USP Staff Publish Research in Nature Sustainability


Mangroves along coastlines, forests on steep slopes, and seagrasses in subtidal zones are just three features of healthy ecosystems that sustainably reduce the risks associated with disaster events.

Additional ecosystem service benefits include clean air, clean water, food security, and livelihood support, which collectively enhance human well-being. Until recently, the evidence for ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (DRR) had not been collated and examined; thus, the actual value of these ecosystem services remained unmapped.

Twenty-eight researchers, including Dr. Stephen Galvin, Lecturer in Biogeography from The University of the South Pacific’s (USP’s) School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Ocean and Natural Sciences (SAGEONS) and Professor Juergen Boehmer, former Head of
School of USP’s School of Geography, Earth Science and Environment (SGESE), set out to document this evidence in 2015.

The two USP scholars assessed the roles of forests and vegetation in disaster risk reduction.

Following six years of in-depth reviews of 529 English-language articles, the results of this study were published in Nature Sustainability, a top-ranking scientific journal, on June 28th, 2021.

Dr Galvin said that this up-to-date assessment of nature-based solutions for disaster risk reduction is timely, as decision-makers throughout the world express growing concern about the increasing severity of extreme weather events.

“This review of existing research assesses the levels of effectiveness of ecosystems in reducing disaster risk, highlighting clear benefits from ecosystem services. Some examples include the management of wildfires, the use of green design to mitigate flooding in urban areas, and the
cost-effectiveness of using vegetation on steep slopes to reduce mountain hazards such as landslides,” he said.

“Indeed, inspiration for the paper came in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. A disaster that claimed the lives of over 200,000 people throughout Southeast Asia and as far away as Africa – when it became apparent that mangroves, coral reefs, and sand dunes had
reduced the intensity of the tsunami in some coastal areas.”

He added that the paper indicates that, although more research is being conducted examining ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction, most work focuses on the Global North, in particular urban areas of North America and Europe. “There is a distinct lack of evidence-based studies in the Global South, including the South Pacific, where large populations rely on natural resources for protection and livelihoods. To address this gap, it is necessary to strengthen research infrastructure and funding attention, particularly in areas where the impacts of extreme events are most prevalent,” said Dr Galvin.

Lead author Dr. Karen Sudmeier (Senior Advisor, Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Environment Programme) said: “Two decades of research analysed over six years left us with a number of questions: we know there is evidence that most ecosystems reduce the impacts of hazard events in a cost-effective manner. Now we need to disseminate this evidence in the language that decision-makers speak: how high and how wide? We also need to focus our attention on performance standards, green design blueprints, ecological engineering standard operating procedures, and the specs that will provide the ultimate evidence base to draw attention and investment to nature’s solutions to increasing numbers of hazard events worldwide. Our research in this growing field has only just begun.”

This article can be read online here:
Reference: Sudmeier et al. (2021) Scientific evidence for ecosystem-based disaster risk
reduction. Nature Sustainability:

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