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  • Slow onset disasters: where climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction meet

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Slow onset disasters: where climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction meet

Source(s):  Acclimatise

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

When we think about weather or climate-related disasters, we think mostly of sudden events like floods, hurricanes, or wildfires. These events often threaten people and infrastructure, leading to loss of life and livelihoods. Responses to them are usually regulated through emergency management plans on a national and regional level. Slow onset disasters, on the other hand, creep up on communities. While their relatively slow evolution offers an opportunity to prepare appropriate responses, the perceived lack of urgency can pose a significant challenge for those affected.

Gaps in relevant policy frameworks might fail to address slow onset disasters and leave whole communities vulnerable and exposed to slow onset disasters. Such disasters can be catastrophic, such as in the case of an Alaskan community whose village is literally crumbling into a river. In such cases disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) can help, especially if they learn from each other.

Subtle differences but common goals

CCA and DRR are covered by separate policy frameworks, funding sources, and implementation mechanisms. However, they share a fundamental aim: reducing the vulnerability and building the resilience of communities and areas affected by shocks and stresses. DRR does this through systematically analysing and managing the causes of disaster, like exposure to hazards, vulnerability, and improved preparedness for shocks. CCA, on the other hand, aims at adjusting natural or human systems as a response to climatic changes, reducing potential harm and exploiting beneficial opportunities.

The DRR discipline has historically relied on climate and weather risk scenarios that are based on past disaster events, in order to assess disaster risk. However, these scenarios are becoming less reliable due to climate change. The changing risk landscape poses a challenge to traditional DRR strategies. This is where CCA can usefully inform the discussion, as it incorporates climate projections and assesses how risks change over time.


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  • Publication date 09 May 2017

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