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Project Launch of 3 year research project at SEI “WASH and RESCUE”

October 18, 2011

Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Launches WASH and RESCUE: a 3-yr research project to find solutions saving lives and improving human and environmental health through integrating disaster risk reduction in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene sponsored by Swedish MSB


The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) has awarded SEI a research project to build resilience against disasters in cities, with a particular focus  on the crucial role played by water, sanitation and hygiene improvements. The project will make use of experience from recent and recurring disasters and floods for example in Haiti, Mozambique, India and Sweden. For example, in areas with recurring floods such as Mozambique, it has become evident that there are benefits involved in integrating disaster risks into development which requires new thinking. With adequate infrastructure in the right place, requiring adequate zoning, construction permits, (urban planning) and enforcement of regulations then the impact of a flood in an urban area will not have the same disastrous impact on human well being and societal development.

Natural hazards do not necessarily lead to disasters, for example in 2010 two earthquakes of similar magnitude shock, Haiti (magnitude 7.0) in January and Chile in February (magnitude 8.8), but only about 3% of the lives were lost in Chile (700) compared to Haiti (250,000). One of the main reasons for this was Chile’s more advanced disaster risk reduction in terms of seismic engineering design and enforced building codes put in place as a lesson learnt from previous earthquakes. This illustrates how natural hazards, like extreme rainfall (flooding) and earthquakes, translate to disasters only when human society is unprepared for them and where infrastructure and planning has not been designed to withstand or buffer against them, and if society cannot respond adequately. The poorest populations are almost always the most seriously affected. Losses from natural disasters have averaged nearly 15 percent of the GDP in the world’s poorest countries in the past two decades, contributing to a poverty trap. Haiti is a sad example, with years of conflicts, political instability and recurrent disasters such as cyclones, floods and mudslides which have weakened Haiti’s already low capacity to invest in the long-term safety of its citizens, making it difficult to keep up progression of society.

Urban development in low and middle income countries is often increasing disaster risk because of the rapid urbanization, with maladapted infrastructure, structures and goods, in areas exposed to cyclones, floods, sea level rise, etc. where poor people move in from the countryside seeking employment and settling rapidly and unplanned on marginal lands. In effect many cities are in effect aimed for disaster. Poor local governance may be to blame, where local and central governments are unable to deliver adequate services, support and security. With more and more people living in cities, humanitarian responses are increasingly needed there, however they often do not have the adequate capacity to do so. And climate change will further complicate existing problems.

In spite of this, many organisations and decision makers do not take disaster risk reduction (DRR) seriously although most readily acknowledge the need. Implementation of these policies tends to be postponed for long periods until a disaster occurs, which only then kick starts preventive activities. Our research will look into how investment in practical, long-term risk-reducing efforts will increase resilience to natural disasters and reduce the pressure on humanitarian responses.

The research carried out in this Swedish MSB project will be for example relevant for cities engaging in the UNISDR campaign ‘Resilient cities’ where one aim is to encourage ‘Building Back Better’ and where responsible mayors take on the political leadership aiming for safer cities. Providing resilient water and sanitation services, which can cope with natural hazards like flooding, drought, cyclones and earthquakes is essential. Also, the research will look at how best to support the capacity of urban communities to mobilize themselves to learn about and improve the infrastructure systems – an often forgotten aspect. Although globally the disaster risk community is getting organized, the local level has not yet benefitted from this progress and there is very little knowledge available of what is required to enable and encourage improvements to reduce risk.

Several partners are involved in this project including:

1. Kristianstad City, Rescue Service, Sweden

2. Maputo Province, Mozambique (CLASS-A)

3. Bihar, India (WASH Institute)

4. Haiti Government – DINEPA

5. Emergency Shelter Unit (Formens Hus Foundation and IKEA Foundation)

Furthermore, the research project will benefit from engagement with different initiatives:
1) Swedish Water House (SIWI) Cluster Group for Water and Disaster Risk Reduction
2) Mistra-SWECIA at SEI, Stockholm Resilience Center
3) Swedish VAKA network
4) Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) working group on emergency sanitation
5) Stoutenberg Group (ACF, Oxfam, WASTE, Red Cross, MSF)
6) SEI’s network of sustainable sanitation knowledge nodes
7) UNISDR: Resilient cities campaign
8 ) Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR ).

Contact Info:

SEI Communications –

SEI Research –

Stockholm Environment Institute is an independent international research institute. The Institute has established a reputation for rigorous and objective scientific analysis in the field of environment and development. SEI aims to bring about change for sustainable development by bridging science and policy.

This is a copy of an SEI Press release on 13 OCT 2011, International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction. Available at Preventionweb

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