Download Chapter
Russell Watkins/DFID

Chapter 4.5 Partnerships, governance and stakeholders

Widening civil society participation

Photo: Russell Watkins/DFID

[:en]NGOs (local, national and international) now feature in many disaster reduction plans. Yet they are often regarded as minor players, especially in countries whose governments remain reluctant to concede authority and resources to civil society. They have also found it hard at times to gain acceptance internationally. Governments do not always welcome the growth of civil society and some resist any expansion of its role, especially where this involves criticism of the government. Disasters can open up opportunities for civil society organisations to take on a greater role, but governments may take firm steps to close these down thereafter (see Case Study 4.8: Civil society and the state after disaster). Under particularly authoritarian regimes, more extreme repressive measures may be taken.

Case Study 4.8 Civil society and the state after disaster

In August 1999 an earthquake devastated the Marmara region of Turkey: over 17,000 people were killed and an estimated 100,000 houses and 16,000 businesses destroyed or severely damaged. The scale of the disaster put enormous pressure on emergency management systems. In the first few weeks after the earthquake, state institutions were ineffective and civil society organisations filled the gap. The government’s inability to respond adequately drew sharp criticism from the media, NGOs and affected people. The media focused repeatedly on government corruption as a factor contributing to the disaster.

In the months that followed the central authorities regained control and there was a shift in state attitudes towards civil society, from spontaneous acts of collaboration to systematic acts of control and threats. Only designated state authorities and a few state-friendly NGOs were allowed to deliver aid to earthquake victims. Other NGOs were told to leave: if they refused, their depots for donated goods were closed, they were threatened with having water and electricity supplies turned off and some had their bank accounts frozen. Members of the Turkish Association of Architects and Civil Engineers were refused permission to inspect destroyed and damaged buildings, and some lawyers claimed that evidence to convict the building contractors was being destroyed by the government. A Turkish television channel, Kanal 6, was closed down for a week for being too critical of the government’s response.

R. Jalali, ‘Civil Society and the State: Turkey after the Earthquake’, Disasters, 26(2), 2002.

Disasters can also open up opportunities for civil society organisations to operate more freely and collaborate with new partners. In Myanmar, where the government had placed severe restrictions on NGO activities, relief and recovery efforts after Cyclone Nargis in 2008 opened the way for more collaboration between local and international NGOs across a range of development and humanitarian sectors, and the number of local NGOs and CBOs increased.+S. R. Saha, Working with Ambiguity: International NGOs in Myanmar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2011),

In addition to conventional NGOs, a wide range of civil society organisations can make effective contributions to DRR. Examples include the following (partnerships with grass-roots groups are discussed in Chapters 6 and 7):

  • Trade unions are active in promoting health and safety in the workplace, and also give high priority to protecting the natural environment and socially responsible economic development. They have organisational skills and mass membership that could be mobilised to tackle hazards and vulnerability generally. The same is true of other professional or trade associations and cooperatives (see Case Study 4.9: Cooperatives and disaster preparedness).
  • Religious institutions and faith-based groups have traditions of supporting the needy and disaster victims. Local faith organisations with established congregations and membership affiliations are often a source of volunteers and sometimes leaders in emergencies, but there is a risk that such groups will favour people of their own religion, and members of minority religions are among the more vulnerable groups in some societies. Nevertheless, the extensive grass-roots outreach of faith groups gives them a potentially significant role in risk reduction.
  • Universities and other research institutions are improving our understanding of hazards, vulnerability and disaster management. Academic networks and publications constitute well-established and effective channels for sharing knowledge between researchers. International networking and information-sharing is particularly strong among scientists and engineers. Better interaction between disaster researchers, technical institutions and practitioners is needed, but there are many examples of collaboration, such as scientists providing information about hazards and long-range forecasting, universities undertaking market research to support livelihood product diversification and technical bodies developing guidelines and standards (see Case Study 4.10: Academic collaboration for DRR in Africa).
  • The mass media are potentially important partners in risk reduction (see Chapter 10).
  • Professional groups with technical skills and experience often offer support on a voluntary basis. Specialist NGOs can help with this, such as RedR (which provides training for aid workers, facilitates sending technical specialists to assist in relief and rehabilitation and supports capacity-building of local organisations) and Operation Florian (through which UK fire-fighters donate used equipment and provide technical training to fire and rescue services in other countries).+See;

Case Study 4.9 Cooperatives in disaster preparedness

The Japanese Consumers’ Cooperative Union (JCCU) represents cooperative organisations across the country. With member cooperatives, the JCCU runs disaster preparedness workshops to educate local residents. Workshop participants identify key emergency facilities (e.g. evacuation shelters, fire stations and hospitals) and vulnerable households, and mark their locations on neighbourhood maps. The completed maps are then used in scenario and simulation exercises to identify appropriate preparedness and response actions for the neighbourhood. The initiative was begun in 2004 in Chiba Prefecture by a group of cooperative workers who had survived the 1995 Kobe earthquake. It subsequently expanded to become a nationwide programme with over 20m members. Two hundred facilitators were trained, and in 2008 150 workshops were held, many of them supported by local and national government organisations.

UNISDR, Private Sector Activities in DRR: Good Practices and Lessons Learned (Bonn: UNISDR, 2008),, pp. 28–32.


Case Study 4.10 Academic collaboration for DRR in Africa

Established in 2006, PeriperiU is a partnership of African universities established to build local DRR capacity. It has ten member universities (in Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda) and involves more than 70 academics. The members have developed and delivered new academic programmes and more than 50 short courses and training modules for practitioners from government and civil society organisations. The consortium is also a vehicle for knowledge exchange between the universities and between different academic disciplines.