Photo: G Rose - Jamaica Information ServiceRather than wining and dining our Valentines, on the 14th February the resilience team held a PolicyLab about how science can be used to reduce the impact of natural disasters. Aptly, there was wind and squall outside, and the rain flew horizontal…

Margareta Wahlström, UN Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction outlined some of the problems with getting hold of science for disasters. A disaster affects all sectors of society – agriculture, water, health, land-use planning – therefore demands extensive research across the board if the risk is to be reduced. Global disaster risk is a Red Queen, accumulating in society at a rate extremely hard to overtake. Local events now have worldwide impacts, thanks to international supply chains and technologies.

But we are at a point of unique opportunity, says  Professor Mark Pelling, researcher in Disaster Risk Reduction at Kings College London. There is popular interest in sustainable development and, with new climate, development and disaster goals on the horizon, growing political will.

A well-connected world also offers a space for exchange, where scientific research can become practical options for action. Margareta described the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Science and Technology Advisory Group (UNISDR STAG) as merging the extensive anecdotal knowledge on disaster risk to provide a consolidated understanding of what disaster risk means and then augmenting it with scientific evidence.

Colin Armstrong explained how UK science is being used to reduce the risk of future disasters through the work of the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS ). This is a group of fourteen UK government departments and research funders who share information and opportunities with researchers and NGOs to maximise the use of science for development.  They hold natural disasters as a priority with the Science in Humanitarian Emergencies and Disasters (SHED) report identifying key actions for government in better responding to international disasters. A risk and horizon-scanning expert group containing the UK government Chief Scientific Advisors, the British Geological Survey and the Met Office produce a report every quarter forecasting a range of natural hazards – hydrometerological, geophysical, human/animal/plant diseases and space weather.

Dr Kate Crowley, DRR Advisor at CAFOD, gave a grounded presentation, highlighting the need for two-way communication between practitioners and scientists to ‘unpack’ science and make it of practical use. Data must be freely available, credible and translated into knowledge, and communities / practitioners should be trained to not only use it, but also add to it. Effective monitoring and evaluation is vital to ensure accountability, and Kate ended her presentation by drawing attention to recently published guidelines on integrating science into development planning.

Mark described the various roles of science within DRR in the last 10 years as having journeyed from innovation to embedded technological support, to playing the role of the critical friend – taking time out to explore uncomfortable spaces that might be the magic that improves practice. With further communication and partnership, scientific experimentation could become fully embedded in the practising DRR world.