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Asian Development Bank

Chapter 1.3 Introduction

Disaster risk reduction

Photo: Asian Development Bank

[:en]What is disaster risk reduction (or DRR)? There are various definitions in the technical literature (see Box 1.1: Disaster terminology), but it is broadly understood to mean the development and application of policies, strategies and practices to reduce vulnerabilities and disaster risks throughout society. The term ‘disaster risk management’ (DRM) is often used in the same context, referring to a systematic approach to identifying, assessing and reducing risks. DRM is more focused on the practical implementation of initiatives to achieve DRR goals, but there is some overlap between the two terms and in practice they are sometimes used quite loosely or flexibly, with very similar meanings. In this book, the term DRR is applied in the broader sense to cover policy, strategic, institutional and operational issues (reflecting the wide scope of the book itself), whilst the term DRM is used more specifically to refer to aspects of operational practice. But a key point about both terms is that they describe a very broad-based approach to the causes of disasters and dealing with their consequences.

The basic principle underlying this Good Practice Review is that disaster programming should adopt a risk management approach – i.e. a systematic approach to identifying, assessing and reducing risks associated with hazards and human activities. Risk management should be an integral part of the way organisations do their work: not an add-on or a one-off action but a process of constant improvement. The risk management approach recognises that there is a wide range of geological, meteorological, environmental, technological, socio-economic and political threats to society. Risks are located at the point where hazards, communities and environments interact, and so effective risk management must address all of these aspects. Disasters are seen not as one-off events to be responded to, but as deep-rooted and longer-term problems that must be planned for. Effective risk management generally involves a variety of different but related actions. Such integrated approaches work best when they are informed by specific local conditions and targeted towards local needs (see Case Study 1.2: Linking DRR interventions).

Case Study 1.2 Linking DRR interventions

A community-based DRR project in the village of Genda Ada, Ethiopia, adopted a range of linked approaches to reduce short-term hazard risk and promote long-term livelihood security. The village lies at the foot of a large hillside which had been severely degraded by years of deforestation and quarrying. As a result, crop and livestock productivity fell, leading in turn to greater food insecurity and poverty, forcing some of the inhabitants to move to towns in search of work. Flood risks also increased, as water ran off the hills. In 2006 flash floods nearby killed 17 people and ruined crops and farmland.

Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organisation (JeCCDO), an Ethiopian NGO which provided emergency assistance after the 2006 floods, continued to work in the area to build long-term resilience to disasters. Its staff received training in community-based DRR methods (see Chapter 6 for a discussion of this approach). Then, following consultations with local leaders, it mobilised villagers to carry out a local risk and vulnerability assessment which highlighted flooding and drought as the main hazards.

A community DRR committee was established, a vulnerability map was drawn up and an action plan developed. The hillside was rehabilitated by constructing terraces, trees were planted and access to conservation areas was restricted to allow vegetation to regenerate more quickly. These measures helped to reduce the speed and volume of water flowing downhill, and enabled floodwater to be diverted to irrigate fields. A community flood warning system was established, with rainfall information being shared by cell phone. The project provided households with loans to buy livestock and gave training in livestock rearing. Farmers’ cooperatives and self-help groups were formed. JeCCDO also organised training and site visits for local government officials, and the mayor of the nearby town allocated funds for the rehabilitation of a neighbouring hillside. The community also pressed successfully for the local town administration to build additional flood defences.

Cordaid and IIRR, Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction: Experiences from the Horn of Africa (The Hague and Nairobi: Cordaid and International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, 2011),, pp. 45–48.

Disaster risk is not a distinct sector. It should be everyone’s business and, as this book shows, an extensive range of options and approaches is available. Project planners and managers need to take a very broad view of the options available to them, and they ought to be imaginative in their approach. It follows that DRR should be integrated into long-term development planning to reduce underlying socio-economic vulnerabilities, protect interventions against hazards and ensure that development policies and programmes do not inadvertently increase or create risks (see Case Study 1.3: Connecting development and disaster risk management).

