Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Integration for Successful Mitigation

In any endeavor, the successful integration of various entities or functions (interest groups, expertise, activities, points-of-view, etc.) is critical to maximize the value of the final product.  When addressing something as important as the safety and well-being of human settlements in the face of natural hazards, any advantage that can be gained through integration will only improve the process and the result.

Last year, a new guideline was developed “to support the design of well-balanced strategies for Integrated Flood Management.”  According to the document’s authors (Link here), “floods are the most common natural disaster with the largest impacts on society. Official statistics show a gradual decrease in the number of fatalities thanks to better early warnings, but flood damage appears to be increasing because of economic growth, and lack of prevention measures and flood-sensitive land-use planning.”

The Integrated Flood Management (IFM) approach was developed by the Associated Programme on Flood Management, a “15-year-old joint Global Water Partnership and WMO project focusing on the implementation of integrated flood management in policy and practice.”  IFM is intended to “maximize the productivity and efficient use of floodplains and coastal zones, while minimizing the loss of life and impact on livelihoods and assets through protective measures. Absolute protection from flooding, however, is impossible. In planning for IFM, therefore, there is a need to decide what level of risk is acceptable, to decide how safe is safe enough.”

What to Integrate? How to Integrate?

As I’ve repeated in many of the posts here on this page, one of the biggest obstacles to successful hazard mitigation is the implementation of remedies (be they physical or policy-related) due to the political and economic demands for development.  A recent study published in the journal Computers, Environment and Urban Systems [57 (2016) 68–79] suggests that the integration of the fields of spatial planning and flood risk management are “more likely to solve the problems of balancing development demands with flood mitigation objectives.”

The study expands on the value of integration in addressing flood risk by looking at three different types of integration (territorial, policy, and institutional), while suggesting specific ways technology—specifically geographic information systems (GIS) and related applications—can be used to facilitate that integration. I’ll refer you to the article itself for more detail on the application of technologies, but the discussion of integration in the article is noteworthy. I’ll include some of the text below (sans citations, to emphasize the content). The article cites a number of European examples and says:

Actions that address flood risk in areas under continual development include: (1) strengthening existing or constructing new protective structures, such as embankments; (2) increasing natural retention and storage capacities…; (3) expanding insurance for flood damage and improving flood resilience; and (4) upgrading forecasting, early warning, and preparedness systems. These measures tend to be implemented in isolation from each other and occasionally encounter local opposition such as in the case of increasing natural retention and storage capacities in the Netherlands. Integration of different measures and cooperation among various types of interventions are required to ensure their effectiveness.

The study looks at three different types of integration and includes the table (shown).  All are critical to the ultimate success of the mitigation effort; and all can, according to the article, be facilitated by geographic information and technology.   

The study continues (again, sans citations, to emphasize the content), saying:

Territorial integration focuses on consistency across boundaries (horizontal integration) and alignment among spatial scales (vertical integration). To address territorial issues, a hierarchical approach is often applied… A hierarchy can be defined as a set of elements, each of which rests at a different level. An element at a relatively lower level has only one superior or root element at the next higher level. In a spatial context, the levels of a hierarchy are defined as spatial scales ranging from the local to the global.]

Policy (Integration) is used in this study as an abbreviation of governmental policy, which refers to an intervening and facilitating course of actions of governmental actors to provide intentional guidance to solve the collective issues. However,… policy implies the instrumental settings (such as the minimum lending rates or annual budgets) and the hierarchy of goals behind policies as well as the instruments per se (the techniques applied to achieve policy goals). In that context, policy integration implies that the policy-making process is a joint process as well as the policy's reflection of a combined and comprehensive consideration. 

Institutional) Integration in this study primarily involves two types of institutions: those related to spatial planning and those related to flood-risk management. In this case, there are other stakeholders aside from the institutions of planning authority and flood authority that are or could be part of the process, but they are more involved in the policy integration process than institutional integration because they contribute to the comprehensiveness of policy input. From an operational perspective, integration is based on shared context, such as coordinated management of information and material flows and on collective knowledge and mutually beneficial goals or interests.

The bottom line for planners seeking to successfully implement mitigation activities is that the level of success to be achieved is often a direct result of the success of the process.  Integration at all levels and across all parts of the process must be a priority.

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