Foundations for change: Lessons from Year 2 of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance project

Phase II of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance was launched in July 2018. In Year 2, from July 2019 – June 2020, Alliance organisations started to implement resilience programming in communities and move forward with influencing policy and spending in the flood resilience, disaster risk reduction, disaster risk management, and climate change adaptation arenas.

Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance Phase 2 Country Level Engagement
Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance Phase 2 Country Level Engagement

In this report we review the progress made towards Alliance objectives over the course of Year 2, where we stand relative to our goals, and what we have learned about building flood and multihazard resilience as a result of grappling with the COVID-19 crisis.

The information included in this annual report has been gathered from the second year of outcomes-based monitoring and reporting by all Alliance organisations, complemented by interviews with Alliance members.

Summary of change

Advocacy

As of July 2020, the Alliance has both influenced USD 243 million of commitments and spending on flood resilience and improved policies and policy guidelines and tools in sub-national, national, and global spaces. (This figure has been weighted by Alliance contribution to account for the fact that spending ‘wins’ often result from the efforts of multiple stakeholders and coalitions.)

Community programming

Although we have not yet seen measurable increases in resilience as it is still early in the programme, there is some anecdotal evidence of better community-led DRR and preparedness practices. Because projects have been co-designed with local stakeholders, Alliance teams have reported increased community and government interest in flood resilience. In all of the communities we work in, application of the FRMC guides comprehensive research to understand the community context and resilience gaps. This knowledge then forms the platform to engage communities and local government in co-generating a broad range of activities and strategies for building resilience while also addressing community priorities and needs. This is resulting in high buy-in to Alliance programmes, as evidenced by growing community and government participation in community programmes.

Our Bangladesh work provides a clear example of how the Alliance approach facilitates participation and collaboration from local stakeholders. Upon completing the FRMC baseline study, Concern Bangladesh shared baseline results with community groups. With support from Concern Bangladesh and the local project partner, Assistance for Social Organization and Development (ASOD), community representatives met with the sub-national office of the Department of Public Health Engineering representative (DPHE), the government department responsible for drinking water & sanitation, to share FRMC findings about community vulnerability on water issues in relation to flooding events. Based on this, DPHE and the community representatives jointly developed a plan to improve resilience in drinking water in the vulnerable communities.

COVID-19 challenges and opportunities

Alliance spending and policy achievements significantly slowed in the second half of Year 2 as governments, donors, and other key policy stakeholders shifted their attention to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has pushed both the Alliance and the Z Zurich Foundation (the Foundation) to recognise that, by limiting programme operations, COVID-19 potentially threatens our ability to achieve the targets we set at the beginning of Phase II. However, rather than consider reducing those targets, we are instead asking how much additional time we might need to achieve the same objectives while providing continuity to both programmes and implementing organisation staff.

We have also found that COVID-19, while slowing Alliance progress in some areas, has provided opportunity in others. Alliance teams have pivoted to align their advocacy efforts with the pandemic situation and provide policy stakeholders from the local to global levels with advisory support around COVID-19 response and recovery in the context of compound risk, multi-hazard resilience, and ‘Building Back Better’. Alliance messaging was incorporated into the UN HELP principles document on COVID-19 and disasters, an effort early in the pandemic that is shaping UN guidance to the broader UN system, governments, and practitioners on COVID-19 and compound risks.

Alliance partners have received considerable media attention for their insights around building resilience at the intersection of COVID-19 and flood risk and leveraging the COVID-19 recovery process to ‘build back better’. Research conducted by the Bangladesh and Nepal teams on the local impacts of COVID-19 have provided strong evidence to advocate for greater assistance to impacted areas. Alliance partners have reported that government stakeholders have been engaging in discussions on how to best manage the changing risk landscape, in particular adapting emergency shelter practices to incorporate physical distancing considerations and maintaining Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) best practices during floods.

Emergent learning

The role of knowledge in resilience

In Year 2, the Alliance spent considerable time generating knowledge to share with decision-makers to influence policy, spending, and practice changes. We saw clearly documented success, as discussed in section 2.0, particularly at the country level where teams have: •

  • Connected advocacy, knowledge generation, and dissemination to existing opportunities. Teams have tailored Alliance knowledge to fulfil stakeholder needs and priorities.
  • Conducted research or used the FRMC to provide locally contextualised quantitative evidence to ground policy recommendations. Alliance teams have spent considerable time and resources conducting research, generating research products, and presenting that research to key stakeholders to influence change.
  • Demonstrated long-term success of community actions to back up advocacy asks. Alliance organisations involved in Phase I of the programme have been able to gain considerable traction around resilience projects and strategies they implemented in Phase I during Phase II.

 

FRMC as a foundational approach for building resilience

The FRMC is a key approach within the Alliance for generating and enabling uptake of knowledge. The FRMC supports measurement of flood resilience through its 5C-4R framework. Over the past year its role as a foundational support tool for the resilience building process has manifested in manifold ways including:

  • As a decision support tool for both community programming and policy change, the FRMC generates data on community resilience gaps and strengths. This data helps to generate resilience strategies and solutions by allowing users to connect knowledge generated to gaps through a systematic exploration of: (1) how gaps and strengths interact, (2) entry points for action, and (3) co-benefits of particular activities across a range of sectors to build resilience. Donors, organisations, and governments are starting to see the value of utilising the FRMC approach to aid community programming. 
  • As a capacity development tool, the FRMC cultivates a foundation for shared understanding of flood resilience, thus providing a platform for relationship building with and between community members and local government. Specifically, the tool fosters systems thinking which is fundamental to resilience and which supports informed decision-making. The capacity building functionality of the FRMC has resulted from an underlying and enabling Alliance structure that prioritises responsive internal learning to close knowledge gaps.

 

Although the FRMC is resource and time intensive, the success resulting from its use is illustrative of the importance of investing in a structured learning process to aid resilience programming. Community activities generated through the FRMC process may appear similar to business as usual, however the way in which they are selected by communities is not. By leading implementing organisations and local stakeholders through a structured learning process, the FRMC concretises the otherwise ‘fuzzy’ concept of resilience and builds their understanding. Their capacity to engage in and sustain the right resilience choices is also greatly enhanced.

Resilience during crisis

The Alliance was founded with a focus on flood resilience and has intentionally resisted shifting to a multi-hazard focus. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognised the need to quickly adapt our practices in the context of compound risk to ensure that flood risk continues to be recognised and planned for even as attention globally shifted to the pandemic.

We also realised that our flood resilience knowledge, processes, and tools, because of their foundation in systems-thinking, could be leveraged to address current compound risk conditions - both flood and disease risk - and build multi-hazard resilience.

All Alliance teams mobilised rapidly to assess stakeholder needs and opportunities to engage those stakeholders in the new COVID-19 context. Our advocacy teams conducted context analyses to identify key information gaps faced by governments, help them manage the crisis, and bring light to compound risk issues. By supporting government in their COVID-19 response and recovery, we are also maintaining relationships critical for improving flood resilience policy in the long-term.

Alliance community programming teams have applied relevant FRMC data to identify pandemic-related resilience gaps and generate evidence on systemic risk related to those resilience gaps. In particular, teams have been able to repurpose knowledge of community demographics, health systems access and WASH, livelihoods, risk awareness, and communications systems and channels to address the emergent risk from COVID-19 at the local through global levels. Finally, community-based groups formed or strengthened by Alliance teams have pivoted to provide their communities and local government with much needed information related to COVID-19.

Resources

For more details on some of these achievements and lessons learned see the Alliance Portal to download the Full Report.

Click here for the Year 1 Learning Report.

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