Case Study 1.3 Connecting development and disaster risk management

Following severe flooding in 2000, which affected more than 4.5m people, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) began a project with villages along the Búzi River in central Mozambique to reduce disaster risk and integrate DRM into wider rural development initiatives. A large part of the population of Búzi District depended on subsistence farming, rural poverty was widespread and public infrastructure and services were limited. River flooding was a major hazard, with many municipalities sited close to the river; cyclones and droughts also affected parts of the district.

In 2003 GTZ combined its earlier development and reconstruction initiatives into a single integrated programme with four main components: district development planning, strengthening local government and communities, technological innovation and adaptation and sustainable use of natural resources and DRM. The project collaborated with a range of actors (government, community, NGO, private sector) at village, district and provincial levels, as well as with scientific institutions collecting and disseminating meteorological and hydrological data. Workshops, seminars and other meetings on DRM and climate change targeted decision-makers and communities, and a local radio station broadcast information about disasters and how to manage them.

Following discussions with officials, a long-term process was developed for integrating DRM into district development planning. A detailed and comprehensive risk analysis was carried out in nine especially disaster-prone municipalities. Local DRM committees were set up in particularly endangered villages, and their members were provided with training and equipment to plan and carry out emergency response. Simulation exercises were carried out and local early warning systems established (see Case Study 16.6: A community-managed flood warning system). Other measures included introducing regulations for cyclone-resistant public facilities such as schools and hospitals, and the construction of new settlements in less hazardous locations.

J. Ferguson, Disaster Risk Management along the Rio Búzi (Eschborn: GTZ, 2005),

DRR and other forms of risk management should not be seen simply as defensive measures: they also facilitate positive change. Improved security and safety provide vital support and opportunity to households, communities, societies and governments so that they can undertake development initiatives that improve well-being, strengthen livelihoods and contribute to sustainable development. Effective DRR actions provide development benefits in the short term, as well as contributing to vulnerability reduction in the long term, although in practice there may be trade-offs between different goals.

Box 1.3 Five insights on the process of risk management

  1. Taking on risks is necessary to pursue opportunities for development. The risk of inaction may well be the worst option of all.
  2. To confront risk successfully, it is essential to shift from unplanned and ad hoc responses when crises occur to proactive, systematic and integrated risk management.
  3. Identifying risks is not enough: the trade-offs and obstacles to risk management must also be identified, prioritised, and addressed through private and public action.
  4. For risks beyond the means of individuals to handle alone, risk management requires shared action and responsibility at different levels of society, from the household to the international community.
  5. Governments have a critical role in managing systemic risks, providing an enabling environment for shared action and responsibility, and channelling direct support to vulnerable people.
World Bank, World Development Report 2014: Risk and Opportunity (Washington DC: World Bank, 2013),

Traditional approaches to disaster management have usually been based on the ‘disaster cycle’, a conceptual model that is still used by many emergency management and civil protection organisations (see Figure 1.3: The disaster cycle). This is a linear operational model, dividing the cycle into phases (before, during and after disaster), each of which requires different forms of intervention (mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery). The formulation is easy to understand and makes it easy for disaster management organisations to allocate tasks, which may be one of the main reasons for its enduring popularity, but it does not capture the complexity of disasters, which cannot be neatly compartmentalised in this way. It can also lead to fragmentation of effort operationally. Risk management models, which are largely derived from business and organisational management thinking, are also based on a linear sequence of actions, but provide a different perspective on how to approach disasters, in that risk management is seen as a constantly repeating process of risk identification, analysis and treatment that incorporates feedback and learning.+InConsult, Risk Management Update: ISO 31000: Overview and Implications for Managers, 2009,, p. 4

Figure 1.3 The disaster cycle

ODI 2015

The disaster cycle

D. Alexander, Principles of Emergency Planning and Management (Harpenden: Terra Publishing, 2002), p. 6.

DRR planning, implementation and evaluation require holistic models and frameworks that are not confined to particular types of intervention or moments in time. The most influential of these to date has been the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015, agreed by member states of the United Nations at the Second World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, in January 2005.+The Hyogo Framework for Action is at The framework sets out a number of key and mutually supporting activities grouped under five main priorities for action:

  1. Ensure that disaster risk reduction (DRR) is a national and a local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation.
  2. Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning.
  3. Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.
  4. Reduce the underlying risk factors.
  5. Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.

