Find out how Abu Quir used social capital to reduce flood effects



Thu, 02 Aug 2018 - 10:47 GMT


Thu, 02 Aug 2018 - 10:47 GMT

A man sits on a chair as he uses a piece of styrofoam to move through a flooded road in Wellampitiya, Sri Lanka May 21, 2016. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

A man sits on a chair as he uses a piece of styrofoam to move through a flooded road in Wellampitiya, Sri Lanka May 21, 2016. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

CAIRO – 2 August 2018: Natural disasters are no longer seen as extreme events caused entirely by hazards; instead, they are understood as results of a combination of hazard, vulnerability, exposure, and steps taken to deal with extreme events, according to a 2016 published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and a 2004 report published by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

Consequently, disaster risk reduction (DRR) frameworks, like the Hyogo Framework and the Sendai Framework, have repeatedly emphasised the importance of reducing vulnerability and increasing coping capacities prior to the occurrence of extreme events, suggesting that better cooperation between society members, different societies, and formal institutions would result in better DRR, affirms two studies by the UNISDR in 2005 and 2015. Consequently, recent research has examined the link between social capital and DRR, concluding that social capital contributes positively towards reducing disaster risk.

Explaining Social Capital and DRR

The central idea of social capital is that relationships and social networks are a valuable asset, a resource, from which one draws power, according to multiple researchers. The central idea of social capital is that relationships and social networks are a valuable asset, a resource, from which one draws power. An individual, according to the social capital theory, is defined, at least partially, by whom they know and the extent to which they know them.

Social capital is often categorised into bonding, bridging, and linking ties. Bonding social capital refers to horizontal, egalitarian networks built around shared identities, like gender, ethnicity, geography, language, or religion. It is often inward-looking and exclusive, or even discriminatory against those who lie outside the mainstream identities, according to a 2016 report by the UNDP. A high level of bonding social capital means that societies can identify those who are most vulnerable amongst them, which would be useful to DRR initiatives.

Bridging social capital is also horizontal, and is accumulated through exchange relationships based on common interests, like political affiliations or social gatherings, as per a 2016 report by the UNDP. Despite being weaker than bonding networks, bridging networks often allow societies to move forward and develop, making it of key importance in preparing for natural hazards.

Linking social capital refers to vertical ties between community members and leaders or state institutions, according to a 2016 report published by the 2016. Linking is important as it allows effective coordination between people and government agencies in preparation for natural hazards.

In short, bonding, bridging, and linking ties all have their own role in maintaining a prosperous and solidary society, as well as their different contributions to DRR strategies.

The second concept, DRR, is a systematic approach to identifying, assessing, and reducing disaster risk through several socio- economic actions, the UNISDR decided in 2009. DRR initiatives require holistic frameworks that are often not confined to moments in time. The most significant framework to date has been the Hyogo Framework—UNISDR, 2005—which set out many key actions grouped under five priorities: two of which represented a ground-breaking development from the 1994 Yokohama Strategy. The Yokohama Strategy, whilst being an important document, neglected the role of the community and the link between societies and government institutions or NGOs—UNISDR, 1994.

To fill this gap, the Hyogo Framework stressed the importance of knowledge, innovation, and education at a local level, arguing that a society is better equipped to reduce its own vulnerabilities than anyone else. It suggested that societies could, at least to an extent, reduce their disaster risk on their own. Moreover, it pioneered the idea that disasters are not simply caused by extreme events but rather by a combination of factors, including hazard, vulnerability, exposure, and capacity to adapt.

Like the Hyogo Framework, the Sendai Framework echoes the idea of a multi-hazard approach—UNISDR, 2015. The Sendai Framework acknowledged the success of the Hyogo Framework but suggested that more emphasis should be placed on studying context- relevant, people-centric DRR approaches, implying that social capital and social networks have much to offer in this field. This is further illustrated in the Sendai Framework’s prioritization of the promotion of cooperation between community members; between different communities; and between society and diverse institutions, authorities, and stakeholders.

In other terms, it emphasises the accumulation of different levels of social capital. This emphasis is especially important for this study as it validates the study’s purpose and suggests that it is aligned with the core priorities of the UNISDR, which according to its mandate is the agency responsible for the coordination of disaster reduction, according to the United Nations General Assembly in 2002.

The relationship between Social Capital and Disaster Risk Reduction

Social capital allows communities to stand together and act collectively to reduce disaster risk and vulnerability as a direct result of its main characteristics: trust, reciprocity, shared norms and beliefs, information sharing, civic engagement and participation, according to the UNDP. Moreover, researchers argue that high social capital allows for the mobilisation of invisible resources, such as skills and knowledge held by society members, which encourages and generates new ideas, often leading societies to be less vulnerable in the face of natural hazards.

The positive correlation between high levels of social capital and effective DRR also seems to be rooted in the collective nature of DRR initiatives. When social capital is high, society members are willing to work together and invest time and money to develop the community and reduce vulnerability, even if they are not vulnerable. Moreover, social capital can substitute for the typically weak formal infrastructure and support systems in developing countries.

