Environment and Disaster Management
    Pre- and Post-Disaster Management:
    Environmental Management Tools to Reduce Disaster Risks

    Hari Srinivas
    Management Tools Series E-118. September 2020.

    As the impacts of climate change and its attendant problems (such as global warming or sea-level raise) increases, policy focus is increasingly shifting towards disaster management at the local level - preparedness and response to disasters, but also to recovery and mitigation.

    Efforts to mitigate and adapt to these disasters have highlighted the need for the developmental actions that creates a living environment with reduced disaster risks. There is a growing understanding that there is an intrinsic and cyclical link between managing the environment and reducing the risk of disasters. It is now moving mainstream among disaster professionals (who were initially focused only on disaster preparedness and response, and who now seek such cross disciplinary linkages).

    A poorly managed local environment can increase the risks that humans face from disaster events. For example:

    • Manila, Philippines - annual flooding happening in the Philippine capital has frequently been attributable not to heavy rains or climate change, but to inappropriate waste management that has clogged drainage channels, resulting in flooding.
    • Toyooka, Japan - a medium strength typhoon had devastating impact on this city because of poor forest management. The typhoon picked iup forest debris from the mountains surrounding the city and blocked rivers in the city, resulting in extensive flooding

    At the same time, a disaster event can have detrimental and negative impacts on the environment. For example:

    • Banda aceh, Indonesia - The Indian Ocean tsunami resulted in a very high death tool, but recovery efforts took longer than usual due to sea water intrusion into water sources and agricultural lands
    • Bangkok, Thailand - The Thai capital, like many cities in Southeast Asia faces regular flooding. The reason for this is a uniquely urban one: Bangkok residents overdraw on ground water for their daily life, resulting in ground subsidence and resulting flooding.

    Fig. 1: Cyclical Linkages between EM and DM

    It is through these cyclical interlinkages that we come to realize that a disaster event is in fact an indicator that we are not managing our living and natural environment properly. It is not heavy rain per se that causes a disaster, but the hazards/risks in our surrounding living environment that causes a disaster.

    With the participation of environmental experts in disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts now becoming commonplace, DRR policies have begun to take into account environmental aspects, strategies and tools at every stage of the disaster cycle.

    DM Cycle The Disaster management cycle illustrates the ongoing process by which governments, businesses, and civil society plan for and reduce the impact of disasters, react during and immediately following a disaster, and take steps to recover after a disaster has occurred. Appropriate actions at all points in the cycle lead to greater preparedness, better warnings, reduced vulnerability or the prevention of disasters during the next iteration of the cycle. The complete disaster management cycle includes the shaping of public policies and plans that either modify the causes of disasters or mitigate their effects on people, property, and infrastructure.

    Fig. 2: The Disaster Management Cycle

    For example, UNDAC [1] teams usually include an environmental expert who is responsible to assess the damage caused by a disaster on the environment, and suggest actions to mitigate and recover the environmental assets.

    Much of this integrated approach has stemmed from development within the environmental field itself, particularly the development of a number of environmental assessment and management tools that enable DRR professionals to assess the risks and damages that arise from the local environment.

    As environmental management and DRR are cyclically interlinked, environmental aspects and tools can be used in pre-disaster and post-disaster situations to identify the causes and risks for disasters (pre-disaster), and in assessing the damage and impacts of disasters on the local environment (post-disaster).

    Fig.3: Environmental Management Tools for Disasters

    Pre-Disaster Phase

    The pre-disaster approach to understanding the cyclical linkages of disaster management and environmental management focuses on three aspects.

    The first, which is central to climate change itself, is the reduction of anthropogenic causes of environmental change and mitigation of risks - for example, destruction of forests, greenhouse gas emissions etc. all important for a new kind of "green" lifestyle.

    The second aspect is highlighting the importance of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs)[2] particularly the "Big Three" related to climate chang, biodiversity and desertification, and their intrapolation to the local level.

    The third aspect lies in underlining the importance of maintenance, management and development of sound mitigation capabilities that are *inherent to nature*. This calls for the use of nature itself as a model for DRR - nature conservation and respect for the cycles that exist in nature.

    Pre Disaster Tools

    There are essentially four environmental management tools that can be used to understand and reduce disaster risks:

    • Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA)
    • Environmental Management Systems (EMS)
    • Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
    • Environmental Vulnerability/Hazard Mapping

    1. Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA):
      ERA is a systematic analysis of the likelihood that the environment will experience a specified level of harm as a result of a natural disaster or a planned human activity. All decisions and actions have environmental consequences - Risk is the likelihood that a harmful consequence will occur as a result of an action , including those from natural or man-made disasters. ERA determines the potential impact of an action on ecosystems, habitats and other ecological resources, and on human health and well being. It includes both risk management and risk communication. The use of ERA in environmental planning and management is fast becoming a standard practice, either as a stand alone procedure or as a support or complement to an EIA. Appropriate use of ERA will identify situations of potential environmental concern and allow decision makers to select management options with the least, and still acceptable level of risk

    2. Environmental Management Systems (EMS):
      EMS is a problem-identification and problem-solving tool, based on the concept of continual improvement, that can be implemented in an urban area in many different ways. An EMS is a systematic way to ensure environmental issues are managed consistently and systematically. Effectively applied, an EMS can help integrate environmental considerations within a larger disaster management plan. It sets out environmental policies, objectives and targets for the implementing organization, with pre-determined indicators that provide measurable goals, and a means of determining if the performance level has been reached. Often these are the same performance indicators that are chosen for strategic reasons.

