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Address poverty and vulnerability and their structural causes

Disaster-related risks come not only from direct exposure to natural hazards, such as droughts or hurricanes, but also from the vulnerability of social and economic systems to the effects of these hazards. Addressing the symptoms and causes of social and economic vulnerability is therefore critical for reducing poverty, promoting development, and reducing the severity of disasters.

While those managing disaster risk recognise that equitable access to land, money, information, health care, education and decision-making are all crucial for reducing disaster risk (see priority area 4 of the Hyogo Framework for Action), few have been able to tackle the causes of vulnerability through their work. Climate change is now making this task even more difficult, as it is exacerbating vulnerability by hampering people’s access to water resources, reducing agricultural yields, changing patterns of disease, and increasing disasters risk (IPCC 2007).

While it is not the responsibility of disaster risk managers to solve all these problems, climate smart risk managers will ensure effective partners with other development factors to simultaneously tackle the drivers of vulnerability, and promote disaster risk-reducing actions. At the very least, disaster risk management interventions must not inadvertently increase vulnerability. An important aspect of this involves ensuring that interventions do not add to the problem of climate change (one of the drivers of vulnerability) by emitting unnecessary greenhouse gases or degrading local ecosystems when other – more climate-friendly – options are available. Of course, such decisions will likely involve trade-offs, but disaster risk managers will need to conduct more climate-sensitive environmental impact assessments as part of their routine approach to planning.

Recommended reading

Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters
International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) 2005
This paper presents a detailed overview of ‘The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015', which was adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, held in Hyogo, Japan in 2005.  It notes that the Hyogo Fram...
2009 Global assessment report on disaster risk reduction: risk and poverty in a changing climate
PreventionWeb 2009
There is a growing trend towards greater and more catastrophic natural disasters. Of the ten disasters with the highest death tolls since 1975, half have occurred in the five year period between 2003 and 2008; with the developing...
Disaster Risk Reduction, climate change adaptation and human security. A commissioned report for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
K. O'Brien; L. Sygna; R. Leichenko / Global Environmental Change and Human Security International Project Office 2008
The relationship between climate change and security is a key concern among governments and international organisations. Security concerns include the potential for conflict over natural resources, population displacement, migration, ...
Climate Change Adaptation, Disaster Risk Reduction and Social Protection
M. Davies; K. Oswald; T. Mitchell / Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2009
This paper outlines linkages between climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction (DRR) and social protection. It starts by giving examples of the social dimensions of climate change and argues that understanding the intra-house...
Rural disaster risk – poverty interface. Prepared for global assessment report on disaster reduction
T. Mitchell; R. Sabates-Wheeler; S. Devereux / Institute of Development Studies, Sussex [ES] 2008
The majority of the world’s poorest people live and work in rural areas. This research paper examines links between disaster risk and poverty trends to inform the central analysis and illustrate the dynamics of the disaster-pove...
Adaptation toolkit. Integrating adaptation to climate change into secure livelihoods
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 2009
The existing poverty and the likelihood of severe effects of climate change in developing countries highlights the critical importance of adaptation to its impacts. Without substantial intervention, the likelihood of reaching global a...