Disaster risk management and climate change adaptation in urban contexts: Integration and challenges

University dissertation from Lund University

Abstract: An increasing number of disasters continue to affect urban populations and housing infrastructure. The overwhelming majority of them have been caused by climate-related events. This situation has made the creation of synergies between climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk management (DRM) urgent. Despite the recognised need to unite CCA and DRM efforts, the fields remain separate. Furthermore, it has been difficult to reach a consensus on how to merge approaches in ways that avoid duplication of actions and reduce risk in a comprehensive way. The integration of CCA into DRM systems, which is promoted at international, national and regional levels, relies on collaboration between multiple stakeholders with different interests and objectives. While much effort has been put into understanding the barriers to integration in other fields such as development, little attention has been paid to understanding the difficulties encountered when attempts are made to integrate CCA into DRM. This thesis contributes to our understanding of the issue. It provides new knowledge about ways to evaluate and compare DRM systems in order to investigate challenges to integration. Taking Nicaragua as a case study, it explores the current extent of CCA integration into DRM, and identifies challenges to further progress. The initial analysis was based on an examination of integration into policies, regulatory instruments, perceptions and practice in the fields of DRM, urban planning and environment. However, as it became clear that some challenges are difficult to detect solely through an analysis of policy and practice, a theoretical model of the functioning of DRM systems and related CCA integration was developed. This was applied to the Nicaraguan and Swedish DRM systems, to evaluate and compare them, and investigate challenges in greater depth. It helped to draw conclusions about system behaviour and identify differences in how they attempt to achieve the same goal. The initial results indicated that although there has been some progress in CCA integration in Nicaragua, further advances depend on up-to-date, comprehensive policies and regulatory instruments. Finally, stakeholder’s lack of understanding of CCA was identified as an obstacle that limits its integration into practice. Consequently, with the application of the model it was possible to identify challenges in the Nicaraguan DRM system. It highlighted that key processes within the system are fragmented: two of which are relevant here. The first concerns the difficulty of incorporating scientific and non-technical information between administrative levels (national, regional and local) in ways that are useful for decision-making. The second is that municipalities rely on local information from community members regarding risks and vulnerabilities, and lack more technically-advanced information (which may include CCA considerations) from higher-level authorities. Both of these challenges influence the integration of CCA into DRM, as it becomes difficult to analyse and communicate the potential benefits of integrated approaches and measures. Consequently, progress (in terms of policies and regulation) has not been reflected in the implementation of measures at the local level. These findings led to the development of assumptions regarding the usefulness of risk descriptions for decision-making, which were empirically tested. The results showed that the presentation of the risk assessment influenced its usefulness in decision-making. Taken together, the results provide a way forward to foster CCA-DRM integration and support sustainable urban development and planning.