Making it rain in Toronto

It didn’t just rain at the Toronto Annex Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) on Wednesday March 8, it poured!  Floodwaters rose—and this was inside the building where about 90 people had gathered to play Resilientville Canada. Fortunately the rain was brightly coloured confetti and the floods were round blue mats. But the work was very real: the day’s objective was to demonstrate through role playing the importance of neighbourhood level response to natural disasters. With that happily achieved, participants turned their attention to innovative thinking around local disaster risk response and the future job opportunities and career paths for youth that climate adaptation will deliver. Because extreme weather events are coming with rapidly increasing frequency and severity.

Calgary floods in 2013 cost about $5 billion in economic losses. Insurable damage accounted for little more than a third of that amount. In the same year, flash floods caused chaos in Toronto. And on a single day in October 2016, an astronomical 228 millimetres of rain flooded Sydney, Nova Scotia. Across the country Canadians are discovering the limits of insurance coverage as they struggle to clean up the damage. Future weather projections for Canada differ across regions but the central message is that we need to prepare.

As Executive Director of Advanced Disaster, Emergency, and Rapid Response Simulation at York University, Ali Asgary knows the importance of preparation. He invited CLARION to partner in the Toronto-based side event to the Fifth Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in the Americas, held by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in Montreal from March 7 - 9. RSA Canada, a leading Canadian general insurer, was pleased to provide sponsorship.

That collaboration delivered not only the Resilientville exercise, and its exploration of local disaster response issues, but also a compelling argument for preparedness from a panel of experts. Their provocative discussion described risks faced by Canadians across the country and the many ways in which young people can contribute to climate adaptation and risk reduction.

Marjorie Brans (CLARION) Ali Asgary (YORK U) Anthony Black & Helen Williams (RSA)
Dusha Sritharan (TEA) and John Godfrey (MOECC).

John Godfrey, Special Advisor on Climate Change to Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, summed up the day. “We have an untapped reserve of social capital,” he said. When disaster strikes, people pull together. “That’s a resource we need to draw on.” The final outcome of the Toronto event was a set of recommendations for investment in business development and job training that will make a valuable contribution to an emerging economic sector focused on climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction in urban centres. Those recommendations have been delivered to the UNISDR and will inform the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, an international agreement endorsed by the UN in 2015. The recommendations will be posted on the CLARION website.

“There's a difference between a document and a plan,” said CLARION’s Marjorie Brans. “Resilientville participants took the documents that just fantasize about engaging citizens on community based adaptation and turned them into implementation.” Now it’s time for business, government and Canada’s youth to take the next steps.