The framework has been widely used by governments and civil society organisations at national and local levels; agencies have also adapted it to make it more appropriate to their own work.+A similar approach has been adopted by the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) in the operational framework for its strategy 2013–15. See GFDRR, Managing Disaster Risks for a Resilient Future (Washington DC: World Bank, 2013),

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, the UN system’s successor to the Hyogo Framework, was approved at the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March 2015. The framework has four priority areas: understanding disaster risk; strengthening disaster risk governance; investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience; and enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to ‘Build Back Better’ in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.+See

Figure 1.4 Chart of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030

Scope and Purpose
The present framework will apply to the risk of small-scale and large-scale, frequent and infrequent, sudden and slow-onset disasters, caused by natural or manmade hazards as well as related environmental, technological and biological hazards and risks. It aims to guide the multi-hazard management of disaster risk in development at all levels as well as within and across all sectors
Expected Outcome
The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries
Prevent new and reduce existing disaster risk through the implementation of integrated and inclusive economic, structural, legal, social, health, cultural, educational, environmental, technological, political and institutional measures that prevent and reduce hazard exposure and vulnerability to disaster, increase preparedness for response and recovery, and thus strengthen resilience
  • 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 (GDP) 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 this framework by 2030
  • Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to people by 2030
Priorities for Action – There is a need for focused action within and across sectors by States at local, national, regional and global levels in the following four priority areas.
  • Priority 1 – Understanding disaster risk. Disaster risk management needs to be based on an understanding of disaster risk in all its dimensions of vulnerability, capacity, exposure of persons and assets, hazard characteristics and the environment
  • Priority 2  – Strengthening disaster risk governance
    to manage disaster risk. Disaster risk governance at the national, regional and global levels is vital to the management of disaster risk reduction in all sectors and ensuring the coherence of national and local frameworks of laws, regulations and public policies that, by defining roles and responsibilities, guide, encourage and incentivize the public and private sectors to take action and address disaster risk
  • Priority 3 – Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience. Public and private investment in disaster risk prevention and reduction through structural and non-structural measures are essential to enhance the economic, social, health and cultural resilience of persons, communities, countries and their assets, as well as the environment. These can be drivers of innovation, growth and job creation. Such measures are cost-effective and instrumental to save lives, prevent and reduce losses and ensure effective recovery and rehabilitation
  • Priority 4 – Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to ‘Build Back Better’ in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Experience indicates that disaster preparedness needs to be strengthened for more effective response and ensure capacities are in place for effective recovery. Disasters have also demonstrated that the recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction phase, which needs to be prepared ahead of the disaster, is an opportunity to ‘Build Back Better’ through integrating disaster risk reduction measures. Women and persons with disabilities should publicly lead and promote gender-equitable and universally accessible approaches during the response and reconstruction phases
Guiding Principles
  • Primary responsibility of States to prevent and reduce disaster risk, including through cooperation
  • Shared responsibility between central Government and national authorities, sectors and stakeholders as appropriate to national circumstances
  • Protection of persons and their assets while promoting and protecting all human rights including the right to development
  • Engagement from all of society
  • Full engagement of all State institutions of an executive and legislative nature at national and local levels
  • Empowerment of local authorities and communities through resources, incentives and decision-making responsibilities as appropriate
  • Decision-making to be inclusive and risk-informed while using a multi-hazard approach
  • Coherence of disaster risk reduction and sustainable development policies, plans, practices and mechanisms, across different sectors
  • Accounting of local and specific characteristics of disaster risks when determining measures to reduce risk
  • Addressing underlying risk factors cost-effectively through investment versus relying primarily on post-disaster response and recovery
  • ‘Build Back Better’ for preventing the creation of,
    and reducing existing,
    disaster risk
  • The quality of global partnership and international cooperation to be effective, meaningful and strong
  • Support from developed countries and partners to developing countries to be tailored according to needs and priorities as identified by them
UN, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, undated, See, p. 33.