Event - Disaster Forensics

Amidst the escalating toll of disasters, the Humanitarian Network and Partnerships Weeks convened on 8 May 2024 a session titled "Applied Disaster Forensics: Learn from the past to build a resilient future." Bringing together disaster management specialists and stakeholders, the event explored how forensic analysis can help uncover the root causes of disasters and strengthen resilience.

Discussions focused on the importance of analyzing disasters through a forensic lens. Recognizing that disasters are not solely natural phenomena, but often stem from human vulnerability, exposure, and inadequate preparedness, speakers emphasized the need to dissect the complex interplay of socio-economic, environmental, and infrastructural factors driving disaster risk.

The Forensic Investigations of Disasters (FORIN) approach calls for a careful analysis of historical occurrences to discern patterns and uncover vulnerabilities, and to inform the development of disaster risk reduction plans. By exploring the underlying causes, decision-making processes, and systemic flaws often preceding disasters, FORIN aims to provide important insights for enhancing resilience and adaptive capacity.

Lessons learned from previous catastrophes can help communities and authorities take proactive steps to reduce future risks. Incorporating forensic insights into development planning requires effective collaboration among stakeholders and robust risk management frameworks that can navigate complex and ever-changing risk environments.

Speakers discussed real-world case studies, including the impacts of Cyclone Freddy in Southern Africa and droughts in Central America.

"There is limited integration of disaster risk management into the policies and frameworks that countries are trying to implement," said Felipe Lucio, director of member services and development at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), in reference to Cyclone Freddy's complicated characteristics and corresponding effects it had on the population.


Communities rebuild following Cyclone Freddy in Mozambique
Mozambique National Institute of Disaster Management (INGC)


Noting the value of the FORIN method in getting to the root causes of disasters while also explaining how important this method was for the ENSO drought in Central America, Allan Lavell, one of the original authors of the FORIN Guidelines and founding member of LA RED, commented: "We have to realize that the cost of residual risk management is much higher and different from the cost associated with not avoiding the risk or reducing the risk on the ground that exists now."

These examples illustrate how forensic investigation can reveal latent vulnerabilities and systemic issues and guide focused efforts to improve resilience and mitigate disaster risk.

The other speakers who contributed to the session were as follows:

  • Irasema Alcantara Ayala (UNAM) - "What are disaster forensic investigations and how can they uncover the enablers and barriers to risk management and resilience building?"
  • Markus Elten (UNDRR) - "How disaster forensics can help inform humanitarian response planning."
  • Alonso Brenes - "Disaster forensics applied - What disaster forensics can teach us about ENSO related drought in Central America."

Looking ahead, the 2024 Special Global Assessment Report 'Extreme Weather and the New Abnormal: Learning from the past for a more resilient future' will apply a disaster "forensics" approach to examine 10 recent disasters. By assessing the combined impacts of hazards, vulnerability and exposure, the report aims to identify resilience-building measures and inform future response and recovery actions. The analysis will distill and refine an existing disaster forensics methodology developed in Latin America and will also draw on expertise from the UK based Disasters Avoided Initiative and apply its emerging model to the case studies to identify resilience elements. The report will be launched ahead of the Summit for the Future in early September 2024.

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