Tag Archives: risk

Understanding land as a resource for global investment

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

Tanzania Independence Monument: Sold.  As part of Oxfam's 2013 Global Day of Action to stop land grabs, activists placed "sold" signs next to iconic landmarks all over the world to protest land grabs in developing countries. (image credit: By Oxfam East Africa, via Wikimedia Commons)

As part of Oxfam’s 2013 Global Day of Action to stop land grabs, activists placed “sold” signs next to iconic landmarks all over the world to protest land grabs in developing countries (image credit: Oxfam East Africa, via Wikimedia Commons)

On 16th November, an article in The Guardian reported how the Tanzanian government was breaking its promise to 40,000 Masai pastoralists. It claimed that the government was going ahead with plans to evict the Masai people and turn their ancestral land into a reserve for the royal family of Dubai to hunt big game. Within one week, 18,000 people had signed a petition run by the campaigning community, Avaaz, against the proposal. As the online petition gained supporters, President Jakaya Kikwete tweeted: “There has never been, nor will there ever be, any plan by the government of Tanzania to evict the Masai people from their ancestral land.”

In a following article on 25th November, Ole Kulinga, an elder and traditional leader from Loliondo, the affected district, said: “Without our land, we are nothing and this commitment from the president lets us all breathe a sigh of relief. But hunters want this land more than anything and we will only feel safe when we have permanent rights to our land in writing.” A community leader, Samwell Nangire expressed caution, noting that Kikwete said on Twitter that there had never been a plan to evict the Maasai. Nangire stated that wasn’t true.

Since 2008, we have been exposed to countless stories reporting on “the global land rush” and “land grabs.” From rising food prices, to growing demand of biofuel crops, investors are taking an interest in agricultural land as never before. In a Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers paper, based on her Plenary Lecture at the 2013 RGS-IBG Annual Conference, Tania Murray Li addresses the question, what is land? Entitled “What is land? Assembling a resource for global investment,” the article stresses land’s materiality, its multiple affordances and the quality it shares with other resources: its intrinsically social character. In order to address the “so-called global land grab or land rush,” she examines the inscription devices that have made land into a resource available for global investment.

Drawing on research among indigenous highlanders in Indonesia, Li states that, for the purpose of analysis, the English word ‘land’ carries cultural baggage that needs to be made strange – not all peoples have this word, not everyone “lumps together the same set of material substances under one label, nor do they assemble material and social relations into equivalent forms.” In her research area, it was only around 1990, when a new element was added (cacao), that land started to be treated like a commodity. This required the indigenous highlanders to invent a term, lokasi, for a socio-material entity that did not exist before (Li later adds that most of this cacao was later killed by an incurable virus).

Land’s material emplacement means that, usually, the people located within the geographical area will have a say on its use, be it through democratic processes or the exercise of force, such as resisting eviction. Assembling farmland as a resource for global investment uses the work of multiple actors drawing on discourses, inscription devices and modes of calculation already available, such as maps, grids, surveys and images. These devices, when pulled together, may produce an expanded capacity to envision “under-utilised” land as a globally important asset capable of producing food, profits and reducing poverty.

However, if the anticipated high returns do not materialize – licenses or funds may not being secured, or the intended crop does not grow well – investors may lose interest. The land would still be there, but it would no longer be a global ‘resource’ attracting investment. Land would therefore be considered in new and different ways.

books_iconT. M. Li 2014. What is land? Assembling a resource for global investment. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 39(4): 589–602.

60-world2Tanzania accused of backtracking over sale of Masai’s ancestral land. The Guardian, November 16

60-world2Tanzania’s Masai ‘breathe sigh of relief’ after president vows never to evict them. The Guardian, November 25

Let’s get a proper grip on flooding

By Edmund Penning-Rowsell, Middlesex University, London

Flooded Riverside Worcester 2007. Photo Credit: Philip Haling under CC BY-SA 2.0

Flooded Riverside Worcester 2007. Photo Credit: Philip Haling under CC BY-SA 2.0

The floods in winter 2013 show the damage and disruption such events can cause. Spurred on by this flooding the government is moving to secure ‘affordable’ flood insurance arrangements, after a bruising ‘battle’ with the insurance industry and the prospect that the scheme will be vetoed in Europe. Flooding remains highly political!

But the total flood risk that England and Wales is facing has been exaggerated by the Environment Agency for over a decade, as this paper shows (Penning-Rowsell, 2014a). I am not saying that this country cannot suffer from serious flood events (as in 1947, 1953 and 2007). What I do say is that the average economic losses from fluvial and coastal flood are being exaggerated some 3-4 fold by the current national assessments, and that this is not a good basis for wise evidence-based decision making.