    3. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA):
      SEA is a process to ensure that significant environmental effects arising from disasters are identified, assessed, mitigated, communicated to decision-makers, monitored and that public involvement is ensured. SEA is a systematic process for evaluating the environmental consequences of policies, plans, programmes or proposals, to ensure that they are addressed early in the decision making process and on par with economic and social considerations . Applied to disaster management, it also helps in understanding the environmental consequences of pre- and post-disaster activities. Undertaking strategic environmental assessments can also contribute to sustainable development goals, promote accountability and credibility among the general public and specific stakeholders, and lead to broader policy coherence.

    4. Environmental Vulnerability/Hazard Mapping:
      Eco and hazard mapping is a simple visual tool that creates an inventory of environmental assets of an urban area, and the vulnerabilities and risks it faces. Eco-mapping is a systematic but simple method of conducting an on-site environmental review by collecting information which shows the current situation using pictures. It covers a range of issues, including information on the current situation, problems areas, water, sewage, soil, air, energy, waste, etc. It also includes geo-hydrological risks and hazards faced by the urban area. Eco mapping has been an effective, systematic means of inventorying environmental practices and problems, communicating environmental issues to urban residents, engaging them in environmental practices, and implementing action at the local level.

    Post-Disaster Phase

    The post-disaster approach to understanding the cyclical interlinkages between environmental and disaster management focuses on five aspects:

    1. Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA) of damage to the environment, including for example the impacts of the disaster on air, water, land, and other natural resources in the local environment
    2. Criticality of appropriate environment management and quick restoration in the wake of disasters in order to assist recovery and reconstruction of local affected communities.
    3. Proper waste management of the disaster debris, in ters of clearing, sorting, recycling/reuse, disposal of the debris in an environmentally friendly manner.
    4. Assessing water contamination and pollution to water sources (wells, rivers, ponds etc.)
    5. Handling hazardous and toxic materials, particularly large industrial sources to avoid pollution of air, water and land from raw materials such as oils, paints, petrol/gas, chemicals etc.

    Post-Disaster Tools

    There are two key tools that help in enhancing response and recovery to disasters:

    • Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA)
    • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

    1. Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA):
      REA is a methodology for rapidly assessing and analyzing the environmental context of a particular crisis or disaster. It enables strategic and efficient response planning to mitigate identified priority environmental risks that may be exacerbate a disaster's impacts. REA also mainstream more recent concepts including climate risk, resilience and protection.

    2. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA):
      EIA is a formal process used to predict the environmental consequences of a project or an event. EIA ensures that the potential problems are foreseen and addressed at an early stage. EIA is a structured procedure designed to help ensure that projects and programmes are environmentally sound and sustainable. Adopted to disaster situations, EIA facilitates identification, analysis and evaluation of potential environmental impacts and the identification and elaboration of measures that will avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse impacts from these disasters, whether man-made or natural. It allows informed decision making on the action to be taken, and establishes a monitoring and environmental management regime for implementing mitigation measures, monitoring impacts for compliance and ascertaining if impacts are as predicted.

    Using environmental management tools to assess the risks of disasters provide an additional layer of safety information that enables vulnerable communities to be better prepared and resilient.

    While larger, global environmental problems such as climate change, do lead to stronger local disaster events such as floods, landslides or fires/accidents, it will be the local environment and its condition that will eventually increase or decrease the risks and impacts that communities will face with a disaster.

    This applies not only to the natural environment, but especially to the ma-made/built environment. Human-induced environmental change, where buildings and urban areas or the emissions/waste/pollution that we emit as a part of our daily life, can exacerbate the negative impacts of a "simple" disaster event such as a heavy rain or cyclone - resulting in secondary, cascading disaster events.

    Understanding and assessing how we are changing the local (and global) environments and how these changes increase the the risks and impacts of these disaster events will be an integral part of or efforts to create livable and resilient living environments.


    [1] The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) is part of the international emergency response system for disaster response. It is designed to help the United Nations and governments of disaster-affected countries during the first phase of a disaster. UNDAC also assists in the coordination of incoming international relief at national level and/or at the site of the emergency.
    [2] MEAs are agreements between countries which may take the form of "soft-law", setting out non legally-binding principles which parties are obligated to consider when taking actions to address a particular environmental issue, or "hard-law" which specify legally-binding actions to be undertaken toward an environmental objective. A well known example of an MEA is the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Do you have any suggestions or additions to make on the above information? Please send an email to Hari Srinivas at hsrinivas@gdrc.org

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org