IIASA researchers Teresa Deubelli-Hwang and Jung Hee Hyun share insights from a decade of collaborating on fostering flood resilience in communities around the world following a recent Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance learning event.  

Across the world, climate change is increasing flood hazard intensity and frequency. Just this year, countries like India and Indonesia experienced monsoon rains of unprecedented intensity, leading to widespread flooding and displacement of vulnerable communities. In India, the states of Maharashtra and Bihar grappled with severe floods, causing significant damage to homes, crops, and infrastructure, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Similarly, Indonesia faced catastrophic floods in Jakarta, exacerbating the city's existing drainage and infrastructure issues.

Even in developed countries, the potentially catastrophic impact of floods remains evident, as countries like Austria, Italy, and Slovenia grappled with severe flooding that overwhelmed urban drainage systems and led to extensive property damage.

Since 2013, IIASA has been a partner in the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (the Alliance), a multi-sector collaboration focusing on finding innovative and practical ways to strengthen resilience to floods in partnership with local communities around the globe.

Coming together to learn from each other

As a global Alliance committed to sharing knowledge for evidence-informed community-based climate resilience, Alliance members from over twenty countries came together in June 2023 to share their experiences in flood resilience building. Colleagues from implementing partners including Concern Worldwide, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), ISET-International, Mercy Corps, Plan International, and Practical Action, as well as the Zurich Insurance Group, and researchers from IIASA, ISET-International, and the London School of Economics and Political Science, shared lessons-learned from a decade of collaborating on fostering flood resilience in communities around the world.

As stories were shared and insights exchanged, the event underscored the profound impact of participatory resilience-building initiatives and evidence-backed strategies, illustrating the transformative power of knowledge-sharing and stakeholder engagement. Representing a broad spectrum of expertise and insights, the event served as a platform for inspiration and innovation.  

Picture of Alliance partners from over twenty countries © Practical Action Peru

Alliance partners from over twenty countries met to share their experiences in flood resilience building

Co-designing intervention pathways via the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities tool

As part of our collaboration, IIASA co-developed the innovative Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC) tool with the Alliance. The FRMC – and its second-generation version, the Climate Resilience Measurement for Communities (CRMC) tool – enables community members to share localized insights about their community’s flood resilience, while also serving as a roadmap for enhancing and expanding this resilience along intervention pathways supported by partnering development organizations.

IIASA hosted a session titled, Going from FRMC to Intervention, illustrating how the FRMC can be used to select and co-design interventions to build community resilience. Based on initial results from IIASA research, floor discussions confirmed that the FRMC cultivates a foundation for shared understanding of flood resilience, thus providing a platform for relationship building with and between community members and local government. Specifically, the tool fosters systems-thinking, which is fundamental to resilience and supports informed decision making.

As decision makers often seek strong evidence and evidence-based recommendations to support their decision-making and implementation of policies and plans, the strong evidence from the FRMC survey results justify advocacy recommendations and has helped build Alliance and organizational credibility to strengthen relationships with key actors.

Picture of Alliance members engaging with each other at the event © Practical Action

Alliance members exchanging on using the FRMC tool for co-designing resilience intervention pathways

Implementing partner colleagues reiterated the importance of the sustainability and scalability of interventions and the enabling role of the FRMC.

“When communities see the FRMC results, they understand that the whole context is coming out through the survey. This, in turn, has inspired community members to come forward. The FRMC results validate their existing knowledge and package it into a format that helps them communicate their situation and needs to government officials,” said one participant.

As communities take the initiative and ask for support, local governments become more invested in these remote, vulnerable areas. Empowered by their experiences within the Alliance, these communities are now self-organizing to better protect themselves from floods and advocate for government support to continue building resilience.

Ensuring inclusion in flood resilience intervention planning

As communities use the FRMC to identify resilience gaps and resilience intervention pathways, ensuring that the process integrates considerations for the most marginalized members of society, including women, children, adolescents, and youth (CAY), came up as an important action area. To ensure that these voices are heard in the FRMC process, and that their needs are reflected in the intervention pathways supported by partnering development organizations, IIASA, Plan International, and Plan Philippines partnered to co-design a series of additional indicators for the FRMC that focus on issues relevant to marginalized groups in a development context.

These gender equality and inclusion-specific indicators were trialed through a pilot with Plan International Philippines in seven communities (barangays) in the cities of Manila and Navotas as part of an FRMC baseline study in 2022. Some of the themes included in the pilot included CAY flood response knowledge, resilience education capacity, and support for guardians of young children.

In their knowledge-sharing session titled, Gender and Inclusion (GEI) in flood resilience, IIASA and Plan shared that their preliminary results indicate that gender and CAY specific resilience-building strategies are a fundamental aspect of fostering community flood resilience, pointing to the value of gender equality and inclusion-specific indicators in resilience measurement and intervention planning. In particular, the pilot suggests a key role for dedicated financial and livelihood strategies for women and youth, and tailored safety measures for women and children in building community resilience, which may have been missed if community stakeholders hadn’t been consulted and asked inclusion-specific questions.

Picture of Alliance members discussing flood resilience interventions during a workshop © Mercy Corps

Alliance members discussing flood resilience interventions that genuinely address the specific needs of marginalized community members

Sharing insights from seven communities in the cities of Manila and Navotas, colleagues from Plan Philippines underlined that the use of CAY-specific indicators has deepened our understanding of the unique challenges faced by vulnerable groups in the context of flood resilience and has paved the way for co-designing interventions that genuinely address the specific needs of marginalized members within these communities. By asking inclusion-specific questions and providing a platform for these voices to be heard, we unveiled strategies that otherwise wouldn't have been evident.

Other colleagues from implementing partners added that including more diverse voices in the process increases the likelihood of positive resilience outcomes, emphasizing that building resilience is a collective journey that must hear and engage the whole community, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Building bridges to build resilience together: long-lasting impacts of the Alliance learning event

The Alliance learning event was an inspiring occasion that galvanized important bridge-building opportunities among the diverse partners working together to support resilience in communities across the globe. In the face of increasing climate-related challenges and uncertainties, the contacts made and the lessons learnt will support us in our efforts to deliver on the Alliance’s mission to reduce flood risks, as well as risk of heatwaves and wildfires, which it has started to address more recently, in the years to come.

About the Flood Resilience Alliance
Originally launched in 2013 with the goal of shifting focus from flood response and recovery to pre-event risk reduction, the Flood Resilience Alliance is a global Alliance committed to sharing knowledge for evidence-informed community-based climate resilience.

The Alliance consists of humanitarian, NGO, research, and private sector partners who work together to increase public and private investment in evidence-informed community-based flood resilience. IIASA has been a partner in the Alliance since its inception in 2013.

For more information on IIASA’s work in the Alliance, please visit: https://iiasa.ac.at/projects/flood-resilience

Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the IIASA blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.