There is often a desire to find a single optimal solution to a climate risk. Usually, the solution proposed is a solid, tangible engineering one. Be it a sea wall to stop coastal inundation or a desalination plant to tackle water scarcity. After working on a number of adaptation projects it is clear that there is rarely one option capable of managing the risks and consequences that climate change may pose.
A few years ago I helped develop an adaptation project for the UNDP to tackle the risks posed by Glacial Lake Outburst Flooding in Nepal. Essentially climate change is melting glaciers, some of which form large but fragile lakes that may burst and devastate communities, infrastructure, and agriculture in the valleys below them.
The big ticket item to manage this risk and the one that gets all the attention is partially draining these lakes. However, this is difficult work, that only reduces the risk, not eliminate it completely. A closer look at the final project now being implemented in Nepal highlights the number of adaptation options being utilised. Aside from structural measures these include:
- 18 Community Based Early Warning Systems
- 15 evacuation centers comprising of schools, monasteries and open spaces
- First Aid, Light Search and Rescue training
- Mock drill events
- An information center and awareness material including an app and radio broadcasts
While the engineering solutions still get the attention the non-structural options often have as much if not more impact on risk and consequence.
Besides the water lowering system, the project has installed an automated ‘early warning system’ to alert the downstream communities of any sudden fluctuation on water level due to floods or landslides. This has benefitted an estimated 96,000 people in the area.