The EbroResilience Strategy is a collaborative governance framework for improving flood risk management in the Ebro River Basin. It is a rare case in Spain, not only because of the active involvement of 5 public administrations, but also for the innovative approach to flood risk management beyond grey solutions. Moreover, it is a highly participatory process with docens of workshops held to engage with those who live by the Ebro shore.
On January 12th, I co-facilitated a workshop on Emotions and Floods with Alba Ballester, the person responsible for the participatory program of the strategy. The goal the workshop is very powerful in my view: to generate information about the psycological impact of floods that can be taken into account in the models used by public authorities in EbroResilience to make decisions. We worked with Nonviolent Communication trying to connect facts – concrete flood episodes experienced by participants – to emotions they felt in those events and to potential needs underlying those emotions.
Alba skillfully conducted the session in three excercises: An individual reaction to a series of pictures with floods, gathered in wordclouds in Mentimeter; a b/o group excercise to share a personal experience of a flood, and a plenary sharing of group work. The outcomes in Spanish can be seen in the beautiful graphic narrative in the head pic and read in this summary from EbroResilience.
The majority of voices aligned in expressing anger, frustration, and impotence. These feelings were related with a perceived lack of effective action by public authorities. For most participants, it was difficult to connect with one particular flood experience. They tended to used blame narratives against who, in their views, is responsible for their suffering. They shared a feeling of abandonment, expressed complaints about administrations not listening to them and demanded action and take control over the situation.
A different note was brought by one participant who spoke about the joy felt for the positive impacts of floods (such as aquifer recharge) and the magnanimity of these events in the Ebro. She spoke of co-responsability and adaptation, of understanding and empathy with the river. Another participant spoke about solidarity and union in his village, where neighbours have organised a system for collective response to flood episodes that helped him keep calm.
For me, the workshop was trully inspiring. I do not get the opportunity to talk about how people feel such an intense natural event as a flood in their homes and fields. Yet, I missed a bit more diversity in the voices expressed, for instance those working within public authorities, how do they feel when they see the river growing?