Complex threats need integrated solutions

The issue

Threats are complex and there is rarely a simple solution to each one. Non-structural prevention measures are essential but they’re often overlooked: a wide range of solutions are needed to address the threats communities face – but integrated planning is not the norm.

What do local people say can most reduce the impact of floods?

Maintain hospitals and schools

Increase government and NGO coordination

Improve waste management

Key facts

The complex causes of threats, and the wide-ranging consequences, means that there is no one single action to eliminate risk.

Floods are one of the most common threats. Mitigation initiatives frequently ignore non-structural measures. They’re often short-sighted: they don’t consider the effects of a changing climate, rapid urbanisation1 or the compounding impact of epidemics.
People say the most common barriers to reducing flood risk are:
  1. Limited early warning systems
  2. Personal debt
  3. Government instability

“Water rises up to my hip level in a small rain and up to my shoulder level in a heavy rain.”

— Kanagarathnam, Colombo, Sri Lanka


The world’s most marginalised people say that a wide range of solutions are needed to address each particular threat. This is particularly the case with floods which, according to our data is the most common threat communities face. Floods impact every aspect of their lives. Damage to crops, buildings, livelihoods and health are the most severe consequences that people report.

It’s surprising to see just how important people think coordination between NGOs and governments can be in reducing the impact of floods. This highlights the critical role that non-structural measures can play in protecting people.

Communities say maintaining access to education and healthcare is particularly important. And they’re concerned that debt is hampering efforts to reduce the impact of floods.

The complexity of threats such as floods and the integrated planning required to build resilience is often overlooked by international programmes. Many tend to focus on a single approach to disaster prevention rather than a multi-sector one.

For example, the Eko Atlantic project in Lagos, Nigeria is a development project being built on land dredged up from the ocean floor2. To protect the Eko Atlantic city from storm surges, the developers are building a sea wall. However, there are concerns that this wall could exacerbate the flood risk for neighbouring areas, which includes most of Lagos.

A full package of complementary actions are needed to effectively reduce flood risk, especially when compounded by the vulnerabilities created by other disasters, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. But a deep analysis of the causes of floods rarely occurs at the national level. Some research groups are employing more holistic approaches, for example the Flood Resilience Alliance, and the learnings from these need to be scaled out.


All Views from the Frontline data is publicly available to explore online – with options to disaggregate by country, respondent type and more. You can also find out about the survey methodology.

References and photos

Photo (top): Floodwaters surround homes in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Water is at the heart of many major threats facing the country; cyclones, floods, river swelling, high tide, rainfall and landslides are the top threats identified by Views from the Frontline respondents in the four risk locations of Chattogram, Satkhira, Barguna and Gaibandha. 

Photo and quote (above): Kanagarathnam, 38, is a father of four living in Kurunegala, Sri Lanka – a city that experiences floods two to three times every year. Community members, local government representatives and civil society organisations, who took part in Views from the Frontline, say floods are the biggest threat they face. Credit: Srijan Nandan/GNDR