Experience at IUCN Headquarters to work on Ecosystem-Based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR)

By Claire Pedrot, IUCN CEM Young Professional.

In 2014, after a few years in Canada (I’m French), the opportunity to work at IUCN Headquarters for a 3-month maternity leave replacement occurred. I was fortunate enough to stay there longer, a year in total, to work within the Ecosystem Management Program (EMP), mainly on Ecosystem-Based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR).

Being a biologist, I knew the work of IUCN, yet when I arrived in Switzerland, the challenges were significant: new country; rapid development of knowledge related to ECO-DRR, the working language was not my mother tongue, etc.

During this year of work, my main task was to work on the EPIC project, which stands for Ecosystems Protecting Infrastructure and Communities. It was a five-year project that aimed to implement projects demonstrating that healthy ecosystems enable adaptation to climate change and reduce the risk of natural disasters. It targeted different issues in six countries worldwide, and the solutions tested were Nature-Based Solutions (NbS). In addition to demonstrating the effectiveness of Eco-DRR and Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) (which are part of NbS) and promoting them. It was also about showcasing the need to work with communities and local and national governments.

  • BURKINA FASO (land degradation and droughts): strengthening local Climate Change Adaptation Strategies using traditional knowledge, reforestation, and soil restoration techniques.
  • CHILE (snow avalanches): promoting the use of the forest for avalanche risk management.
  • CHINA (soil erosion and landslides, roads construction): eco-engineering for the stabilisation of slopes.
  • NEPAL (landslides, flash floods, droughts, roads construction): bio-engineering techniques through demonstration sites (“eco-safe roadsides manual”).
  • SENEGAL (salinisation of soil and water resources): using local knowledge and practices to restore the degraded land has been identified (anti-salt bunds, assisted natural regeneration and livelihood diversification).
  • THAILAND (coastal hazards such as storm surges, cyclones and tsunami, salt intrusion, loss of mangroves): Community-based ecological mangrove restoration.

Through this project, I communicated and promoted this vision of ecosystem management in which I believe so much today. I have had the chance to go on the field in China and Nepal. I attended the World Parks Congress in 2014 in Australia, to workshops, to several meetings and conferences and in writing some texts for books on the subject. I had the opportunity to go to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva to understand better how it works and how to promote this topic so that it is reflected in major conventions such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) or the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). I also used some of my time to follow MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) on the subject, and it helped me a lot.

From my perspective, project management, follow-up of deadlines etc., were already part of my acquired skills. Yet, this year has highlighted the extreme need to collaborate and share knowledge among all. Of course, collaboration within EMP, between offices, programs and with committees and members specialising in their fields is essential and must be encouraged. This allows us to increase our knowledge, produce new science-based knowledge, and promote that knowledge (make it understandable and accessible to different target audiences) via different media (books, videos, publications, etc.). I want to emphasise what is absolutely necessary for me and what is close to my heart in implementing projects: the participation and integration of people on the ground at all stages of the projects. My professional experience within an Aboriginal organisation in Canada for several years probably developed this sensitivity. However, this is obvious if we want the projects to respond to the realities of the people on-site and for the results to last after the end of funding. It is essential to listen to local populations and people on the ground when it comes to implementing a project, knowing what the needs, expectations, and possible solutions are: to tap into traditional knowledge and local knowledge to make sure to use the right plants for example. Moreover, in the EPIC project, we can give the example of Senegal, where local knowledge has been used to implement local practices for restoring degraded soils to fight against the salinisation of soils and water resources.

Today, I think I can say that a year of working at the headquarters in Switzerland has made me grow professionally and probably equates to several years of experience in a “normal” job. This experience within the EMP team had a significant impact on my young professional career. Besides project management and the importance of international collaboration, among the lessons learned I think of:

  • Eco-DRR: it works!
  • The need to better communicate the results of projects to different audiences.
  • The importance of having results through projects in the field to prove the veracity of Eco-DRR to country representatives in a form that I would personally call “A Bottom-up Approach Based Knowledge Management”.
  • The need to understand the functioning of major international institutions in the field of the environment and disaster risk reduction to better inform its representatives.

IUCN is also a big family, and I have met many people within IUCN, commissions, or members, etc., who are very dedicated to protecting and managing the environment and developing knowledge on the subject. How lucky it was to meet so many passionate people and learn about work being done around the world!

I would recommend each young professional working in this field or wishing to work in it to take advantage of every minute to meet and exchange with other nature enthusiasts, thus developing your professional network and taking every opportunity to develop your knowledge, even on your time.

As young professionals on IUCN Commissions learn more about IUCN’s programs, including nature-based solutions, through IUCN and other organisations. Eco-DRR might seem very specific to you, but this is wrong; it concerns a wide variety of subjects: ecosystem management, protected areas, protection of biodiversity, development of eco-safe roads, subsistence, economic development, etc.

Even though I no longer work at IUCN, nor on Eco-DRR, this subject is still close to my heart, as a biologist and as a responsible citizen, because I sincerely believe that Eco-DRR is a viable and realistic solution to help our planet and our ecosystems.

You can find more information on the resources mentioned below:

Follow MOOCs’ (Massive Open Online Course) platforms; a lot of free courses are excellent. Some examples:

Visit the IUCN page on DRR to learn about it and find publications:

https://www.iucn.org/commissions/commission-ecosystem-management/our-work/cems-thematic-groups/disaster-risk-reduction

Additional books from IUCN Or CEM Commissions:

1 comment

  1. Amazing to read about your journey!
    I resonate with the point you make about communicating results to different audience. Where I work we often go for the classic “report” format, just like IUCN often does. I seriously think we need to be more ambitious with the video format.

    Often we need the general public to help pressure decision makers into making a decision, and most people (even decision makers) will never read a report.

    Looking at figures, here in Mexico, YouTube is the most used social media (by far!). If informed pieces are not created for this wide audience, most people will continue to fill their knowledge buckets with the wide array of uninformed pieces.

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