Editor’s Note – Silver Linings 2021

How many things are you 100% certain of in life? The recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report reaffirmed the certainty that the future ahead of us will bring many disasters. ‘Irreversible for centuries to millennia’: an increasingly hot, unstable world will see extreme precipitation in some parts and droughts in others, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover, and permafrost. Canada is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world and three times as fast in the Canadian Arctic. As Margareta Wahlström, the former head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction who led the development of the Sendai Framework shared in 2017 in a HazNet interview: “2 degrees is an average, in some parts of the world the increase will be 9 degrees; it will be inhabitable.”

These formerly distant scientific projections are manifesting through lived experiences for some communities. This summer in British Columbia, a prolonged record-breaking heat wave killed over 800 people. It ‘cooked’ a billion sea creatures. This was followed by a fast-moving destructive wildfire season that displaced thousands of people, devastated Monte Lake and burnt the Village of Lytton to the ground, killing an elderly couple that attempted to take cover from the fire in a freshly dug out septic hole. In the words of one of our contributors for this issue, Sheri Lysons, Fire Chief, Adams Lake Indian Band, whose team comprises of Indigenous and non-Indigenous firefighters deployed to some of the most challenging wildfires in British Columbia: “It feels like we are just waiting for a storm to hit and don’t know when it is going land, but know it is going to bring destruction with it.”

Beautiful sunsets – a silver lining of wildfires. Artwork by Sheri Lysons, Fire Chief, Adams Lake Indian Band

These climatic events came just as the pandemic measures were easing, meaning there was little reprieve from one disaster to the next – many were locked indoors for the pandemic and then the smoke. In our little community in the BC Interior, we saw some of the worst air quality in Canada. A thick smoke blanket covered our region for weeks, penetrating every aspect of our lives, a paralyzing apathy-inducing toxic poison. As a small lower-income community, we do not have a clean air shelter for the community and many residents, especially the elderly, cannot afford routinely recommended measures such as air filters or air conditioners, let alone better insulated houses and better windows. Prolonged periods of isolation and loneliness put youth at higher risk of experiencing poor mental health. As the world as we know it comes to an end, a deeper longer-term risk of “youth disillusionment” is considered a top blind spot and a top neglected risk globally that will become a critical threat to the world over the next two years.

As we took a collective sigh of relief with the vaccination rollout and the outdoor season approaching, we choked on the reality that is climate change. It is in this context that our editorial team decided to focus on silver linings for this issue. Through a collective effort of our Canada-wide HazNet team and contributors globally, here is what we found:

The power of community-led action

Learn about We’re Ready! workshops that help communities to design and imple­ment their own disaster preparedness program through interactive and engaging community-building activities.

Learn about the power of community-led earthquake and tsunami preparedness study based on traditional, Indigenous and local knowledge as well as western science.

An opportunity to connect pandemic recovery with other systemic issues such as climate change and poverty

Read about opportunities for building climate resilient communities through pandemic recovery and a call for the development and implementation of a Pan-Cana­dian National Adaptation Strategy.

Read about the power of grassroots response in the City of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, in which 70% of 1.6 million people live in informal settlements. Can the pandemic momentum of connected, activated and empowered communities carry on to fight systemic poverty, ineq­uities and injustices in cities globally?

An opportunity to serve better by acknowledging differences

The pandemic highlighted the importance of applying an intersectional lens to our field of practice by acknowledging that disaster outcomes vary based on race, gender, class, education, among other identity factors. Learn about cultural safety in Emergency Social Services and how to create safe spaces, free from discrimination, where Indigenous people, families and communi­ties can continue practicing their culture even when displaced.

Learn about gender-based analysis and intersectional approaches to policy through an interplay between climate change, COVID-19, and housing.

A spotlight on public health

COVID-19 crisis highlighted the importance of pre-pandemic investments in public health and health equity, as it was highlighted worldwide how the roots of vulnerability endure during disasters. To understand the significance of public health transformation opportunities, read an interview with Dr. Michael Schwandt, a Medical Health Officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.

Learn about some of the early challenges and successes of the vaccine roll-out across Canada and the United States based on interviews with public health experts in North America.

Changing how we learn

The pandemic brought an exceptional growth in online learning and digitally enabled collaboration. Learn about the Pandemonium series that explored lessons for the future of the city by bringing 38 speakers and 1400 participants over several months: while the pandemic amplified pre-existing urban challenges, it also revealed existing solutions and new lessons for the future of our communities and cities.

Learn about the Salvation Army’s pivot of emergency management training beyond geographical boundaries.

Towards evidence-based changes in policy and practice

Another silver lining is the significant acceleration of research globally and in Canada that went into understanding the social dimensions of the pandemic. Read about key findings from a pan-European survey on societal resilience titled “COVID-19: Emergency, Recovery and Improvement” that showed a tendency towards optimism among the respondents with regards to emergency support logistics and technologies. Learn about key findings from a Pan-Canadian study that focused on the COVID-19 experience of emergency management practitioners in health care organizations: effective emergency management is more likely when emergency management practitioners are a dedicated resource and have a place at the leadership table.

This issue shows that an ability to find a silver lining in any dark cloud – an opportunity for improvements in crises and disasters – is a distinct feature of emergency management. Despite the hardships of COVID-19, it is clear that many important transformations are taking place. Voices, movements, and causes that previously struggled to be heard are now gaining traction, thanks to the pandemic. Now is the time to capitalize on the silver linings and to prepare for the next disaster. Are we prepared to lead?

Lilia Yumagulova,