Disaster risk reduction

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) is a systematic approach to identifying, assessing and reducing the risks of disaster. It aims to reduce socio-economic vulnerabilities to disaster as well as dealing with the environmental and other hazards that trigger them. Here it has been strongly influenced by the mass of research on vulnerability that has appeared in print since the mid-1970s.[1] It is the responsibility of development and relief agencies alike. It should be an integral part of the way such organizations do their work, not an add-on or one-off action. DRR is very wide-ranging: Its scope is much broader and deeper than conventional emergency management. There is potential for DRR initiatives in just about every sector of development and humanitarian work.

The most commonly cited definition of DRR is one used by UN agencies such as UNISDR, also known as the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, and UNDP: "The conceptual framework of elements considered with the possibilities to minimize vulnerabilities and disaster risks throughout a society, to avoid (prevention) or to limit (mitigation and preparedness) the adverse impacts of hazards, within the broad context of sustainable development."[2]

Development of the concept and approach

The evolution of disaster management thinking and practice since the 1970s has seen a progressively wider and deeper understanding of why disasters happen, accompanied by more integrated, holistic approaches to reduce their impact on society. The modern paradigm of disaster management—disaster risk reduction (DRR)—represents the latest step along this path. DRR is a relatively new concept in formal terms, but it embraces much earlier thinking and practice. It is being widely embraced by international agencies, governments, disaster planners and civil society organisations.[3]

Many see climate change as having a direct impact on the prevalence and seriousness of disasters, as well as causing them to be more frequent in the future. There are growing efforts to closely link DRR and climate change adaptation, both in policy and practice.

DRR is such an all-embracing concept that it has proved difficult to define or explain in detail, although the broad idea is clear enough. Inevitably, there are different definitions in the technical literature, but it is generally understood to mean the broad development and application of policies, strategies and practices to minimise vulnerabilities and disaster risks throughout society. The term 'disaster risk management' (DRM) is often used in the same context and to mean much the same thing: a systematic approach to identifying, assessing and reducing risks of all kinds associated with hazards and human activities. It is more properly applied to the operational aspects of DRR: the practical implementation of DRR initiatives.

There have been growing calls for greater clarity about the components of DRR and about indicators of progress toward resilience — a challenge that the international community took up at the UN's World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) in Kobe, Japan, in 2005, only days after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The WCDR began the process of pushing international agencies and national governments beyond the vague rhetoric of most policy statements and toward setting clear targets and commitments for DRR. The first step in this process was the formal approval at the WCDR of the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005–2015) (HFA). This was the first internationally accepted framework for DRR. It set out an ordered sequence of objectives (outcome – strategic goals – priorities), with five priorities for action attempting to 'capture' the main areas of DRR intervention. The UN's biennial Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction provided an opportunity for the UN and its member states to review progress against the Hyogo Framework. It held its first session 5–7 June 2007 in Geneva, Switzerland, where UNISDR is based. The subsequent Global Platforms were held in June 2009, May 2011 and May 2013, all in Geneva. The successor accord to the Hyogo Framework was adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held on March 14–18, 2015 in the Japanese city of Sendai. It is known as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015–2030).

UN initiatives have helped to refine and promote the concept at international level, stimulated initially by the UN's designation of the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. In 1999, UN member states approved the International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, which reflected a shift from the traditional emphasis on disaster response to disaster reduction, by seeking to promote a "culture of prevention".

Disaster research

Disaster research deals with conducting field and survey research on group, organizational and community preparation for, response to, and recovery from natural and technological disasters and other community-wide crises.

Related field such as anthropology study human populations, environments, and events that create utter chaos. They research long-lasting effects on multiple areas of society including: social organization, political organization and empowerment, economic consequences, environmental degradation, human and environmental adaptation and interactions, oral history, traditional knowledge, psychological consequences, public health and the broader historical record of the affected region.

Public health preparedness requires cultural awareness, respect and preparation; different parties acting during a relief period are driven by cultural and religious beliefs, including taboos.[4] If these are not acknowledged or known by emergency and medical personnel, treatment can become compromised by both a patient refusing to be treated and by personnel refusing to treat victims because of a violation of values.

Research history

The Disaster Research Center (DRC),[5] was the first social science research center in the world devoted to the study of disasters. It was established at Ohio State University in 1963 and moved to the University of Delaware in 1985.

