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New approaches to flood risk management: The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance
Thursday, October 18, 2018

Written by Michael Szoenyi, MSc, MAS Natural Hazards Management ETH, Flood Resilience Program, Zurich Insurance Company, Switzerland

Increased flooding around the world means a greater need for practical ways to address flood-risk management. In 2013, Zurich Insurance Group established a multi-sectoral Flood Resilience Alliance, bringing together private sector, academic and non-governmental institutions. The principles which underpin the alliance are: an interdisciplinary approach, long-term and adaptive programming including flexible funding, a focus on vulnerable communities and evidence-based practice.

National and global factors are important for determining what happens locally, but flood impacts are felt most immediately at the community level. Working with communities, we can show a tangible impact on people's lives and learn from best practices to shape policy at a higher level. We document and share the learning and case studies from our work (and beyond) through our knowledge-sharing web portal.

Our research shows that every $1 invested in prevention saves $5 in future losses[1], yet only 13% of disaster risk reduction (DRR) spending goes into pre-event resilience and ex ante risk reduction[2]. Our definition of resilience is “the ability of a system, community or society to pursue its social, ecological and economic development and growth objectives, while managing its disaster risk over time in a mutually reinforcing way.” Our aim is to increase investment—social, political and financial—into pre-event resilience building across this rich spectrum with many opportunities beyond infrastructure.

Working on resilience, including through our Post-Event Review Capacity (PERC) methodology, has shown us that flood resilience is not just about grey protection infrastructure. For example, most recently in Houston, where flood protection infrastructure was overwhelmed for many reasons. We need to include alternative ways to build resilience and protect communities and their livelihoods and assets. Budget and land use constraints mean we need to explore green infrastructure options. We also need to consider “soft” solutions, including risk awareness and risk-averse behavior, and social factors such as community cohesion.

Measurement helps us to assess and demonstrate the impact of good innovative practices. In the absence of any internationally-recognised empirical method for measuring resilience, the alliance developed a framework and software called Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities. This approach analyses the resilience of a community against the five capitals (social, financial, human, natural and physical) and the four Rs (rapidity, redundancy, robustness and resourcefulness), ensuring we look beyond traditional approaches of flood-risk reduction.

By working with communities to analyse their sources of resilience and to implement and document best practice, the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance also seeks to improve public awareness and dialogue around flood resilience.



[1] Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance White Paper: Making communities more flood resilient: The Role of cost-benefit analysis and other decision support tools in Disaster Risk Reduction. White Paper, Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, 2014

[2] Kellett, J. & Caravani, A. 2013, ‘Financing disaster risk reduction: A 20-year story of international aid,’ ODI and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery at the World Bank, London/ Washington






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