, motivation, and backgrounds. The interviews were supported by information obtained though the consultations and the review of existing quantitative, qualitative and spatial information derived from archival material, policy documents, academic and grey literature, raw data and surveys.

Coastal inundation in part of the urbanised coast of Tordera Delta during a storm.
Coastal inundation in part of the urbanised coast of Tordera Delta during a storm.

The key information that was acquired from this procedure is related to the variability of risk perception, the knowledge on risk minimization and the dissemination and perceived effectiveness of management practices and measures. High emphasis was placed on analysing and evaluating the specific process of disaster risk management and reduction in each Case Study Sites. Focus was also put on the assessment of the available operational skills and capacities to implement strategies, policies and coping mechanisms in order to lessen the adverse impacts of hazards and/or the possibility of a disaster.

Part of the urbanised and highly touristic coast of Varna, another of RISC-KIT’s Case Study sites.
Part of the urbanised and highly touristic coast of Varna, another of RISC-KIT’s Case Study sites.

The assessment of this combined information set suggests that geo-eco-morphological characteristics and physical impacts are by far not the only parameters shaping risk perceptions and responses. Socioeconomic, cultural and political diversity appears to have a strong influence on the actions taken to reduce risks, hazards and disasters’ impacts. Although technical measures are undoubtedly a major part of the solution now and in the future, social communication and coordination, education, political will and transparency are necessary to build long-term disaster risk reduction policies that will generate efficient solutions. Understanding this diversity and incorporating it into the probabilistic logic and the exploration of alternative scenarios is necessary in order to utilize the multi-disciplinary aggregated knowledge in the best possible way to provide successful risk and hazard reduction policies in any geo-political configuration.

RISC-KIT is based on the fundamental concept that a social-ecological-cultural approach to the current state of flood risk management, in parallel with the development of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) measures, both technology and policy related, can provide a powerful tool in translating flood risk management strategies into effective reality in case of flood events in different countries and regions, by eliminating casualties and minimizing the socio-economic impacts. Find out more and stay updated about RISC-KIT, through our webpage, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

This article was based on the publishable information of RISC-KIT’s Confidential Deliverable 1.2 Synthesis report: Synthesis of data collection consultation organised at local level, which was produced by Dr. Grit Martinez from the Ecologic Institute with the contribution of the entire Consortium.