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Introduction to Disaster Risk Reduction

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) is a term used for reducing and preventing the effects of a disaster. DRR is founded on the belief that whilst disasters are inevitable, death and suffering from them is not and humans can take action to ensure this. DRR actions can be political, technical, social and economic. DRR takes forms as varied as policy guidance, legislation, preparedness plans, agricultural projects or insurance schemes. This includes projects such as building secure houses in earthquake areas, implementing early warning systems for tsunamis and managing food resources to avoid famine.

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and magnitude of many types of extreme events, including floods, droughts and tropical cyclones. The relevance of reducing and managing climate-related risks has been increasingly recognised in both policy and practice. Adaptation to climate change and DRR both seek to achieve sustainability and reduce vulnerability. Subsequently there are growing efforts to closely link DRR and climate change adaptation, both in policy and practice.

Social Dimensions of DRR

It is important to acknowledge the social aspect of DRR. Those with better access to resources, stable housing, financial fallback and higher social status are at a distinct advantage. Social conditions, therefore, also mean that the poor are more at risk from a disaster and DRR activities must involve them. This can involve a plethora of challenges including language barriers, the need for cultural sensitivity and extensive consultation with local people. Women, children and the elderly are most at risk during a disaster and yet as is clear from this collection of papers, they have an essential part to play in DRR.

Mainstreaming DRR

Reducing disaster risk is not just about additional investments – it is also about ensuring that development interventions are sound. Like climate change adaptation, DRR is far more effective when mainstreamed within larger development projects and policies. This has been increasingly recognised since the 1990s. Before this, disasters were frequently viewed as spontaneous and unpredictable events. Disaster affects almost all aspects of life; it is important that preventative efforts are made for the success of sustainable development. This applies to governments, donors, NGOs, civil society and businesses involved in service provision and institutional structures. Mainstreaming of DRR within construction, women’s projects, microfinance or water sanitation are just a few examples of areas, which have capacity to reduce the effects of a disaster. However, it is important that DRR elements have specific standards which are adopted early in the design stage. In many cases, climate change is placing added emphasis on mainstreaming DRR approaches, as it is believed that being able to tackle risks posed by current climate variability are the best frontline defence against longer-term climate change impacts. Various development organisations are now making an effort to mainstream DRR into their policies and processes, as are national donor governments. 

Challenges in DRR

Traditionally DRR has been neglected in many programmes because it falls in the middle of the ‘relief’ and ‘development’ dichotomy. Many DRR programmes are funded from humanitarian budgets and coordinated from humanitarian aid departments. Funding DRR by allocating a standard (often 5–10 per cent) percentage of humanitarian aid does help to raise budgets for DRR, but may increase separation of DRR projects from regular sectoral development and development practitioners have often seen DRR as belonging to the relief sector. Additional challenges to the implementation of DRR include the economic investment, which many developing countries struggle to afford. There are also problems associated with securing insurance in such high-risk areas. Often called The Samaritan’s dilemma, one theory suggests that the assurance of outside assistance once a disaster takes place, can deter people from investing in mitigation practices. Therefore post-disaster aid conditional on the implementation of DRR is an alternative option. Unfortunately, there are a lack of tools to analyse institutional capacities of community-based organisations to participate effectively in the design and implementation of local DRR. It is clear that much more research is needed in this area.

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