Risk reduction strategies were at the centre of a conference held at Herrenhausen Castle, Hanover‚ Germany in late November. “Dangerous Landscapes – Re-thinking Environmental Risk in Low-income Communities” provided an international platform for dialogue between experts representing international institutes and political boards, academics from various disciplines, civil society as well as young researchers from 20 countries to discuss links between landscapes, urbanisation, climate change und related climate migration. The event was part of the Herrenhausen Conference Series run by Germany’s Volkswagen Foundation, and it was jointly organised with Leibniz University Hanover.
As Christian Werthmann, a professor at the university’s Institute of Landscape Architecture and organiser of the conference, stresses, it is not the landscapes that are dangerous but the way in which humans treat them, as the example of settlements in floodplains clearly demonstrates.
The event kicked off with an account of risks that poorer countries were having to cope with by Dan Lewis, former chief of the Urban Risk Reduction Unit, UN-Habitat. Lewis pointed out that these countries were particularly prone to natural hazards such as earthquakes, droughts, volcano eruption, coastal erosion and storm surges. He warned that the melting of ice sheets brought about by climate change was causing a global sea-level rise that was also inducing social and economic hazards affecting more than a billion people. By 2050, resulting global losses could amount to an annual 52 billion US dollars.
Conference participants shared the view that disaster preparedness had to rely on co-operation between communities and between regions. Instruments like remote sensing and early warning systems (EWS) were useful to address the rapid onset of crises in the event of earthquakes, tsunamis and floods. Torsten Schlurmann, a Professor for Coastal Engineering at Leibniz University Hanover, maintained that there was a need for multi-hazard EWS systems that could be addressed by trans-disciplinary approaches, with a focus on reaching people affected by identifying the hotspots of vulnerabilities.
More knowledge ought to be established about the interactive effects of both risk and protective factors to optimise policies for improving resilience, argued Ronak Patel, Founding Director of the Urbanization and Resilience Program at the USA-based Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. Understanding risk and listening to those affected by risk should become more granular and tied to outcomes.
There was agreement among participants that global processes, political guidelines and scientific research were often detached from local community realities. Kate Harawa of the Water For People-Malawi project maintained that local management strategies could work, although it was important to have immediate benefits. Water For People-Malawi is an award-winning development organisation that works to build a Malawi where all people have access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and where no one suffers or dies from a water or sanitation-related disease. The project has grown from implementing small projects in widespread areas to concentrated efforts in selected regions that strive toward sustainable outcomes. It engages with the local community, private sector, local government and civil society to build resilient water and sanitation systems that can work in the long term, and without the need for external support.
Regarding politics, it was stressed that social conflicts had to be addressed by the general discourse on environmental risks. This also included economic issues, attitudes and financial models and funding to generate resources for risk mitigation and to create equity. As Koko Warner, Manager for Impacts, Vulnerabilities and Risk at the UN Climate Secretariat and leading author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, mentioned, priority should be given to including affected people in decisions and planning by integrating risk tolerances and values. Policies like the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals were important commitments, but they had to be implemented and facilitate robust, large-scale transformation.
With its inter- and trans-disciplinary perspectives, the conference stressed the need for differentiated coaction between social, political and natural components. It was made clear that, both in the urban and the rural context, the world population was threatened by various risks which go along with climate change. Therefore, a more multiscalared view on regions had to be adopted connecting the rural to the rapidly growing urbanised world, integrating indigenous/local knowledge and expert knowledge as well as scales.
Kathrin Wieck, Landscape Architect, Technische Universität Berlin