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The OML Center serves as expert interview for UNU student’s master’s thesis

Disaster Risk Management (DRM) has become a prevalent concept in the last few decades, owing to the rising number of natural hazards and their interaction with increasingly vulnerable societies across the globe. However, the tremendous impact that disasters continue to leave in their wake make it clear that we have yet to reach a point at which we can say we fully understand disaster risk and how to mitigate it.

To achieve this, one of the most important steps we must take is the development of robust tools for assessing vulnerabilities to multiple-hazard risks. At present there is already a rich body of vulnerability and risk indices, each constructed with the help of varying methodologies and at different scales, from global down to local, in-depth risk indices. Unfortunately, their utility remains questionable for a number of reasons, and they have failed to contribute meaningfully to a stronger understanding of disaster risk and its mitigation.

The question thus arises on whether researchers are truly working in the right direction with regard to the development of these tools. However, literature suggests that many scholars involved in the field of index development for DRM are more focused on looking into the methodological robustness of existing approaches rather than evaluating their utility.

This is the gap that student Mia Wannewitz sought to address in her recently completed Master’s thesis, submitted to the United Nations University and the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University of Bonn. Entitled “Downscaling of the World Risk Index to sub-national scale and its expert-based validation,” the study aimed to showcase how expert-based evaluation of a newly-developed risk index can enhance its utility. Wannewitz selected the Philippines as her area of study, due to the country’s high exposure to a multitude of natural hazards.

Wannewitz argued that only spatially-explicit risk indices have the potential to adequately inform national DRM. More significantly, the development of these decision-making tool must be  guided by the end-users’ needs, which can be ensured through expert-based validations. In line with this, she conducted expert interviews with a number of academic institutions, government agencies, and non-government organizations, including the Oscar M. Lopez Center. Other groups that were tapped for this study include PAGASA, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, and the Environmental Science for Social Change, among others.

The results of the study imply that that sub-national indices indeed have the potential to meaningfully inform national DRM in the Philippines, but that there are significant variations in the needs of different stakeholders with regard to the spatial scale of the index as well as its design. That said, the proposed expert-based validation represents a very powerful tool for tailoring the index downscaling to the end-users’ needs, which then improves the tool’s overall utility and facilitates its application. Perhaps even more importantly, the method has the potential to better guide current research efforts, making the outcomes more meaningful.


Wannewitz’s thesis was submitted in partial fulfillment of her requirements for the degree of M.Sc. Geography of Environmental Risks and Human Security. If you wish to learn more about her thesis, please contact us at info@omlopezcenter.org.

Tags: DRRM | Publication | Study |