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Integrated Flood Management Tools Series - Community-based Flood Management (Issue 4, May 2017)

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  1. Community participation has been – at least in principle – for more than 30 years at the core of any development policy and emergency intervention involving people, based on the assumption that a “top-down” approach is not adequate for its implementation. Both development policy and emergency intervention should be coupled by a grassroots or bottom-up approach (see Chapter 2). This is also true in any policy/intervention in flood management. It is an important step towards enabling communities to be recognized as active actors in this context and to help themselves in this regard and sustain those efforts. It is a process whereby the communities concerned function and contribute to perform a predetermined activity as a cohesive group, while recognizing and enhancing the differences within them.

  2. Each year, there are 50–300 inland floods worldwide, impacting an estimated 520 million people and causing as many as 25 000 deaths (Gore, 2010). The worst natural floods in history, in terms of loss of life, have been those along Chinese rivers: the Yellow River has killed more people than any other natural phenomenon (between 2.5 and 3.7 million in 1931; between 0.9 and 2 million in 1887; and between 0.5 and 0.8 million in 1938). Over the past 4 000 years, it has flooded 1 593 times (Allin et al., 2010).

  3. The worst recent natural floods were the Tamil Nadu floods in India in 2015 (more than 400 deaths); the Kashmir region floods in 2014, meaning 400–500 deaths in India and Pakistan (Burke et al.,2014); the Balkans floods in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and eastern Croatia in 2014 (almost 100 deaths); and the northern India floods in 2013 (5 700 deaths, while damage to bridges and roads left almost 73 000 people trapped in various places, according to UN-SPIDER (2013); the Greater La Plata floods (Argentina) in 2013 (almost 100 deaths); the Krymsk flood in the Russian Federation in 2012 (almost 200 deaths), the floods in the Democratic Republic of Korea in 2012 (more than 200 deaths), the Nigeria floods in 2012 (almost 100 deaths); the South-East Asian floods in 2011 (1 800 deaths); Tropical Storm Washy floods in the Philippines in 2011 (1 300 deaths); and the Rio de Janeiro floods in Brazil in 2011 (900 deaths).

  4. There are two ways to protect lives and properties from flooding:
    — Keep floodwater away from people (mainly through structural measures);
    — Keep people away from floodwater (mainly through non-structural measures).

  5. Structural measures are physical constructions to reduce or avoid possible impacts of floods or the application of engineering techniques to achieve hazard-resistance and resilience in structures or systems. Common structural measures for disaster risk reduction include dams, flood levies or ocean wave barriers. Non-structural measures are measures not involving physical construction that use knowledge, practice or agreement to reduce risks and impacts, in particular through policies and laws, public awareness-raising, training and education. Common non-structural measures include building codes, land-use planning laws and their enforcement, research and assessment, information resources and public awareness programmes (UNISDR, 2009).

  6. People can play a key role in the success of many non-structural measures such as awareness generation, popular knowledge valorisation, information dissemination, organizing people, warning and evacuation. These non-structural measures can also contribute to reducing the cost of structural measures (sometimes making them unnecessary or ensuring better monitoring of their impact), such as constructing local flood defences or contributing to design and maintenance of drainage systems.

  7. People/communities are no longer seen as recipients; rather, they have become critical stakeholders who have a major role to play in the management of community flood management programmes. Community involvement is more effective when people are fully conscious, empowered and trained. It is important, therefore, that people be provided with an opportunity to play a more active role and that the government or public officials facilitate and provide catalytic support for community-based flood-management programmes.

  8. Integrated flood management (IFM) seeks practical approaches to maximize the net benefits from floods through related development activities within the river basin as a whole. At the same time, it aims to minimize loss of lives due to floods. Community activities provide essential opportunities for water resources development within the context of integrated water resources management (IWRM) and IFM. Benefits are derived at various levels of social and economic activities through agriculture activities and land-use planning. Since a community is comprised of various sub-groups, these activities contribute to coordinating their interests and maximizing the benefits they derive by building consensus within the community.

  9. In the frame of IFM, the sharing and exchange of data, information, knowledge and experience among experts and the general public, policymakers and managers, researchers and voluntary organizations, upstream and downstream users, all co-basin states and various institutions in a transparent manner is an essential ingredient for consensus-building and conflict management and for the implementation of a chosen strategy. Moreover, transboundary sharing and exchange of flood information is essential for implementation of flood-preparedness plans in downstream regions (Cap-Net UNDP, 2009).

  10. Engaging the community throughout the project cycle of flood management (assessment, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation) is also a prerequisite to ensuring that the measures undertaken are equitable and effective and that the needs and priorities of the entire affected population are met in the long term (Oluseyi et al., 2011). Hence, community participation becomes essential for each stage of flood management, i.e. prevention of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from, flood disasters.

  11. The impact of floods on a community is based, among other things, on the historical experience and traditional backgrounds and features of communities. Communities are usually composed of many societal actors more or less firmly bonded to each other and which pursue interests more or less differentiated. We can find cohesive communities, but also cohesive groups inside non-cohesive communities (even with levels of conflict more or less high inside). In the absence of organized community participation (even at the level of specific groups), most of the activities are carried out at individual or household level, driven by individual necessity.

  12. If we meet specific active groups in a non-cohesive community, most of the activities will be driven by groups’ necessities (maybe in conflict). In both cases, such activities have limited effectiveness and are insufficient in the long run to protect individuals and the community at large from adverse impacts of floods. On the other hand, if activities based on individual/group initiatives are pooled together (seeking convergences and mitigating any conflicts) and carried out in an organized manner at community level, vulnerability and risks arising from floods can be substantially reduced (WMO, 2004).

  13. Community activities to enhance participation are based on five factors:
    — The community’s features;
    — The community’s needs;
    — Effectiveness and efficiency of activities;
    — Practicability of implementation;
    — Building local social capital.

  14. Recognizing and improving organization or organizing directly effective community participation for flood management can occur in many ways. This Tool provides general and specific guidelines to organize/strengthen activities effectively to ensure community participation at various levels of decision-making within the framework of IFM. It is intended to address local leaders and disaster managers on how to organize/valorize people’s participation/community activities and strengthen flood management at the local level. Several issues are also covered in order to facilitate the creation of the institutional frameworks necessary to enhance community participation (and/or to valorize existing networks). These are mostly related to the engagement of flood managers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society in its broader sense, entrepreneurs, and policymakers in harmonizing community activities with other development and natural disaster policies.

  15. The Tool is divided into three parts:
    — People/community structure and participation;
    — Organizing community participation;
    — Conclusion and recommendations.

  16. The Tool presents community participation in sequential order of the disaster risk reduction cycle, which includes prevention or mitigation as well as preparedness for, response to, and recovery from, flood disasters (see Figure 1).

  17. Chapter 2 – People/community structure and participation – provides the background information required to valorize societal actors and organize effective community participation. Various natural, socioeconomic and institutional factors help to understand a community’s vulnerability to flood and the basic needs involved, as well as the necessity for community activities and local-level institutions.

  18. Chapter 3 – Organizing/strengthening community participation – discusses the various steps to be taken towards the organization of community-based activities in flood management.
    Pragmatic approaches for resource maximization, participation and involvement, motivation for community participation, conflict mitigation, institutional linkages and adaptation to climate change are documented, together with the steps necessary for implementation.

  19. Chapter 4 – Conclusions and recommendations – documents issues related to sustainability and continuous improvement of community participation.

  20. Additionally, case studies related to community participation are listed in Annex IV for further reference.