Strategies for fostering socioeconomic wellbeing in northern US and Russian communities

Ice jam in Eagle, AK.  Photo courtesty of Ed Plumb/NWS
Upper image taken in Galena by Ed Plumb/NWS in May 2013, & lower image shows destruction in Edeytsy, courtesy of Dr. Tuyara Gavrilieva

In Alaska, US and Yakutia (Sakha Republic), Russia, spring is known as a flood season. Rapid warming can force river ice to break up quickly and pile in tremendous jams at narrow and curved points of the rivers, flooding nearby settlements. Both Alaskans and Yakuts are prepared for ice jams, but not for the severity of their consequences. Significant funds are spent on challenging annual disaster response and recovery efforts. In addition to the financial losses, spring floods lead to injuries and loss of life, displacement and long-term evacuation of population, damage to cultural or heritage sites, loss of means of livelihood, and ecosystem resource loss. Crippling costs may be reduced, and community wellbeing improved, through a cross-society and cross-disciplinary approach to mitigating the problem.

The main goal of my PhD research is to improve preparedness and response to annual springtime flooding in Alaska and Yakutia through the development of effective and easily adaptable flood risk mitigation and disaster response and recovery strategies. My research is based on comparative analysis of the flood sites Galena, Alaska and Edeytsy, Yakutia which suffered devastating floods in May 2013. My research is interdisciplinary because it incorporates fields of emergency management, crisis communication, public policy, hydrology, and meteorology. It comprises historical data and policy analysis, interviews with stakeholders, and evaluation of physical processes behind severe ice jam events. 

Background

In May 2013, several massive ice jams caused severe flooding along the Yukon River in Interior Alaska and along the Lena River and its tributaries in central Yakutia. Those simultaneous floods caused severe hardships to the residents of the two regions. Within two days, the floodwaters and ice debris destroyed nearly the entire infrastructure of Galena, Alaska forcing long-term evacuation of over 60 percent of its residents. Galena lost both water and electricity, causing severe sanitation and environmental problems. 

Flooding of the village of Edeytsy in Namsky District, Yakutia, displaced nearly 1300 people after water and ice debris destroyed 250 private residencies, as well as the majority of public infrastructure, including roads and bridges crucial to evacuation and emergency management. In both Edeytsy and Galena, disaster response and recovery were complicated by the unique features of the North, such as remoteness and isolation, limited infrastructure, presence of ice, and short summer when rebuilding is possible. Two years after these events, reconstruction in both communities is still ongoing, and many people are forced to remain evacuated.