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One of the Swedish municipalities that is active in the UNDRR Making Cities Resilient network is Arvika. Elin Alsterhag and her colleagues have attended the yearly national network meetings and they have also served as host, showing the mitigations work to risk experts from other Swedish municipalities. In addition, they have tested the indicators for the UNDRR Scorecard for City Disaster Resilience as partners in the EU project U-SCORE. The improved Scorecard will be used in EU BSR CASCADE during the training course.

Meet Elin Alsterhag

Elin Alsterhag’s position is Manager of the Technical Department in Teknik i Väst AB that is owned by the Municipalities of Arvika and Eda in Western Sweden. Elin is from Lidköping and earned a Master of Science Degree in Environmental and Water Engineering from Uppsala University. She chose that area of study to in order to work on important international environmental issues. In 2007, she had a Swedish secondment as a water and sanitation specialist for six months in Uganda as part of a Unicef humanitarian project.

Elin has worked on disaster risk reduction in the Municipality of Arvika for several years. During one of her years at Uppsala University, she took a hydrology course. It just happened that in that year, there was a major flooding in Arvika. It was used as an example in the class. However, at that time, she could not imagine that she would end up in Arvika - marry and have four children with a classmate from there, and work so intensively and for such a long time with this particular flood problem.

EU funded projects provide resources for small municipalities

During the past several years, Elin and her colleagues have drawn in financial resources for flood risk management by participating in EU and international projects. It is a way to finance the work for which a small municipality does not have sufficient resources for major mitigation measures. It began with FLOWS, an EU Interreg project that financed a study on the flooding problem.  Arvika also participated in another Interreg project, Climate Proof Areas. The Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute was a project partner and simulated future climate scenarios. The dimensions for a dam and retaining walls around critical infrastructure were provided based on the worst-case scenario.

During the EU Interreg project CATCH an assessment was made about how Lake Krykviken’s water quality is affected by climate change. By law, measures must be taken to reduce the effects and improve the water quality. The next step is a climate adaptation strategy for Arvika’s technical services and infrastructure.

Elin was responsible for the permitting process and communication with the media and the public. She spent many weeks talking with agencies, entrepreneurs, and consultants. She created a dialogue with local residents and invited many to public hearings. Special groups were targeted like the sport fishing club and the boating club.

Before the major flooding event in 2000, the municipality was not aware that there could be such a problem. Then they turned to universities and consultants to provide advice. When they knew what they wanted to do, they applied for subsidies from MSB, a national agency. Without such subsidies (so far it has been 60% of the costs) they would not have been able to build the dam and retaining walls.

Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction require persistent work

Without patience, diplomacy, and well-documented justifications, Elin Alsterhag could not have met her goals. The permit process including associated investigations, took 6 years from 2000 to 2006. After that, from 2006 to 2012, Elin was engaged in the courtroom appeal processes to meet all the requirements of the law and reduce environmental impacts. Even though geotechnical investigations were made prior to building the dam, it took longer to build and required more technical adjustments than anticipated.

Elin Alsterhag and her team met many obstacles and challenges while undertaking this climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction measure. The vision was to provide no less than 100 years of flood protection in a changing climate.


Text by Janet Edwards, photo by Elin Alsterhag

The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) works towards the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses to ensure a sustainable future. UNDRR is the focal point of the United Nations system for disaster risk reduction and the custodian of the Sendai Framework, supporting countries and societies in its implementation, monitoring and review of progress.

Elin Alsterhag