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Disaster Resilience Planning for Older Persons in Chiang Mai

Our month-long Urban Flooding Field Lab in Chiang Mai organised by the wonderful (and efficient!) Co-Risk Labs team, with funding from The World Bank and Facebook, gathered geographers, engineers, social media experts, community advocates, designers, social scientists, and artists to converse and create around the subject of Critical Design for Urban Flooding. The Field Lab took place during the entire month of June 2019 at the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute

(ISDSI) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The field lab was output-driven programme that allowed our multi-disciplinary cohort of fellows to directly contribute to the disaster planning activities of our host town. I signed up for programmes in community planning for older adults and nature-based solutions, with the latter eventually leading to a trainer role for integrated flood risk management developed from The World Wildlife Fund USA headquarters.

Our community planning project for older adults was implemented with the help of the Forum for Older Persons' Development [FOPDEV]. Our first day meeting older persons from Nong Hoi, a community in Chiang Mai, was comprised of a series of fun games to get to know each other. This was crucial. We needed to get through languages barriers. I do know a bit of Thai having lived in Bangkok during my past life in advertising, but my language proficiency is nowhere near good enough to run a disaster planning workshop in Thai.

Image 1 [top] and Image 2 [bottom]: Our Field Lab cohort and our community partners from Nong Hoi getting to know each other through a series of interactive games. Image credit: Pamela Cajilig.

For the next part of the programme, we listened to the community's stories of surviving several incidences of flood in Chiang Mai. We also spent some time walking around the neighbourhood with devices aimed to simulate the bodily experiences of older persons. During one particularly intense flood in 2011, the water rose so quickly that many families were either trapped in their homes or forced to evacuate immediately to a nearby cemetery or flyover. Some families had to wait for days, unable to leave their homes because the water had yet to subside, before being reached by the government for assistance.

The slow government response, however, did not appear to be a cause of dissatisfaction as residents said that they were aware of the many responsibilities of government during disaster. they did not want to get in the way of the government's response and recovery activities. This mirrored similar sentiments that I've heard from disaster-affected groups in the Philippines. It speaks volumes about people's beliefs about disaster and the association of disaster risk reduction with the private rather than the public realms.

Image 3. After introductions, our cohort listens to older adults' experiences of flooding in the community. Image credit: Pamela Cajilig.

In the next phase of the programme, it was our turn to share our expertise with the community. Our cohort used several activities to gather data that would be used by FOPDEV to work with the community in developing disaster resilience plans that are responsive to the needs of older persons. Architect Sneha Malani (India) and I developed activities to understand the spatiality of disasters with our walks around the neighbourhood to observe housing typologies as our inspiration.

I also participated in critical infrastructure mapping, spending a day to use a GIS mapping app to locate all the drains within the area. Critical infrastructure mapping identifies elements of the built environment that could contribute to or help address disaster. This is particularly important in the context of Nong Hoi, which, as the map shows, lies Southeast of the Ping River. Our team mapped places that were improvised as emergency shelters during the 2011 flood, speaker poles, health facilities, drains, and other aspects of the built environment that are important to flood risk management.

Image 4. Critical infrastructure mapping identifies elements of the built environment that could contribute to or help address disaster. Image credit: UR Field Lab Community Resilience Team.

At the end of the week, our group's output was turned over to FOPDEV who conducted sessions for the community validation of our work. We received positive feedback from FOPDEV who appreciated the inter-disciplinary approach to the planning and who are working on adopting our framework in their other partner communities. This activity was to me the highlight of my Field Lab experience given the generosity, patience, wisdom, and friendship extended by our community partners in Nong Hoi and FOPDEV.

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