The annual average losses are not over £1bn as suggested by the Environment Agency (in NAFRA 2002), reaffirmed by Foresight in 2004, repeated again in the Agency’s Long Term Investment Strategy (LTIS, in 2009), cited in the National Audit Office report in 2011, and repeated once more in the Adaptation Sub-Committee’s 2012 report. The real annual average economic loss value is more like one quarter of that sum: my thinking is that flood depths are being exaggerated, as is the likelihood of existing flood defences being breached.

And the 2013/14 flooding supports this argument. Figure 1 shows that the years 2012 and 2013/14 are indeed above the average, but that the mean of £0.146 billion is actually lower than the mean for the years 1998 to 2010 (£0.147 billion). This is because the year 2011 saw relatively few floods, with a total flood insured loss of no more than £52 million (Penning-Rowsell, 2014b). Grossing up to total losses we get total annual average loss/compensation of c. £0.294bn. Again this is less than one quarter of the figure recently quoted in the Climate Change Risk Assessment.

Figure 1.  Insured flood losses to residential properties in England and Wales 1998-2014

Figure 1.
Insured flood losses to residential properties in England and Wales 1998-2014

The results of this research should help the Environment Agency improve its evidence base for the decisions that it has to make: better data equals better decisions. But for this we need a radical overhaul of the Agency’s methodology and data sources: what we have now is simply not good enough (as many involved privately admit). The results also need proper peer review – hitherto minimal – and a willingness to accept that risk may be much lower than those oft-quoted figures that appear now to have become embedded. We want flood risk to be taken seriously, but not at the expense of rigour and transparency.

About the author: Edmund Penning-Rowsell OBE is a Professor of Geography at the Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University, London. Edmund is currently Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Middlesex University and is currently a member of the Defra/Environment Agency Research Sponsoring Board. He was awarded the O.B.E by the Queen for services to flood risk management in May 2006.

 Penning-Rowsell, E. C. (2014), A realistic assessment of fluvial and coastal flood risk in England and Wales. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12053

 Penning-Rowsell, E C 2014b The 2013/14 floods: what do they tell us about overall flood risk in England and Wales? Circulation. Forthcoming.

60-world2.jpg (15×15) DEFRA 2013 Water Bill Flood Insurance: Flood Re – Finance and Accountability (pdf)

60-world2.jpg (15×15) Ross, T New flood insurance tax ‘could breach EU law’ The Telegraph 26 August 2013

No change from climate change: island vulnerability

Eroding shoreline in Samoa, the Pacific (photograph: Ilan Kelman)

Eroding shoreline in Samoa, the Pacific (photograph: Ilan Kelman)

by Ilan Kelman

Climate change is often touted as humanity’s biggest development challenge. Low-lying, tropical islands are particularly highlighted as potentially experiencing future devastation. How accurate is this rhetoric?

No doubt exists that many islanders are suffering under climate change. Residents of the Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea have been forced to move as sea-level rise encroaches on their villages.

Many other island locations are also experiencing climate change impacts, but in tandem with other development challenges which have existed for decades. Also in the Pacific, Kiribati is severely threatened by sea-level rise. But the people there have long been trying to solve other devastating problems including urban planning, land use, and water resources.

Focusing on climate change problems has the unfortunate consequence of distracting from other development challenges. In particular, the physical hazard of climate change to islands and islanders is often emphasised, tending to promote technocratic responses for only climate change. Integrated approaches focusing on island peoples, communities, and livelihoods are frequently sidelined.

The fundamental question is why inequality and power relations have left many island communities with few options for responding to climate change. That is the same as the long-standing questions about why inequality and power relations have left many island communities unable to tackle the root causes of their multiple vulnerabilities.

The difficulty is not so much addressing the hazard of climate change per se. Instead, it is understanding why islanders often continue to be denied the resources and options to address climate change themselves–just as with the other development challenges that have pervaded for decades.

In that regard, climate change brings little to the islands that is new.

The author: Dr. Ilan Kelman is Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO).

books_icon Kelman I 2013 No change from climate change: vulnerability and small island developing states The Geographical Journal DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12019

60-world2Secretariat of the Pacific Community 2013 Mangroves in the Marshall Islands to protect local community (Press release) Scoop 24 January

Avalanche! How Trees Hold the Secrets of the Past…

Jen Dickie

Stob Ghabhar, Scotland. This image was taken from the Geograph project collection. See this photograph's page on the Geograph website for the photographer's contact details. The copyright on this image is owned by Richard Webb and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Last month, tragedy struck in the Scottish Highlands when an avalanche swept four climbers to their deaths. The experienced mountaineers were descending the Bidean Nam Bian peak on the southern side of Glencoe when the avalanche hit, causing them to fall 1000ft (c. 300m) before being buried under dense snow.  In a report for The Independent, Richard Osley describes how the tragedy occurred shortly after the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) issued a warning that human-triggered avalanches were likely in the Glencoe area and the risk was rated as ‘considerable’.  The SAIS reported that on the day of the avalanche, there did not appear to be much depth of snow on the hills of Glencoe, however, there were areas of “mainly hard, unstable windslab” that overlay “a persistent softer weaker layer”; in these conditions more compact blocks of snow can separate from the surrounding snow resulting in a ‘Slab Avalanche’, this type of avalanche is responsible for the majority of avalanche-related fatalities.