The Center conducts field and survey research on group, organizational and community preparation for, response to, and recovery from natural and technological disasters and other community-wide crises. DRC researchers have carried out systematic studies on a broad range of disaster types, including hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous chemical incidents, and plane crashes. DRC has also done research on civil disturbances and riots, including the 1992 Los Angeles unrest. Staff have conducted nearly 600 field studies since the Center's inception, traveling to communities throughout the United States and to a number of foreign countries, including Mexico, Canada, Japan, Italy, and Turkey. Faculty members from the University's Sociology and Criminal Justice Department and Engineering Department direct DRC's projects. The staff also includes postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduates and research support personnel.

DRC not only maintains its own databases but also serves as a repository for materials collected by other agencies and researchers, and it contains over 50,000 items, making it the most complete collection on the social and behavioral aspects of disasters in the world.

Studies in the field of Disaster Research are supported by many diverse sources, such as:

Additionally, there are numerous academic and national policy boards in the realm of disaster research:

  • National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council's Commission on International Disaster Assistance and Board on Natural Disasters
  • National Science Foundation's Social Hazard Review Panel
  • U.S. Committee on the UN Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction

Some issues and challenges


According to Mluver 1996 it is unrealistic to expect progress in every aspect of DRR : capacities and resources are insufficient. Governments and other organisations have to make what are in effect 'investment decisions', choosing which aspects of DRR to invest in, when, and in what sequence. This is made more complicated by the fact that many of the interventions advocated are developmental rather than directly related to disaster management. Most existing DRR guidance sidesteps this issue. One way of focusing is to consider only actions that are intended specifically to reduce disaster risk. This would at least distinguish from more general efforts toward sustainable development. The concept of 'invulnerable development' attempts this: In this formulation, invulnerable development is development directed toward reducing vulnerability to disaster, comprising 'decisions and activities that are intentionally designed and implemented to reduce risk and susceptibility, and also raise resistance and resilience to disaster'.[6]

Research has shown the impact of further investment in effective preparedness, as the benefits with regards to reducing humanitarian caseloads far outweigh the costs; a case study of Niger showed positive cost and benefit results across all scenarios. Three different scenarios were modelled, from the absolute level of disaster loss, to the potential reduction in disaster loss and the discount rate. It is estimated that every $1 spent results in $3.25 of benefit in the most conservative scenario. This increases to $5.31 of benefit for the least conservative scenario.[7]

Partnerships and inter-organisational co-ordination

No single group or organisation can address every aspect of DRR. DRR thinking sees disasters as complex problems demanding a collective response. Co-ordination even in conventional emergency management is difficult, for many, organisations may converge on a disaster area to assist. Across the broader spectrum of DRR, the relationships between types of organisation and between sectors (public, private and non-profit, as well as communities) become much more extensive and complex. DRR requires strong vertical and horizontal linkages (central-local relations become important). In terms of involving civil society organisations, it should mean thinking broadly about which types of organisation to involve (i.e., conventional NGOs and such organisations as trades unions, religious institutions, amateur radio operators (as in the US and India), universities and research institutions).

Communities and their organizations

Traditional emergency management/civil defense thinking makes two misleading assumptions about communities. First, it sees other forms of social organisation (voluntary and community-based organisations, informal social groupings and families) as irrelevant to emergency action. Spontaneous actions by affected communities or groups (e.g., search and rescue) are viewed as irrelevant or disruptive, because they are not controlled by the authorities. The second assumption is that disasters produce passive 'victims' who are overwhelmed by crisis or dysfunctional behavior (panic, looting, self-seeking activities). They therefore need to be told what to do, and their behavior must be controlled — in extreme cases, through the imposition of martial law. There is plenty of sociological research to refute such 'myths'.[8][9]

An alternative viewpoint, informed by a considerable volume of research, emphasises the importance of communities and local organisations in disaster risk management. The rationale for community-based disaster risk management that it responds to local problems and needs, capitalises on local knowledge and expertise, is cost-effective, improves the likelihood of sustainability through genuine 'ownership' of projects, strengthens community technical and organisational capacities, and empowers people by enabling them to tackle these and other challenges. Local people and organisations are the main actors in risk reduction and disaster response in any case.[10] Consequently, it has been seen that understanding the social capital already existent in the community can greatly help reducing the risk at the community level.[11][12]

Learning from a Colombian community

Widespread flooding affected most of Colombia's 32 regions between 2010 and 2012. Some 3.6 million people were affected. On 24 April 2012, President Juan Manuel Santos enacted a law, which aimed at improving natural disaster response and prevention at both national and local level.[13] The Universidad Del Norte, based in Barranquilla, has investigated how one community reacted to the destruction caused by the floods, in an effort to try to make Colombian communities more resilient to similar events occurring in the future. With funding from the Climate & Development Knowledge Network, the project team spent 18 months working with women from the municipality of Manatí, in the Department of Atlántico.

