What we’ve learnt from measuring flood resilience

By Finn Laurien, research assistant at the IIASA Risk and Resilience (RISK) Program, and doctoral student at the Vienna University for Economics and Business.

A major challenge in understanding community flood resilience is the lack of an empirically validated measure of it. To plug this gap the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (ZFRA) developed the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC). In the first phase of the Alliance we applied the FRMC tool in 118 communities in nine different countries. This is what we learnt from it. 

What is the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities?

The FRMC approach holistically measures a set of “sources of resilience” before a flood happens (e.g. household savings or whether a community has a flood recovery plan) and looks at the post-flood impacts afterwards (e.g. level of loss and recovery time). The FRMC framework is built around the notion of five types of capital (the 5Cs: human, social, physical, natural, and financial capital) and the 4Rs of a resilient system (robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness, and rapidity). The data is collected and assessed via an integrated and hybrid platform. Each source of resilience is graded from A to D (best practice to significant below good standard) providing communities and decision-makers with an overview of the level of resilience capacity.

The 5 Capitals and 4 sources of resilience © Paulo Cerino

What did we learn from this large-scale analysis of community flood resilience? 

Human and physical capital had the most sources assigned an A or B grade. The highest rated sources are education (value and equity), flood exposure perception, knowledge and awareness, communication, water, personal safety as well as health and sanitation. This could be a result of flood mitigation interventions traditionally being focused on building people’s skills and knowledge and/or physical structures.

Overview of frequency of grades for the sources of resilience by capital. Note: Number in bracket of capitals indicates the number sources in that capital. (Source: Campbell et al., 2019)

Despite the source-specific guidance and standardized data, grading is largely a judgment-based process and the FRMC includes a box where the assessor indicates how confident they are in the assigned grade. Since the trained assessors are practitioners with local understanding of the community the grades are influenced by their field expertise. The assessors were generally confident in the assigned grades and we found that their confidence increased the more data collection methods that were used.

Linking flood resilience and community characteristics

The FRMC was used in a range of different communities in developing and developed countries in contexts ranging from urban to rural and with some difference in past experience of flooding.

We discovered a correlation between poverty and lack of flood resilience and also found that having experienced very severe floods reduced a community’s level of resilience while experiencing frequent but less severe floods could help contribute to resilience, potentially by providing communities with relevant experience to adapt.

Does the FRMC process result in different interventions? 

A key question we asked is whether the process of carrying out the baseline measurement and sharing results with the community resulted in interventions that were substantially different from what would have been implemented anyway. We find that it did, though to somewhat varying degrees.

Country teams overwhelmingly reported that the process helped them, their stakeholders, and communities to see flood resilience in a much more holistic way. For example, by broadening the perspective of flood resilience beyond that of physical infrastructure to also include social capital. The FRMC process influenced the implementation of a wide range of interventions, showing the breadth of the underlying conceptualization of resilience. The purpose of the FRMC approach is to help communities holistically strengthen their resilience and the broad range of interventions shows that this has worked.

Many country programs revised their project plans, log-frames and budgets as a result of the baseline measurement. Program staff highlighted how welcome it would be if other funders followed Zurich’s lead and allowed for similar in-depth analysis prior to intervention design and flexibility to act on the learning coming out of it to ensure the most effective intervention design.

What’s next for the FRMC? 

This testing and data analysis has fed into the revision process for the development of the Next Generation FRMC which is currently being scaled to many more communities.

As the tool and measurement gets used in more communities and as part of more decision-making processes for flood resilient investments, we hope the usefulness and relevance of the tool will be demonstrated and adopted by many more organizations working to build community flood resilience.

Abel from Practical Action interviewing Consuelo, a community member in San Miguel de Viso, Peru as part of FRMC data collection ©Giorgio Madueño –


Campbell KA, Laurien F, Czajkowski J, Keating A, Hochrainer-Stigler S, & Montgomery M (2019). First insights from the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool: A large-scale community flood resilience analysis. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 40: e101257. DOI:10.1016/j.ijdrr.2019.101257. http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/id/eprint/16027/

Access available resources on the FRMC here.

This blog is reposted from a Flood Resilience Portal blog.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Introducing a framework for 21st century biological invasions

By Bernd Lenzner, post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Botany and Biodiversity at the University of Vienna, Austria and IIASA YSSP alumnus

To guide action towards a sustainable future for nature and people, it is crucial to understand the role of invasive species in shaping global biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as how this depends on human actions.

Imagine arriving at the shores of a country you have never visited before. What kind of nature awaits you? Will you be stunned by the beauty of plants and animals you only know from documentaries and books? Will you be fascinated by the songs of birds you’ve never heard before? Or, will you find species you know from your backyard and the landscape surrounding your home?

