Risk Assessment Committee

Risk is the product of exposure to the drought hazard (i.e., probability of occurrence) and societal vulnerability, represented by a combination of economic, environmental, and social factors. Therefore, in order to reduce vulnerability to drought, it is essential to identify the most significant impacts and assess their underlying causes. Drought impacts cut across many sectors and across normal divisions of government authority.

Membership of the risk assessment committee should include representatives or technical experts from economic sectors, social groups, and ecosystems most at risk from drought. The committee's chairperson should be a member of the drought task force to ensure seamless reporting. Experience has demonstrated that the most effective approach to follow in determining vulnerability to and impacts of drought is to create a series of working groups under the aegis of the risk assessment committee. The responsibility of the committee and working groups is to assess sectors, population groups, communities, and ecosystems most at risk and identify appropriate and reasonable mitigation measures to address these risks.

Working groups would be composed of technical specialists representing those areas referred to above. The chair of each working group, as a member of the risk assessment committee, would report directly to the committee. Following this model, the responsibility of the risk assessment committee is to direct the activities of each of the working groups. These working groups will then make recommendations to the drought task force on mitigation actions to consider for inclusion in the mitigation plan. Mitigation actions are identified in advance and implemented in order to reduce the impacts of drought when it occurs. Some of these actions represent programs that are long term in nature while others may be actions that are activated when drought occurs. The activation of these measures at appropriate times is determined by the triggers (i.e., indicators and indices) identified by the monitoring committee in association with the risk assessment committee in relation to the key impacts (i.e., vulnerabilities) associated with drought.

The number of working groups that are set up under the risk assessment committee will vary considerably between provinces, states, or river basins, reflecting the principal impact sectors of importance to the region and their respective vulnerabilities to drought because of differences in the exposure to drought (frequency and severity) and the most important economic, social, and environmental sectors. More complex economies and societies will require a larger number of working groups to reflect these sectors. It is common for the working groups to focus on some combination of the following sectors: agriculture, recreation and tourism, industry, commerce, drinking water supplies, energy, environment and ecosystem health, wildfire protection, and health.

To assist in the drought preparedness and mitigation process, a methodology is proposed to identify and rank (prioritize) drought impacts through an examination of the underlying environmental, economic, and social causes of these impacts, followed by the selection of actions that will address these underlying causes. What makes this methodology different and more helpful than previous methodologies is that it addresses the causes behind drought impacts. Previously, responses to drought have been reactive in nature and focused on addressing a specific impact, which is a symptom of the vulnerability that exists. Understanding why specific impacts occur provides the opportunity to lessen these impacts in the future by addressing these vulnerabilities through the identification and adoption of specific mitigation actions. Other vulnerability or risk assessment methodologies exist, and nations are encouraged to evaluate these for application in their specific setting (Iglesias et al. 2009; Sonmez et al. 2005; Wilhelmi and Wilhite 2002).

The methodology proposed here is divided into six specific tasks. Once the risk assessment committee establishes the working groups, each of these groups would follow this methodology in the risk assessment process.

Task 1. Assemble the team

It is essential to bring together the right people and supply them with adequate data to make fair, efficient, and informed decisions pertaining to drought risk. Members of this group should be technically trained in the specific topical areas covered by each working group. Also important is the need to include public input and consideration when dealing with the issues of appropriateness, urgency, equity, and cultural awareness in drought risk analysis. Public participation could be warranted at every step, but time and money may limit their involvement to key stages in the risk analysis and planning process (public review vs. public participation). The amount of public involvement is at the discretion of the drought task force and other members of the planning team. The advantage of publicly discussing questions and options is that the procedures used in making any decision will be better understood, and it will also demonstrate a commitment to participatory management. At a minimum, decisions and reasoning should be openly documented to build public trust and understanding.

The choice of specific actions to deal with the underlying causes of the drought impacts will depend on the economic resources available and related social values. Typical concerns are associated with cost and technical feasibility, effectiveness, equity, and cultural perspectives. This process has the potential to lead to the identification of effective and appropriate drought risk reduction activities that will reduce long-term drought impacts, rather than ad hoc responses or untested mitigation actions that may not effectively reduce the impact of future droughts.

