Disaster Risk Reduction

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) defines Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) as ‘the concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyse and manage the casual factors of disasters, including through reduced exposure to hazards, lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events’.

Both human and environmental factors are important causes of extreme weather events and increasing variability (IPCC, 2012; Mercer, 2010). The severity of the impacts of extreme weather events strongly depends on exposure and vulnerability (IPCC, 2012). Human factors are often the most significant determinants of disaster risk; settlement patterns, urbanisation, and socio-economic conditions have an observed influence on exposure and vulnerability (IPCC, 2012). Inequalities can exacerbate disaster risk, weakening adaptive capacity (IPCC, 2012). Tackling inequalities can thus improve disaster risk strategies. Extreme weather events will have greater impacts on sectors closely linked to climate, such as water, agriculture and food security, and health (IPCC, 2012). But exposure to risk is also high in urban contexts, notably in peri-urban slum areas that can be particularly exposed to climate-induced disasters (World Bank, 2010; Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2015).

DRR shares with climate adaptation the aim of reducing the impact of shocks by anticipating risks and addressing vulnerabilities. However, it differs in its focus. DRR emphasises extremes, includes geophysical risks, and tends to build on past on experience and local knowledge. Climate adaptation responses focus more on scientific projections of future impacts.

Nevertheless, there is increasing recognition of the merits of greater collaboration between the two fields (Mercer, 2010; Shamsuddoha et al., 2013; IPCC, 2012). For instance, DRR tools that predict hazards are highly relevant for adaptation to extreme weather events, while climate-related losses could be reduced through widespread implementation of DRR measures. Despite the benefits of integrating the two approaches, challenges exist, including: the large number of different actors involved in DRR and adaptation; tension between short-term funding for DRR and long-term funding needed for adaptation; and limited capacity to predict extreme events linked to climate change.

Mercer, J. (2010). Disaster risk reduction or climate change adaptation: Are we reinventing the wheel? Journal of International Development, 22(2): 247-264.
Are disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) essentially the same? This paper draws on fieldwork in three communities in Papua New Guinea to question the reasoning behind a separation of the two agendas of DRR and CCA. The case study shows that climate change is just one factor among many contributing to community vulnerability. Climate change should not be considered a stand-alone issue, but rather incorporated into wider DRR strategies within a holistic approach to sustainable development. A narrow focus on CCA would not adequately address the development concerns of communities.

Shamsuddoha, M., Roberts, E., Hasemann, A., & Roddick, S. (2013). Establishing links between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the context of loss and damage: Policies and approaches in Bangladesh. London: Climate & Development Knowledge Network.
How can disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) efforts work together to address potential loss and damage from climate change? This paper draws on literature and key informant interviews to analyse DRR and CCA policies, strategies, institutions and approaches in Bangladesh. It highlights the challenges arising from rigid bureaucratic demarcation of responsibility for CCA and DRR, recommends practical reforms to institutional structures and systems, and calls for a more collaborative and cooperative approach to DRR and CCA in order to address loss and damage within national policy processes.

Approaches to DRR

The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 highlights the importance of institutions and their capacities in contributing to disaster response processes, building community disaster resilience, and integrating DRR in development planning (FAO, 2008; IPCC, 2012). Long-term planning (at national level and across sectors) is recognised as important for DRR (FAO, 2008; IPCC, 2012). Appropriate institutional structures and timely risk communication strategies are important to ensure effective adaptation and disaster risk management (World Bank, 2010). In addition, preventative measures, including early warning systems, critical infrastructure, and environmental buffers, are vital to building resilience (World Bank, 2010). Investment in early prevention is recommended, for example during urbanisation and in designing new infrastructure to avoid introducing new risks (World Bank, 2010; IWPR, 2015).

