Recently many of us watched as David Suzuki said his final goodbye after 44 years of hosting “The Nature of Things,” the CBC cornerstone that influenced many of our childhoods or careers, directly through his calls to become global citizens, at arms length through his community-minded work, or indirectly through the many policies he helped move forward throughout the years. While watching his final send-off that highlighted some of his favourite moments throughout his tenure, gray hairs marking the passage of time, it’s hard not to feel a sense of helplessness as we face some of the greatest threats to our planet ever – despite champions like him sounding the alarm for decades. Yet, it was also inspiring, seeing his tenacity in the face of neverending setbacks, and hearing his optimism: “Nature might surprise you. She does some things that are harmful, but she also does some things that are good,” referring to the 2022 Sockeye Salmon run up the Fraser River – the highest in over 100 years.
One of David’s key reflections included an interview with Mike Richardson, Haida Nation, who poignantly states that we need climate-related decision-making to move away from politics and politicians. His point speaks directly to the second goal of the Sendai Framework, strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk. We know that most interventions to reduce risk require policy-level change, often requiring decades to fully implement and reap the benefits. This is inherently incongruent with the Canadian political system, which is focused on short-term wins to secure an election. Mike and his ancestors have lived the principles of disaster risk reduction for millennia, yet the Western world needs a framework to hold itself accountable to the shared responsibility of reducing disaster risk.
In 2015, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030, set out four priority areas for action to reduce the impacts of disasters on mortality, communities, and the economy, and to strengthen disaster risk reduction:
- Understanding disaster risk
- Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk
- Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience
- Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction
As we mark the halfway point of the Sendai Framework in 2023, this issue takes stock of the progress we have made so far. In truth, we found it hard to pull together an issue that would reflect the true current state. Perhaps it was due to burnout or the ongoing disruptions we are all facing post-pandemic, or perhaps it was due to the extremely complex topic of disaster risk, but one thing was not clear: no one seems to agree. With that in mind, we narrowed our focus to the first priority, to help create a common baseline – to understand disaster risk.
Our hope is that from this baseline, we can carry on the conversation to examine the other priorities. Just as David passed on the torch to the next generation, we need to carry on the conversation and address all priorities of the Sendai Framework.
So, let’s first understand disaster risk.
Our feature section begins with an interview with Dr. Ellen Prager, a researcher and science communicator who discusses the current state of the scientific understanding of disaster risk – what we know, what we wish we knew, and what we can do about it. From there, we feature four national-level risk assessment tools to showcase Canada’s progress towards understanding risk. These include the Risk Profiler (earthquake risk), the Flood Hazard Identification Mapping Program (flood risk), Climate Data (climate trends), and the Social Vulnerability Index (indicators of social deprivation that may contribute to vulnerability to disaster impacts). Although these snapshots are not comprehensive of all risk assessment initiatives and focus only at the national scale, they provide concrete examples of the state of understanding disaster risk in Canada.
Although we often focus on natural hazards when conducting risk assessments, 2022 saw the first invocation of the Emergencies Act in Canada through the declaration of a public order emergency in response to the Freedom Convoy and related efforts to disrupt borders and blockade major transportation corridors. Our lessons learned section includes an article examining this historic moment for emergency management in Canada and considers some implications for the future.
Our policy section features an article highlighting the creative ways municipal governments are improving the resilience of infrastructure, in part through conducting risk assessments that can help unlock funding from other levels of government, in response to the increasing impact of disasters and the risks posed by a changing climate. In a pointed analysis, the (lack of) progress in supporting Indigenous Peoples to reduce disaster risk is highlighted as a major failing along the path to implementing the Sendai Framework, along with concrete steps for how to improve.
In our research section, one article posits replacing the concept of “resilience” with that of “ruggedization”, arguing that resilience is too often tacked on to existing policies without changing a failing system, whereas ruggedization conveys the urgency and depth of resolve required to prepare communities for the future. The potential for collaboration between governments and insurers to expand the availability of flood insurance to Canadians in high-risk areas is also explored, as an important tool to address the rising costs and impacts of flooding on Canadian communities.
The practice section features a powerful message from Tribal Chief Tyrone McNeil on the work of the Emergency Planning Secretariat, an organization supporting Mainland Coast Salish First Nations in all-hazard disaster management, and the Indigenous-led Build Back Better, Together initiative launched after the devastating floods in the lower mainland of British Columbia in 2021. In this video, Tribal Chief McNeil emphasizes the importance of nature-based solutions in strengthening the resilience of infrastructure and communities to disasters. Building on the theme of collaboration and inclusion, we explore the barriers created when people in emergency management use acronyms, and how this contributes to confusion, misunderstandings, and alienation for people who are new to emergency management or to the organization. It contributes to the sense of “insider” vs “outsider” when effective emergency management is based on collaboration and collective action. Finally, long-time disaster researcher and co-founder of the Canadian Risk and Hazards Network Dave Etkin shares some practical resources for how to understand and apply ethics in emergency management, and why it is so important to address this under-appreciated and under-studied aspect of the field.
While it may seem daunting, we know the work has to start somewhere. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “lf you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”