Here, 5,733 women were affected by the floods. They had to reconstruct their entire lives in a Manatí they could no longer recognise. The project team worked with the women to find out how they coped with the effects of the floods, and to articulate the networks of reciprocity and solidarity that developed in the community. Their findings highlighted resilience strategies that the community used to respond to the extreme event. The researchers suggested that similar strategies could be used to inform government actions to reduce or manage risk from disasters. They also concluded that it is important to consider gender when planning for disasters as women and men often play very different roles and because, on average, disasters kill more women than men.[14]


The DRR approach requires redefining the role of government disaster reduction. It is generally agreed that national governments should be main actors in DRR: They have a duty to ensure the safety of citizens, the resources and capacity to implement large-scale DRR, a mandate to direct or co-ordinate the work of others, and they create the necessary policy and legislative frameworks. These policies and programmes have to be coherent. More research is needed into why some governments are more successful than others in disaster management. There is still no general consensus on what drives changes in policy and practice. The shifting relationship between central government and other actors is another area requiring research.

Accountability and rights

The principle of accountability lies at the heart of genuine partnership and participation in DRR. It applies to state institutions that are expected to be accountable through the democratic process and to private sector and non-profit organizations that are not subject to democratic control. Accountability is an emerging issue in disaster reduction work. Accountability should be primarily toward those who are vulnerable to hazards and affected by them.

Many organisations working in international aid and development are now committing themselves to a 'rights-based' approach. This tends to encompass human rights (i.e., those that are generally accepted through international agreements) and other rights that an agency believes should be accepted as human rights. In such contexts, the language of rights may be used vaguely, with a risk of causing confusion. Security against disasters is not generally regarded as a right although it is addressed in some international codes, usually indirectly. The idea of a 'right to safety' is being discussed in some circles.

Policy and investment

In a June 2012 study, researchers at the Overseas Development Institute highlighted the need for more focus on disaster risk management (DRM) in the international policy frameworks to be agreed in 2015.[15] Economic costs of disasters are on the rise, but most humanitarian investment is currently spent on responding to disasters, rather than managing their future risks. If this pattern continues, the researchers argue, then "spending on reconstruction and relief will become unsustainable." A more developed evidence base, enhanced political commitment, and dialogue across policy areas will be needed for this mainstreaming of disaster risk management to happen.

Further papers also highlighted the need to for strong gender perspective in disaster risk reduction policy. Studies have shown that women are disproportionally impacted by natural disasters. Following the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, 77% and 72% of the deaths in the districts of North Aceh and Aceh Besar, Indonesia, were female. And in India 62% of people who died were female.[16] A gender-sensitive approach would identify how disasters affect men, women, boys and girls differently and shape policy to people's specific vulnerabilities, concerns and needs.[17]


Only 4% of the estimated $10 billion in annual humanitarian assistance is devoted to prevention(source), and yet every dollar spent on risk reduction saves between $5 and $10 in economic losses from disasters.[18]


If one of the above 4% were dedicated to clean water for the poor who die from drinking contaminated water, if they don't die from lack of even that, the numbers work out to about 200,000 lives saved per year. Tradeoff: save the palace, or save 200,000 lives, leaving 3% to invest in risk reduction worth about $300 million in aid. There's no reason to reduce the humanitarian aid for saving $300 million. A Senator could grant that by voice vote, or a good fund raiser could cover that money, and still leave $100 million to save 200,000 lives with clean drinking water.[19][20][21]

Towards the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015–2030)

In March 2015, the 10-year-old Hyogo Framework came to an end and was replaced by the Sendai Framework. It sets out four priorities: understanding disaster risk; strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk; investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience; enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to "Build Back Better" in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. To support the assessment of global progress in achieving the outcome and goal of the Sendai Framework, seven global targets have been agreed: substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030, aiming to lower average per 100,000 global mortality between 2020–2030 compared to 2005–2015; substantially reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030, aiming to lower the average global figure per 100,000 between 2020–2030 compared to 2005–2015; reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product by 2030; substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030; substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020; substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of the framework by 2030; substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.

