Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science

Korbinian Breinl's views on the Sendai framework and DRR in Sweden

2017-12-13

On assignment from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) recently investigated how the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is being implemented in Sweden. The study builds on interviews with representatives of government authorities, the private sector, civil society, counties, cities and research. Our CNDS fellow Korbinian Breinl has also participated in one of these interviews. The interview was conducted by Amanda Haraldsson. The full report of the study is available here.

Amanda Haraldsson: What aspects of DRR are relevant in your research?

Korbinian Breinl: At the hydrology unit at Uppsala University, we focus on the interaction between society and hydrological extremes, mainly floods and droughts. We also focus on climate-driven or anthropogenic changes in the water balance, for example in respect to agriculture. Climate change plays an important role; we want to understand how hydrological processes are going to change in the future. Will floods become more frequent? Will droughts become longer? And consequently, what does that mean for Swedish society?

Amanda Haraldsson: How would you say Swedens work and progress within DRR compares to other countries?

Korbinian Breinl: In general, the biggest gap is between the high and low-income countries. In my opinion there is a certain European standard that Sweden definitely meets as a major donor country to the UN office for disaster reduction. And, in Sweden there is an approach for the joint analysis of development, humanitarian and environmental work. Likewise, Sendai itself is implemented by the contingency agencies.

Amanda Haraldsson: In your opinion, what is the biggest problem that must be overcome in order to improve the understanding of disaster risk?

Korbinian Breinl: We need to understand how disaster risk is going to change in the future, not only due to climate change but also due to socioeconomic trends. Climate change is a particular concern in Sweden. One example is the decreasing ground water levels in southern Sweden, which could become an issue for agriculture. Other examples are the increasing probabilities of heat waves or vector-borne diseases. As it gets warmer in Sweden there will be a higher risk of malaria. We have several types of mosquitos in Sweden that are theoretically able to spread malaria. At the same time, most people may think this is not a big deal because Sweden is a rich country, which can afford Malaria treatment. But the main Malaria drug is losing its potency as the Malaria parasites are developing resistance. There is no sense in panicking, but these are all risks that we need to fully be aware of and to better understand. By drawing upon research, we need to contemplate future scenarios, and this needs to be done in a much more integrative way than in the past. We need to integrate different disciplines such as natural, engineering and social sciences along with public health. Strictly disciplinary approaches in DRR will not help reduce future risks. Collaboration and dialogue across disciplines are key.

Amanda Haraldsson: Do you see an issue to overcome in terms of investing in DRR?

Korbinian Breinl: You can always spend more money, that is for sure. However, the Swedish government has for example invested in CNDS (Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science), which is the national platform for DRR research, involving various departments at Uppsala University, Swedish Defence University, and Karlstad University. CNDS brings together practice and academia. We have recently received five more years of funding from the Swedish government and that demonstrates that DRR is being taken seriously in Sweden.

Amanda Haraldsson: What actors would you say are most important for implementing DRR internationally, nationally, sub-nationally and even on the individual level?

Korbinian Breinl: All of the actors are equally important no matter what level they are on. In my opinion, this is a weak point in the Sendai framework, because it puts a lot of emphasis on the role of governments. The problem is that there are many weak and fragile states. So in reality, there are governments that are often not functional, or that are in many regards simply absent. That means it is indispensable to also consider non-governmental institutions in DRR. Likewise, the private sector is important, especially in countries where the governments are not really functional. Sub-nationally and individually, local expert knowledge is extremely important. We need to understand the disaster risk from the perspective of those who are most affected. Even though local individuals might not be familiar with some technical or scientific aspects of DRR, they often have a much better understanding of the issues on site and we have to take advantage of that local knowledge and expertise. This bottom-up philosophy is key for successfully implementing Sendai. 

Amanda Haraldsson: How much cooperation do you or your department/program have with other actors and what form does this cooperation take?

Korbinian Breinl: Apart from our excellent day-to-day cooperation within academia across the globe, we are working more and more across disciplines and with numerous stakeholders. Uppsala University is very unique in terms of our cooperation within CNDS. In CNDS, we do not only have several universities as partners, but we also work with public authorities and the private sector; for example, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), the Swedish international development cooperation agency (SIDA), and the Swedish County Insurance Group (Länsförsäkringar). We have established a constructive dialogue with these institutions, and they regularly attend our meetings and conferences, such as the biannual Swedish meeting place for societal security and the CNDS forum for natural disaster science. At the 2016 CNDS forum we had over 180 participants, including researchers, practitioners and policymakers.

Amanda Haraldsson: In your opinion, how important are academia and research efforts for helping Sweden reach its DRR goals?

Korbinian Breinl: In my opinion, significant scientific innovations are produced by universities and research institutions, even though I personally know from my own career that excellent research is also done in the private sector. That is, constant innovation is needed to reach our DRR goals. What academia has to be aware of is that the involvement of stakeholders from the beginning in DRR related research is important. We need to change from a top-down to a bottom-up philosophy.

Amanda Haraldsson: What do you see as the biggest downside of the Sendai Framework as it is written today?

Korbinian Breinl: The Sendai framework does not sufficiently address DRR in areas affected by conflict, which often face dysfunctional governments. We also have to be aware of current migration movements. Many countries, for example in Africa, need to better utilize their young generation. Young women and men are needed to push development in many areas, not just in DRR. This is not really addressed in the Sendai framework. Another critical point is that human rights have not received a prominent role. They are referenced to in the guiding principles, but Sendai does not really connect human rights to DRR. Doing this would be very beneficial as most countries recognise human rights as an international standard and these could act as a standard for domestic frameworks. But despite some minor weak points that could use some improvement, the Sendai framework is a huge step in the right direction.

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Korbinian Breinl graduated with distinction in Physical Geography at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich (Germany), before he worked for three years as a catastrophe risk model developer with a focus on large-scale flood risks in the private sector. In 2011, he was awarded a scholarship by the European Commission's Marie-Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) 'Changes' to pursue his PhD studies on flood risk assessments with consideration for climate change at the University of Salzburg (Austria), with secondments in the Netherlands and Germany, for which he finished summa cum laude. In 2016, he joined the Department of Earth Sciences at Uppsala University as a Postdoctoral Researcher, where he is working closely with the director of CNDS, Professor Giuliano Di Baldassarre, on hydrological impact assessment and disaster risk reduction in various regions around the world.

Amanda Haraldsson completed the master’s programme International Administration and Global Governance at the University of Gothenburg before joining the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) in Stockholm as a research assistant. She is currently a PhD researcher at the department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence. 

Photo of Amanda Haraldsson