Ecosystem-Based DRR for Sustainable Development

Touhidur Rahman Tuhin

Nazmunnaher Nipa

An ecosystem is a place where living and non-living organisms can interact with each other. It’s a dynamic complex of plants, animals and other living communities and their non-living environment interacting as functional units. Healthy ecosystems are comprised of interacting and often diverse plant, animal and other species, and along with this species and underlying genetic diversity, constitute the broader array of biodiversity. Biodiversity is the combination of life- forms and their interactions with one another, and with the physical environment, which has made Earth habitable for people. Ecosystems provide the necessities of life, offer protection from natural disasters and disease and are the foundation for human culture.

Ecosystems, such as wetlands, forests, and coastal systems, can provide cost-effective natural buffers against hazard events and the impacts of climate change. Human well-being depends on ecosystems that also enable people to withstand, cope with, and recover from disasters. There is a two-way relationship between poverty and disasters, with poor communities being subject to a greater number of disasters, especially in areas where ecosystems are degrading. Ecosystem degradation, especially of forests and peatlands, reduces the ability of natural systems to sequester carbon, increasing the incidence and impact of climate change, and climate change-related disasters.

Ecosystem degradation is undermining this link due to several human activities, mainly- land use and land cover changes, or changes to habitats due to conversion to croplands and urbanization; over-exploitation of resources or higher demand for ecosystem goods than can be sustained, such as overfishing; climate change impacts are affecting ecosystems and exacerbating environmental degradation; invasive alien species are introduced species that compete and encroach vigorously upon native species, with the potential to degrade ecosystem services and cause severe economic damage; pollution, from chemical waste and agricultural inputs, has severely degraded many ecosystem services, and continues to act as a major driver of change.

Healthy ecosystems both reduce vulnerability to hazards by supporting livelihoods while acting as physical buffers to reduce the impact of hazard events. This “natural infrastructure” is in many cases equally effective in reducing the effect of the hazardous incident, and is often less expensive than human-built infrastructure. Disasters also hamper development goals, and yet few governments, donors and development organizations adopt a precautionary approach in the design and management of projects, and fewer still recognize the role and value of ecosystem management for reducing disaster risk.

Healthy and diverse ecosystems are more resilient to extreme weather events. Intact ecosystems are less likely to be affected by, and more likely to recover from the impacts of extreme events. However, disasters can affect ecosystems through habitat loss and species mortality. Poorly designed post-disaster clean-up efforts can also negatively impact ecosystems, with negative consequences on progress toward achieving the objectives of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and Millennium Development Goals. 

Ecosystem-based disaster management refers to decision-making activities that are taken into consideration current and future human livelihood needs and biophysical requirements of ecosystems, and recognize the role of ecosystems in supporting communities to prepare for, cope with, and recover from disaster situations. Sustainable ecosystem management is based on equitable stakeholder involvement in land management decisions, land-use trade-offs and long-term goal setting. These are central elements to reducing underlying risk factors for disasters and climate change impacts. Ecosystem-based DRR for sustainable development includes- Ecosystem management, disaster risk management, planning, adaptation/mitigation of climate change etc.

Some valuable Steps for integrating management with disaster risk reduction:

In the Pre-disaster, Prevention, mitigation and preparedness stages should ensure that proper environmental practices are followed that value and restore ecosystems, especially wetlands, coastal ecosystems and forests on steep slopes as natural buffers. Specific projects may include wetland restoration, tree planting, and restoring coastal open spaces. 

In the Post-disaster, Response, recovery and rebuilding stages progress from quick relief to save lives too short and medium-term planning of housing and livelihood solutions. Principle environmental concerns must have integrated into each of these stages, following the goal of “reducing the underlying risk factors”. 

Core environmental considerations can be included in contingency plans and standard disaster response procedures to avoid the potential damage that can be incurred and impede long-term recovery. Mostly included pollution minimization, effective waste management, Rehabilitate damaged ecosystems with native species when suitable and prevent the spread of invasive alien species, particular provisions should be made for women, children and others. Rapid Environmental Assessments are useful to assess the environmental situation post-disaster in a quick and low-cost manner for more effective immediate and long-term recovery planning. 

Watershed management:

Watershed management is necessary for agricultural, environmental and socio-economic development. The physical and biological resources of watersheds provide goods and services to people including water protection, attenuation of disasters by regulating runoff, protection of coastal resources and fisheries, protection of the environment and protection of productive lowlands. Watershed management programs need to build on existing environmental initiatives.

Forest management

It is required to balance the demand for forest products with the ecological requirements of forests, while ensuring other Core benefits for livelihoods, notably by stabilizing steep slopes and reducing soil erosion. Although listed separately here, forest management has often integrated into watershed management. – Protect and improve the forest environment through increased vegetation. 

Coastal zone management

 Replant coastal forests and restore mangroves, which have taken up as a part of the environmental recovery process; – Restore and maintain the health of the coral reefs and seagrass beds, through reducing pressure from pollution, overfishing, sedimentation, etc.; – Maintain and/or develop mangrove belts as buffer zones for coasts and coral reefs; – Protect wetlands and watersheds to minimize sedimentation. Threats to ecosystems are monitored- Soil erosion, overuse of fertilizers, desertification, industrial logging, fragmentation of habitats, slash and burn agriculture, conversion of ecosystems for urbanization and agriculture, climate change impacts etc. 

Need to ensure that land-use planning is not damaging to ecosystems and human well-being. Ensure that existing legislation is following and enforced, especially related to zoning and land-use planning. For example, concern coastal buffer zones and proper road-building in mountainous areas to avoid landslides. Disaster risk reduction planning should include coordination with environmental ministries, in addition to disaster management and land use planning authorities.

Authors are Associate Editor at The Environment Review

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