Gender mainstreaming and promoting women’s engagement in DRR are identified as essential, as women’s knowledge and livelihood strategies tend to differ from those of men. Gender-sensitive DRR approaches will strengthen climate adaptation strategies (UNISDR, 2007). Women and girls have unique vulnerabilities arising from social norms, which affect their ability to survive and cope with natural disasters (IWPR, 2015). Experts also caution that women and girls are more susceptible to sexual exploitation in a post-disaster context (Plan International 2011; IPCC 2012; IWPR, 2015). Women and girls are typically marginalised from decision-making fora, and discriminated against in post-disaster recovery and reconstruction efforts ‒ yet their active participation has been shown to improve the effectiveness of disaster prevention, relief, recovery and reconstruction (IPCC, 2012; IWPR, 2015).

Effective strategies tend to involve a portfolio of different actions that aim to reduce risk. Local knowledge is vital in identifying existing approaches, capacity and shortcomings (IPCC, 2012; FAO, 2008). Many DRR approaches rely on practical community-based tools based on people-centred and holistic livelihoods perspectives to plan and implement interventions.

IPCC. (2012). Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation. A special report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.
How can the risks and impacts of climate change and extreme climate events be managed and minimised? This report brings together evidence from both climate scientists and experts on disaster risk management, and assesses how exposure and vulnerability to weather and climate events determine impacts and the likelihood of disasters. Disaster risk emerges from the interaction of physical risk factors, such as extreme climate events, and the human risk factors of exposure and vulnerability. Human factors are often more important drivers of disaster risk than physical factors. The most effective approaches to adaptation and disaster risk reduction are those that offer development benefits in the relatively near term, as well as reductions in vulnerability over the longer term.

FAO. (2008). Disaster risk management systems analysis: A guide book. Rome: FAO.
This guide provides tools and methods to assess existing structures and capacities of institutions concerned with Disaster Risk Management (DRM) to improve their effectiveness and integration with development planning. The guide’s focus is on designing and promoting Community-Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM), and mainstreaming DRM into development and sectoral planning. It adopts a sustainable livelihoods approach to identify which types of households are most prone to vulnerability. The links between shocks, vulnerabilities and households’ assets and coping strategies are examined. The framework puts households and livelihoods at the centre, with attention to assessing differences among socio-economic groups.

UNISDR. (2007). Gender perspective: Working together for disaster risk reduction – Good practices and lessons learned. Geneva: UNISDR.
Gender mainstreaming and full and balanced participation of women and men, girls and boys make disaster risk reduction efforts more effective. This report presents 15 practices that advance gendered resilience building – a key principle that informs the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action. Each practice can be replicated and empowers women to build resilience in their communities.

Institute for Women’s Policy Research. (2015). Gender, urbanisation and democratic governance. Washington, DC: National Democratic Institute.
This paper outlines challenges faced by urban women, showing how policy and design overlook their experiences and largely preclude their participation in decision making. Women and girls are more likely to live in urban poverty and face increased risks from environmental hazards and climate change – particularly those living in informal settlements. Natural disasters affect women and men differently. Impacts on women include: disruption in paid work; difficulties in recovering (e.g. limited access to financial support); heightened financial insecurity; difficulties in accessing public services, lack of communication and information; and heightened personal insecurity. Since disasters are steadily increasing, cities have a responsibility to understand and improve their capacity to mitigate and respond to women and girls’ experiences and incorporate their views in managing humanitarian relief.

Plan International. (2011). Weathering the storm: Adolescent girls and climate change. Woking, UK: Plan International.
Drawing on empirical field research, this report notes that girls and women are more susceptible to sexual exploitation in the aftermath of disasters. Identified risk factors include being orphaned or separated from their parents, staying in temporary shelters, using unsafe latrines, or collecting water or firewood. Girls are also at risk of child marriage, prostitution, and increases in sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

World Bank. (2010). Natural hazards, unnatural disasters: The economics of effective prevention. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Earthquakes, droughts, floods and storms are natural hazards, but the ‘unnatural disasters’ are deaths and damage that result from human acts of omission and commission. This report emphasises economic aspects of disaster risk management, combining literature review, case studies, and empirical analysis. It finds that prevention pays, and that three measures are particularly important: early warning systems, critical infrastructure and environmental buffers. Insurance and other coping mechanisms are also vital. Climate change and rapid urbanisation are both altering the disaster risk landscape, highlighting the importance of early investment in prevention.