Task 2. Drought impact assessment

Impact assessment examines the consequences of a given event or change. For example, drought is typically associated with a number of outcomes that result from the shortage of water, either directly or indirectly. Drought impact assessments begin by identifying direct consequences of the drought, such as reduced crop yields, livestock losses, and reduced reservoir levels. These direct outcomes can then be traced to secondary consequences (often social effects), such as the forced sale of household assets, food security, reduced energy production, dislocation, or physical and emotional stress. This initial assessment identifies drought impacts but does not identify the underlying reasons for these impacts.

The impacts from drought can be classified as economic, environmental, or social, even though many impacts may span more than one sector. A detailed checklist of impacts that could affect a region or location is provided in the IDMP publication referred to on the first page of this chapter. This list should be expanded to include other impacts that may be important for the region. Recent drought impacts, especially if they are associated with severe to extreme drought, should be weighted more heavily than the impacts of historical drought (in most cases), since they better reflect current vulnerabilities, which is the purpose of this exercise. Attention should also be given to specific impacts that are expected to emerge or increase in magnitude because of new vulnerabilities resulting from recent or projected societal changes or changes in drought incidence.

It is appropriate at this point to classify the types of impacts according to the severity of drought, noting that in the future, droughts of lesser magnitude may produce more serious impacts as vulnerability increases. Hopefully, interventions taken now will reduce these vulnerabilities in the future. It is also important to identify the "drought of record" for each region. Droughts differ from one another according to intensity, duration, and spatial extent. Thus, there may be several droughts of record, depending on the criteria emphasized (i.e., most severe drought of a season or 1-year duration vs. most severe multiyear droughts). These analyses would yield a range of impacts related to the severity of drought. In addition, by highlighting past, current, and potential impacts, trends may become evident that will also be useful for planning purposes. These impacts highlight sectors, populations, or activities that are vulnerable to drought, and when evaluated with the probability of drought occurrence, they help identify varying levels of drought risk.

Task 3. Ranking impacts

After each working group has completed the checklist referred to in Task 2, the unchecked impacts can be omitted from further consideration. This new list will contain the relevant drought impacts for each location or activity. From this list, impacts should be ranked/prioritized by working group members. To be effective and equitable, the ranking should take into consideration concerns such as cost of mitigation actions, the areal extent of the impact, trends over time, public opinion, and fairness. Be aware that social and environmental impacts are often difficult to quantify. It is recommended that each working group complete a preliminary ranking of impacts. The drought task force and other work groups can participate in a plenary discussion of these rankings following the initial ranking iterations. It is recommended that a matrix be constructed (see an example in Table 4.1) to help rank or prioritize impacts. From this list of prioritized impacts, each working group should decide which impacts should be addressed and which can be deferred to a later time or stage in the planning process.

Task 4. Vulnerability assessment

Vulnerability assessment provides a framework for identifying the social, economic, and environmental causes of drought impacts. It bridges the gap between impact assessment and policy formulation by directing policy attention to underlying causes of vulnerability rather than to its result, the negative impacts, which follow triggering events such as drought. For example, the direct impact of precipitation deficiencies may be a reduction of crop yields. The underlying cause of this vulnerability, however, may be that some farmers did not use drought-resistant seeds or other management

TABLE 4.1

Drought Impact Decision Matrix

Impacts

Cost

Equally

Distributed?

Growing?

Public

Priority

Equitable

Recovery?

Impact

Rank

Source: FAO and NDMC, The Near East Drought Planning Manual: Guidelines for Drought Mitigation and Preparedness Planning, FAO, Rome, 2008.

