Based on the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), more than 7000 disasters worldwide have been recorded that caused 1.35 million deaths or approximately 68,000 lives on average each year. Moreover, 218 million people have been affected by natural disasters, such as typhoon, hurricane, heavy rainfall and floods on average per annum during this 20-year period. Each time an extreme catastrophe occurs, the outcome is the same; lack in efficient early detection, response and resources such as energy, especially for the affected populations in rural territories. This research investigates how we can use the “strikes” of Nature for our own benefit, as an alternative renewable energy.

The essence of this proposal follows the principles of the “Agenda 203 for Sustainable Development “and focuses on two main points:

1) the conversion of “energy” from water hazards to renewable energy (SDG7) and
2) the self-activated disaster warning mechanism based on the disaster level (SDG11).

In simple words, small hydroelectricity units will be developed in water-based disaster-affected communities residing in riparian areas that have limited access to energy and poor disaster prevention and resilience practices; starting from the regions of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). When the water levels are critical a “smart” gauge will warn the local populations for their safe evacuation. The generator will provide power to shelters and other safe zones in cases of emergency.

The project promoter is Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR), a decade-long research programme co-sponsored by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Social Science Council (ISSC), and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). It is a global, multidisciplinary approach to dealing with the challenges brought by natural disasters, mitigating their impacts, and improving related policy-making mechanisms.

Objectives and beneficiaries

The goal is to cope with natural and climate change's impacts as well as generate and provide clean free energy during a water-related hazard to those in need, while the local populations are alerted or even warned to evacuate their location for their own safety.

The generated power will be delivered to support small and/or isolated communities with low or no access to energy sources in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, until the response units arrive. Furthermore, the project will promote disaster prevention mechanisms to the affected communities for strengthening their resilience against such disasters.

Last but not least, such populations will be trained to minimize the impacts of the disasters in order to improve their life quality. This research develops an essential method of transforming catastrophes into an opportunity in hydroelectric generation on small scale for communities, that do not have stable access to electric energy and suffer from natural hazards in the Central America.

Strong points of the practice

The project promotes not only sustainability, but also innovation in a new way of linking risk management and disaster mitigation for generating renewable energy. Central America is a region that is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Therefore, the vision of this project focuses on efficient risk management, promotion of small scale renewable energy production, mitigation of food insecurity and a more major involvement of local communities in climate resilience.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

1. Comprehensive literature review of global aspect, that focuses on locations with high disaster risk probability, periods of extreme disaster occurrences and their hydro meteorological phenomena, as well as the current response mechanisms, mainly for water-related disasters. This step is essential in order to determine the efficient usage of mini-hydroelectric plants globally.

2. Contact local, national, regional and international investors, affected communities, local and central governments, universities and organizations in order to support this research.

3. Delimit the scope, geographic areas of civil work and research phases for the creation of mini hydro power facilities. These areas will be defined by geodetic mapping based on a global coordinate system.

4. Development and promotion of this pilot project, starting from a community in Guatemala and later in Honduras and Nicaragua. Approaches have been made with stakeholders and universities from Greece and Taiwan so to test the project in other geographical territories that also face catastrophic water-related disasters. Moreover, the Unesco Chair on Conservation and Ecotourism of Riparian and Deltaic Ecosystems (Con-E-Ect) has agreed to assist in research matters, as well as promoting and developing such units in riparian and deltaic populated ecosystems that suffer from natural hazards.

The project is expected to be low cost and to be applicable in a plethora of countries that suffer from water hazards. It aims to benefit poorly or no disaster educated and trained communities with low of no access to energy sources. Under normal conditions, the units will behave as a small scale hydro power generator that produces electricity from the river flow for the needs of the communities (e.g. providing power for schools, medical units, agricultural purposes, safety, livelihood, etc.). This research is pioneering and it aims to change our thinking for the natural hazards.

Replicability potential of the practice

The project's is aimed to be developed in the three aforementioned countries of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). Additionally, we are in late talks for replicating this program in Greece and Taiwan as well as in countries in South America. This project is aimed to be further developed in Asian regions, such as East and South East Asia, as well as in Europe.

[Editor's Note: All information published as submitted by the author(s). Minor edits may have been made to increase readability and understanding.]