Nevertheless, social capital is not without its pitfalls. In fact, some argue that social capital should be contested and then rejected, arguing that it is merely a ‘buzzword’ that academics and practitioners use to get funding. This is somewhat ironic as most of Fine’s work revolves around social capital. Moreover, social networks have the potential to be ‘violent, repressive, bigoted, or otherwise destructive’. Those ostracised by society face increased vulnerability because of the decreased vulnerability of the ‘others’, concluding that social capital has more negative consequences than positive ones. It seems, therefore, that social capital is not apolitical, rather it goes up and down with the political wheel, concluding that those who benefit from the political system will often be the same people who reap the benefits of social capital, leaving the opposition or others behind.

Additionally, bonding social capital may create strong local cohesion but lead to disenfranchisement from the societal level. Daniel P. Aldrich, the amous social capital theorist, echoes this fear but does not agree with their conclusion, suggesting that in the developmental realm, social capital largely has a positive effect. Furthermore, studies on marginal settlements in Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Kenya and Nicaragua, and the US empirically confirm the high relevance of social capital for DRR purposes.

Frequency of natural hazard  (L) and mortality caused by natural disaster (R) in Egypt as a percentage - Egypt Today
Frequency of natural hazard (L) and mortality caused by natural disaster (R) in Egypt as a percentage - Egypt Today

How is social capital helping in Abu Quir?

Abu Quir is urban, and is situated in Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria, spanning 230,000 hectares. Abu Quir suffers from rapid urbanisation and lack of proper land planning; however, residents are relatively affluent compared to other Egyptian cities. Abu Quir residents rely primarily on fishing and tourism, as Abu Quir is a summer and winter getaway, according to the World Bank.

With Egypt ranked 158th, according to the 2016 World Risk Index, its most frequent and deadly natural hazards that take place within the three countries are floods, according to the OFDA/CRED 2015 publication.

As a result, Abu Quir’s population suffers from marine elevation because of being on a narrow and partly raised coastal ridge on the Mediterranean Sea. Coastal erosion, and annual rainfall, coupled with informal areas, deteriorating infrastructure, rapid urbanisation, and a weak drainage system has made the population particularly vulnerable, as per the World Bank.

Social Capital in Abu Quir

Abu Quir’s social capital is partially based around youth teams and residents’ associations, however, more importantly it is based on the relationships between family elders, neighbours, and kinship, according to AUC researcher Dalia M. Gouda. Social networks are also built around schools or education centres via parents’ committees and in universities, social networks are also built through memberships in sports clubs, which are relatively cheap or government-sponsored in Alexandria and therefore attainable to everyone.

How they discussed it in Abu Quir

Abu Quir’s society has been battling coastal floods and floods caused by a weak and underdeveloped drainage system for decades. Currently the government is working, and has been working over the past four years, on strengthening their drainage systems and the general infrastructure, however, back then, they heavily relied on social capital to reduce disaster risk. Recently, climate change has led to increased flooding, resulting in unprecedented deaths in Abu Quir, according to The National.

Initially, this led to families, apartment-block committees, and neighbourhood watch committees to discuss the issue and the failures of the current risk reduction strategies. As people began to talk more about the issue, local media proliferated the subject. Civil leaders then emerged with the aim of fighting vulnerabilities that cause floods, like improper infrastructure. They spoke to, reportedly, tens of committees to collect theories and ideas from the community, and then took the issue to the local authorities, demanding a solution. It is clear that bonding ties allowed the community to put pressure on governments through linking ties, meaning that both were essential for the communities’ success.

Actions taken

Abu Quir’s urban community, which had resorted to the local government, enjoyed many positive changes because of mobilising their social capital. First, the local government instructed the establishment of a research team to identify the vulnerabilities, identifying deteriorating infrastructure, underdeveloped drainage system, and inaccurate weather forecasts as the primary three challenges.

Second, to address these issues, the research committee established an action branch, which established, monitored, evaluated, and maintained the DRR strategies implemented.

Third, the DRR action committee, after consulting scientists at the Alexandria University, rebuilt the deteriorating 16- kilometre seawall and jetties, according to research conducted in 2002.

Fourth, the DRR committee instructed builders to dry-proof the most vulnerable houses based on a vulnerability map developed by researchers.

Fifth, the DRR committee raised awareness on how households could safeguard in-home electrical systems by ensuring that the wires and electrical equipment are placed high. Furthermore, it advised that outdoor equipment be anchored and/or raised.

Sixth, the DRR committee established a route for emergency services, including fire engines, ambulances, army and police vehicles, and trucks with pumps, to take during floods to reach people as quickly as possible. This plan has been practiced multiple times, according to witnesses, and has shown great success during the 2015 flood, explains Khater.

Seventh, the Egyptian government has updated and is continuing to upgrade the drainage system in Abu Quir.

Eighth, newspapers and television channels have been urged to update their weather forecast equipment to allow for more accurate forecasts, as the recent vulnerabilities in the face of the 2015 flood in Abu Quir were partially because of inaccurate weather forecasts.

Since these actions have been taken, the Abu Quir community has, reportedly, suffered significantly less challenges and setbacks because of flooding.



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