FIGURE 4.4

An example of a simplified agricultural impact tree diagram. (From FAO and NDMC, The

Near East Drought Planning Manual: Guidelines for Drought Mitigation and Preparedness Planning, FAO, Rome, 2008.)

practices, because of concerns about their effectiveness or high cost, or some commitment to cultural beliefs. Another example might be associated with the vulnerability of a community's water supply. The vulnerability of their water supply system might be largely the result of the lack of expansion of the system to keep pace with population growth, aging infrastructure, or both. The solution to vulnerability reduction would be the development of new supply sources and/or the replacement of infrastructure. Therefore, for each of the identified impacts from Table 4.1, the members of the working group should ask why these impacts occurred. It is important to realize that a combination of factors might produce a given impact. It might be beneficial to visualize these causal relationships in some form of a tree diagram. Two examples are shown in Figures 4.4 and 4.5. Figure 4.4 demonstrates a typical agricultural example and Figure 4.5 a potential urban scenario. Depending on the level of analysis, this process can quickly become somewhat complicated. This is why it is necessary to have each working group composed of the appropriate mix of people with technical expertise.

The tree diagrams illustrate the complexity of understanding drought impacts. The two examples provided are not meant to be comprehensive or represent an actual scenario. Basically, their main purpose is to demonstrate that impacts must be examined from several perspectives to expose their true underlying causes. For this assessment, the lowest causes—the items in boldface on the tree diagrams—will be referred to as basal causes. These basal causes are the items that have the potential to be acted on to reduce the associated impact. Of course, some of these impact causes should not or cannot be acted on for a wide variety of reasons (discussed in Task 5).

FIGURE 4.5

An example of a simplified urban impact tree diagram. (Courtesy of National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.)

Task 5. Action identification

Mitigation is defined as actions taken in advance or in the early stages of drought that reduce the impacts of the event. Once drought impact priorities have been set and the corresponding underlying causes of vulnerability have been exposed, actions can be identified that are appropriate for reducing drought risk. The matrix lists the impact as well as the described basal causes of the impact. From this point, the working group should investigate what actions could be taken to address each of these basal causes. The following sequence of questions may be helpful in identifying potential actions:

  • • Can the basal cause be mitigated (can it be modified before a drought)? If yes, then how?
  • • Can the basal cause be responded to (can it be modified during or after a drought)? If so, then how?
  • • Is there some basal cause, or aspect of the basal cause, that cannot be modified and must be accepted as a drought-related risk for this activity or area?

As will be discussed (in Task 6), not all mitigation actions are appropriate in all cases. Many of the actions are more in the realm of short-term emergency response or crisis management, rather than long-term mitigation or risk management. Emergency response is an important component of drought planning, but should only be one part of a more comprehensive mitigation strategy.

Task 6. Developing the To-Do list

After the impacts, causes, and relevant potential actions have been identified, the next step is to determine the sequence of actions to take as part of the risk reduction planning exercise. This selection should be based on such concerns as feasibility, effectiveness, cost, and equity. Additionally, it will be important to review the impact tree diagrams when considering which groups of actions need to be considered together. For example, if you wanted to reduce crop losses by promoting the planting of a more drought-resistant crop, it would not be effective to educate farmers on the benefits of the new crop if markets do not currently exist or there are government incentives for continuing to grow the current crop. Government policies may often be out of sync with vulnerability reduction actions.

In choosing the appropriate actions, it might be helpful to ask some of the following questions:

  • • What are the cost/benefit ratios for the actions identified?
  • • Which actions are considered to be feasible and appropriate by the general public?
  • • Which actions are sensitive to the local environment (i.e., sustainable practices)?
  • • Are actions addressing the right combination of causes to adequately reduce the relevant impact?
  • • Are actions addressing short-term and long-term solutions?
  • • Which actions would equitably represent the needs of affected individuals and groups?

This process has the potential to lead to the identification of effective and appropriate drought risk reduction activities that will reduce future drought impacts.

Completion of risk analysis

Following Task 6, the risk analysis is completed at this point in the planning process. Remember, this is a planning process, so it will be necessary to periodically reevaluate drought risk and the various mitigation actions identified. Step 10 in the mitigation planning process is associated with evaluating, testing, and revising the drought plan. Following a severe drought episode would be an appropriate time to revisit mitigation actions to evaluate their effectiveness in association with an analysis of lessons learned.

 
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