© Johan Larson | Dreamstime.com

Most of us probably hope to find new, untouched nature with many plants and animals we haven’t encountered yet. Isn’t that after all the purpose of exploring our planet? Unfortunately, nowadays we see that the biota in many regions of the world are becoming more and more similar as a consequence of the movement of species by humans across the globe. Recent studies have shown that approximately 4% of all plants [1], 10% of all birds [2], and 2% of all amphibians and reptiles [3] worldwide can be found in regions outside their native distribution, and these numbers are increasing with no sign of saturation [4]. Once introduced, these so-called alien species can emerge as a major threat to global biodiversity [5] and ecosystem services [6], and lead to global biotic homogenization [7].

We know that these trends are driven not only by the intentional and unintentional human introduction of species into new regions through increased trade and transport, but also by how climate and land use facilitate the establishment of species outside their native range. While these drivers are expected to largely evolve in the decades to come, researchers have so far been unable to build scenarios exploring the long-term dynamics of the distribution of alien species and their impacts.

I lead a joint study between researchers from Vienna University, IIASA, and other colleagues that was recently published in the journal BioScience [8]. In our paper, we introduced the necessary steps for building scenarios of future long-term dynamics of biological invasion at a global scale. We propose a general framework for global 21st century scenarios and models of biological invasions and review essential datasets and milestones. This is the first time that biological invasions are put into a global scenario context with the aim to develop qualitative storylines that can be linked to quantitative models.

I actually started working on this in 2017 when I was still a PhD student in the Division of Conservation Biology, Landscape, and Vegetation Ecology at the University of Vienna, and a participant in the IIASA Young Scientists Summer Program. The project helped to build bridges between research communities deeply involved in core activities from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

IIASA was involved in IPBES’ methodological assessment on the use of models and scenarios for biodiversity and ecosystem services and in its efforts to apply biodiversity models in existing IPCC scenarios [9] to deliver insights into the IPBES’ global assessment report released earlier this year. Recently, the IIASA Bending the curve project [10] led by David Leclère, a researcher in the Ecosystems Services and Management Program, used models to elicit what type and ambition of actions are necessary to reverse biodiversity declines, to support on-going discussions at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on a global international agreement for people and nature to be negotiated in 2020. I am a member of the IPBES expert group involved in the writing of the upcoming thematic assessment on invasive alien species and their control, and also a contributor to a new research project called AlienScenarios funded by BiodivERsA and the Belmont Forum. Led by my supervisor Franz Essl at the University of Vienna, this project will assess global and regional mid- and long-term trends of alien species richness and impacts, as well as develop scenarios for biological invasions.

In the near future, we hope to integrate these on-going projects, to allow better modeling of global biodiversity trends and their drivers, as integrating biological invasions into the global picture are required to materialize the 2050 vision of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).


[1] van Kleunen M et al. (2015) Global exchange and accumulation of non-native plants. Nature, 525, 100-103.

[2] Dyer EE, Redding DW, Blackburn TM (2017) The global avian invasions atlas, a database of alien bird distributions worldwide. Scientific Data, 4, 170041.

[3] Capinha C, Seebens H, Cassey P, García-Díaz P, Lenzner B, Mang T, Moser D, Pyšek P, Rödder D, Scalera R, Winter M, Dullinger S, Essl F (2017) Diversity, biogeography and the global flows of alien amphibians and reptiles. Diversity and Distributions, 23, 1313-1322.

[4] Seebens H et al. (2017) No saturation in the accumulation of alien species worldwide. Nature Communications, 8, 14435.

[5] Maxwell SL, Fuller RA, Brooks TM, Watson JEM (2016) Biodiversity: The ravages of guns, nets and bulldozers. Nature, 536, 143-145.

[6] Pejchar L & Mooney HA (2009) Invasive species, ecosystem services and human well-being. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 9, 497-504.

[7] Capinha C, Essl F, Seebens H, Moser D, Pereira HM (2015) The dispersal of alien species redefines biogeography in the Anthropocene. Science, 348, 1248-1251.

[8] Lenzner B, Leclère D, Franklin O, Seebens H, Roura-Pascual N, Obersteiner M, Dullinger S, Essf F (2019) A framework for global twenty-first century scenarios and models of biological invasions. BioScience, 69, 697-710.

[9] Kim HJ et al. (2018) A protocol for an intercomparison of biodiversity and ecosystem services models using harmonized land-use and climate scenarios. Geoscientific Model Development, 11, 4537-4562.

[10] Leclere D et al. (2018) Towards pathways bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity trends within the 21st century. IIASA DOI:10.22022/ESM/04-2018.15241.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.