A look at the highlights from ‘A Smart Sustainable Future for All 2018’ Symposium

By Pravin Silva

CDMPS team holding The Blueprint

Increased extreme weather events and the challenges brought upon us by climate change will necessitate a new approach to disaster management. Devastating fires in Greece and the recent landslide in Sulawesi demonstrate some of the many challenges we face in dealing with extreme weather events and natural disasters.

In response to the devastation wreaked by environmental disasters, it’s easy to overlook the importance of continuing to use sustainable practices in our responses – a possibility which provided background for the creation of the Blueprint for Disaster Management RD&D Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals.

It may sound like a mouthful, but the Blueprint highlights the importance of thinking about sustainability and development together and the ongoing need to embed the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the way we tackle crises. Our response to disasters can help lay the ground work for preventing further catastrophe by creating better prepared and more resilient communities.

In the context of rapid urbanization, population displacement, food insecurity and natural disasters, land administration and geospatial systems have become paramount to a smart sustainable future

The Blueprint was launched on 25 September 2018, on the third anniversary of UN SDGs, at the international event ‘A Smart Sustainable Future for All – Enhancing Resilience in a Changing Landscape’ by Professors Abbas Rajabifard and Greg Foliente.

The symposium was hosted by the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Spatial Data Infrastructure and Land Administration (CSDILA) and Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety (CDMPS), in co-partnership with the World Bank (Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, and the Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice), and supported by a number of national and international organisations.

The Symposium brought together an international academic and research community, with key stakeholders from industry and government to discuss themes of smart cities, sustainable development, disaster resilience, geospatial technologies and global policy frameworks.

Anna Wellenstein, Director of Strategy and Operations in Global Practice of Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience at the World Bank, delivered the opening keynote speech on the ‘World Bank Vision and Improving Resilience’. Wellenstein outlined a number of key challenges ahead for the achievement of the SDGs.

Anna Wellenstein presenting at symposiumAnna Wellenstein

Wellenstein highlighted the prediction that global food production needs to grow by 60% by 2050 to support current population growth. She noted that this growth will be concentrated in urban areas and the world will have added 2 billion urban residents and 1.2 million km2 of new urban area between 1970 and 2030. She argued that “in the context of rapid urbanization, population displacement, food insecurity and natural disasters, land administration and geospatial systems have become paramount to a smart sustainable future”. Yet, despite the importance of these systems, they are often incomplete and out of date in many developing and high disaster risk countries, which limits their capability for disaster response, prevention and mitigation.

Mark Crosweller, Head of Australia’s National Resilience Taskforce and Director General of Emergency Management Australia, delivered a keynote titled ‘Resilience and Vulnerability: Two Sides of the Same Coin’. Crosweller warned that the challenges posed by extreme weather events in Australia were now stretching Australia’s ability to manage them. At the same time, he noted that Australia’s population is forecast to exceed 40 million people by 2050, requiring Australia to build an additional 60% of infrastructure nationwide to support an additional population equivalent to the size of Canberra each year.

Mark Crosweller speaking at symposiumMark Crossweller

Crosweller emphasised that encouraging and supporting social capital, such as knowing one’s neighbours, is essential to saving lives during disasters, Crosweller closed his keynote by asking attendees to think about the social contract between disaster responders and those they seek to protect during disasters given responders’ limited deployment resources and vulnerability to harm.

To reflect CSDILA and CDMPS’s current work with the World Bank on ‘Improving Resilience and Resilience Impact of National Land and Geospatial Systems’, attendees were presented with case studies of innovations and challenges experienced by a wide range of countries, including Nigeria, India, Indonesia and China. This encouraged a broader discussion about the current challenges in achieving resilience and the potential solutions. The goal of the World Bank project is to better understand, improve and sustain disaster resilience, in the context of land administration and geospatial data, for different communities around the world.

A presentation on ‘Spatially-Enabled Cities of the Future’ from Tan Boon Khai, Chief Executive of Singapore Land Authority, was of particular interest with his discussion of Singapore’s ‘digital twin’. This project, based on geospatial data, aims to build the world’s first ‘Smart Nation’ by harnessing technology in support of disaster resilience to improve the lives of its citizens and build stronger communities. This new ‘virtual Singapore’ can be used to improve measurement and predictions of disasters, which can then be fed into improving disaster management performance.

Professor Lisa Gibbs from Melbourne School of Population and Global Health presented a fascinating talk on ‘Simplicity and Complexity in the Social Dynamics of Disaster Recovery – Informing Future Resilience’, which focussed on findings from the Beyond Bushfires report – a study of mental health outcomes following the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009. Gibbs detailed the effect of Black Saturday on mental health, with the incidence of mental health disorders increasing by as much as 26% in some communities, three to four years after the catastrophic event.

Lisa Gibbs speaking at symposiumProfessor Lisa Gibbs

Professor Gibbs stressed the importance of social ties to disaster recovery, as close personal relationships and involvement in community groups and organisations predicted better mental health and personal wellbeing. She noted that individuals’ risk of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was associated with having more fractured social networks.

Professor Gibbs concluded by calling on attendees to consider the role of green spaces in supporting mental health in disaster recovery. Referencing her finding that a strong attachment to the natural environment improves mental health outcomes, resilience and post-traumatic growth, she noted that while this information seemed obvious to rural residents, “as a city girl, I needed to be told!”

In bringing together top experts from around the world, ‘A Smart Sustainable Future for All’ pointed towards a future of international dialogue and cooperation vital to managing and responding to the effects of climate change and extreme weather events around the world.

Download the Blueprint PDF