As the popularity of the winter sports industry grows, there is increasing pressure on scientists to predict where and when avalanche events will occur.  Dedicated research centres such as the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research are continually improving our understanding of avalanche formation and dynamics and therefore providing increasingly reliable warning services, however, they highlight that we are still unable to accurately predict “why, when and where an avalanche will be released”.

In an article for Area, Mircea Voiculescu and Alexandru Onaca describe how they have applied dendrogeomorphological methods to assess snow avalanches in the Sinaia ski region in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains.  By combining climatological and nivological (physical properties of the snow) analyses with information on disturbances recorded in tree growth, they argue that historical avalanche activity can be reconstructed, including the frequency, magnitude and return-period characteristics of the events.  This knowledge, they argue, can be used to make assessments of risk in areas such as the Carpathian Mountains, where the geomorphological understanding of local avalanches is limited.

As winter sports become more popular with non-expert communities, there is growing pressure to identify high risk areas and to provide appropriate warning systems that non-experts can understand.  It is clear that real-time observations and local knowledge are key to identifying avalanche risk, however, this research shows that by combining different techniques and approaches, we can increase our knowledge and understanding of hazards such as avalanches, and provide essential risk information to previously unmonitored regions such as newly established winter sports resorts.

books_icon Mircea Voiculescu and Alexandru Onaca, 2013, Snow avalanche assessment in the Sinaia ski area (Bucegi Mountains, Southern Carpathians) using the dendrogeomorphology method, Area 45 109–122 doi: 10.1111/area.12003

60-world2 Four climbers die in Glencoe avalanche, The Independent, 20th January 2013

60-world2 SportScotland Avalanche Information Service, accessed on 18th January 2013

60-world2 The WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, accessed on the 18th January 2013

Area Content Alert: 44, 2 (June 2012)

Cover image for Vol. 44 Issue 2The latest issue of Area (Volume 44, Issue 2, pages 134–268, June 2012) is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break for a full list of articles in this issue.

Continue reading

Content Alert: New Articles (2nd March 2012)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Land degradation in Mediterranean urban areas: an unexplored link with planning?
Luca Salvati, Roberta Gemmiti and Luigi Perini
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01083.x

Neoliberalising violence: of the exceptional and the exemplary in coalescing moments
Simon Springer
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01084.x

Who loses if flood risk is reduced: should we be concerned?
Edmund C Penning-Rowsell and Joanna Pardoe
Article first published online: 28 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01085.x

‘At the next junction, turn left’: attitudes towards Sat Nav use
Stephen Axon, Janet Speake and Kevin Crawford
Article first published online: 28 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01086.x

Original Articles

Scarcity, frontiers and development
Edward B Barbier
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00462.x

Commentary

Beyond trial justice in the former Yugoslavia
Alex Jeffrey and Michaelina Jakala
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00461.x

Floods should not mean disasters

by Ilan Kelman

Buildings in Moss' city centre in the floodplain (photograph by Ilan Kelman)

Looking back over past centuries, Norway, as with many other countries, has long experienced major river flood catastrophes. Several hundred died along the Gaula River in 1345. In eastern Norway in 1789, flooding killed over 70 people.

Fortunately, river flood deaths have been rarer in contemporary times though threats are still frequent. Most problems are property disruption and damage. Part of the reason is that we own more to be damaged.

Part of the reason is Norway’s tradition of managing rivers by relying on walls–dams, levees, and dikes. When (not if) a wall’s flood design limit is exceeded, the land behind it floods. People are unprepared because they thought that they would be protected.

Instead of forcibly separating people and water, why not let floodplains–called that for a reason–do their job? Let rivers behave as rivers, spreading out when it rains or when the snow melts. Use walls occasionally or as a part of flood risk reduction, but don’t rely on them for everything.

River floods are part of Norway’s environment. They are a natural process. When humans get in the way of floods, then disasters happen. We can stop disasters by permitting floods.

The author: Dr. Ilan Kelman is Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO).

Kelman I and Rauken T 2012 The paradigm of structural engineering approaches for river flood risk reduction in Norway Area doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01074.x

Sandelson M 2011 Norway storms isolate thousands The Foreigner  27 December