The Sendai document emerged from three years' of talks, during which UN member states, NGOs and other stakeholders made calls for an improved version of the existing HFA, with a set of common standards, a comprehensive framework with achievable targets, and a legally-based instrument for disaster risk reduction. Member states also emphasised the need to tackle disaster risk reduction and climate change adaption when setting the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in light of an insufficient focus on risk reduction and resilience in the original Millennium Development Goals. [22]

Emergency preparedness has the potential to be transformative in presenting sustainable and functioning national systems that will reduce the cost of long-term response and relieve the increasing burden on the humanitarian system. However, emergency preparedness is largely underfunded. Where the financing does exist, it is complex, fragmented and disorganised. This is particularly the case for the international contribution, with various separate institutions, mechanisms and approaches defining where the funding is directed and how it is spent. A report by the Overseas Development Institute suggests that although there are advantages to improving existing financing mechanisms for emergency preparedness, it is not sufficient to simply reinforce the current system. Incremental changes will still leave gaps and a global solution should be considered to improve long-term disaster risk reduction.[23]

Major international conferences and workshops

With the growth of interest in disasters and disaster management, there are many conferences and workshops held on the topic, from local to global levels. Regular international conferences include:

  • The annual conference of TIEMS: The International Emergency Management Society.
  • The International Disaster and Risk Conferences (IDRC) and workshops, held each year since 2006, in Davos, Switzerland (even-numbered years), and other locations (odd numbered years).
  • The meetings of the International Research Committee on Disasters (IRCD), held as part of the International Sociological Association's World Congress of Sociology.

See also


  1. Wisner B et al. 2004, At Risk: Natural hazards, people's vulnerability and disasters (London: Routledge)
  2. Living With Risk: A Global Review of Disaster Reduction Initiatives, UNISDR, 2004; pg. 17
  3. § UN ISDR 2004, Living with Risk: A global review of disaster reduction initiatives (Geneva: UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction),
  4. Alisa Dogramadzieva (December 17, 2018). "In a Serbian Refugee Camp, Women Tackling a Taboo Topic". The New York Times.
  5. "Disaster Research Center".
  6. McEntire DA 2000, 'Sustainability or invulnerable development? Proposals for the current shift in paradigms'. Australian Journal of Emergency Management 15(1): 58–61. Archived 2009-10-09 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Dare to prepare: taking risk seriously Kellett, J. and Peters, K. (2013) Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved 10 December 2013
  8. § Quarantelli EL 1998, Major Criteria for Judging Disaster Planning and Managing and their Applicability in Developing Societies (University of Delaware: Disaster Research Center, Preliminary Paper 268).
  9. § Dynes RR 1994, 'Community Emergency Planning: False Assumptions and Inappropriate Analogies'. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 12(2): 141–158.
  10. § Maskrey A 1989, Disaster Mitigation: A Community-Based Approach (Oxford: Oxfam).
  11. Aldrich, Daniel P.; Meyer, Michelle A. (February 2015). "Social Capital and Community Resilience". American Behavioral Scientist. 59 (2): 254–269. doi:10.1177/0002764214550299.
  12. Sanyal, Saswata; Routray, Jayant Kumar (2016-08-27). "Social capital for disaster risk reduction and management with empirical evidences from Sundarbans of India" (PDF). International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. 19: 101–111. doi:10.1016/j.ijdrr.2016.08.010.
  13. Colombian army has growing role in flood defence, BBC News, 27 April 2012.
  14. FEATURE: Learning lessons from Manatí's resilient women, Climate & Development Knowledge Network, October 13, 2013
  15. Mitchell, T. and Wilkinson, E. (2012) Disaster risk management in post-2015 policy frameworks: forging a more resilient future. Overseas Development Institute Briefing Paper
  16. Neumayer, E and Plümper, T. (2007) 'The gendered nature of natural disastersL the impact of catastrophic events on the gender gap in making disaster risk reduction gender-sensitive: policy and practical guidelines life expectancy 1981–2002', Annals of the Association of American Geographers97(3): 551–566.
  17. Dr Virginie Le Masson and Lara Langston, Overseas Development Institute, March 2014, How Should the new international disaster risk framework address gender equality? http://cdkn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/CDKN_Gender_DRR_PolicyBrief_Final_WEB.pdf
  18. "A Needless Toll of Natural Disasters", Op-Ed, Boston Globe, 23 March 2006, by Eric Schwartz (UN Secretary General's Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery
  19. Jeffrey Marlow (September 21, 2009). "The Pursuit of Cost-Effective Desalination". The New York Times.
  20. i.e. don't raise the 4%, lower it to 3%
  21. Numbers in TALK page
  22. "Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction". Retrieved 11 December 2013
  23. "Dare to prepare: taking risk seriously" Kellett, J. and Peters, K. (2013) Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2013

Major publications

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.