Disaster Risk Reduction

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) is the concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyze and minimize the causal factors of disasters.1 Examples of DRR include improving preparedness for adverse events, lessening exposure to hazards and therefore the vulnerability of people and property, as well as strategic management of land and the environment.

Evolution of Concept and Approach

Since the 1970s, international agencies, governments, and civil society have attempted to examine the causal factors of disasters in order to gain a deeper understanding of why disasters occur and why certain adverse affects are so dramatic in particular areas. The aim of these organizations was to develop a systemic and integrated approach to reduce the impact of disasters on society and to focus on preventive measures. Over the past four decades, DRR has evolved from a narrowly perceived technical discipline, to a broad-based global movement focused on sustainable development.2

DRR focuses on the following three activities:

  • Mitigation: reducing the frequency, scale, intensity and impact of hazards
  • Preparedness: strengthening the capacity of communities to withstand, respond to and recover from hazards, and of government and implementing partners to establish speedy and appropriate interventions when the communities’ capacities are overwhelmed
  • Advocacy: positively influencing the social, political, economic and environmental issues that contribute to the causes and magnitude of impact of hazards3

DRR is viewed as an all-encompassing concept whose activities are often integrated into other existing programs such as micro-finance, food security, promoting agricultural diversity, or capacity building. DRR’s overall objective is to apply policies and strategies that will ultimately minimize the impact of disasters on society and alleviate unnecessary and preventable suffering.

United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction

The United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), created by UN General Assembly in December 1999, is the secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. UNISDR serves as the focal point in the UN system for the coordination of disaster reduction activities of UN and regional organizations. Core areas of work include ensuring DRR is applied to climate change adaptation, increasing investments for DRR, building disaster-resilient cities, schools and hospitals, and strengthening the international system for DRR. In addition, UNISDR coordinates the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, providing guidance for implementation of the Hyogo Framework; issuing the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction; supporting countries in monitoring risk trends; and leading global campaigns for DRR. 5

The Hyogo Framework for Action

The UN General Assembly, through resolution A/RES/58/214, convened a World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan, in January 2005. The Conference was to evaluate the progress of DRR since the 1994 Yokohama Conference, where each represented country had accepted its responsibility to protect its citizens, infrastructure and national, social or economic assets from the impact of natural disasters6 , and to set an agenda for state members through 2015. One hundred and sixty-eight governments adopted The Hyogo Framework for Action, a comprehensive blueprint that offered guiding principles, priorities for action and practical means for achieving disaster resilience for at-risk populations with the ultimate goal of minimizing the loss of lives and social, economic, and environmental assets when hazards strike.7 Moreover, the Hyogo Framework encouraged governments to incorporate DRR activities on national and local levels by emphasizing national legislation reform, modifying existing policies and restructuring organization and civil society programs. The UNISDR stressed three priorities: 1) creating effective multi-sector national guidance platforms; 2) integration disaster reduction into developmental policies; and 3) promoting community participation.8


Coordination and implementation of DRR poses significant challenges to states with limited resources and capacity to prioritize and mainstream DRR. States must coordinate with NGOs, civil society groups, and community leaders to ensure a broad, accurately calibrated, unified DRR agenda to avoid duplicated efforts, waste of financial and human resources, and inefficiencies. It is equally as important is to integrate and encourage partnership at the local level where communities become the first-responders when disasters strike as it is to implement and integrate DRR activities at the national level.9

In 2010, the UNISDR Secretariat initiated a mid-term review of the Hyogo Framework for Action with the objective of monitoring the implementation progress of member states. The report confirmed that in the five years since the inception of the Framework, general progress had been made in accepting DRR strategies with the aim of adoption within national policies and legislation.10 However, the report indicated a lack of uniform implementation in all countries and in regional and international response frameworks. Main concerns included a lack of systematic multi-hazard risk assessments, establishment of early warning systems, integration of DRR into sustainable development policies, and insufficient implementation of the Framework at the local level.11

The progress report also highlights steps and recommendations for member countries to enhance implementation of the Framework through 2015. At the international level, the report stresses the need for coordination among governments, aid organizations and the United Nations. At the national level, the report emphasizes coordination among different sectors of government, under the auspices of a national actor who would take responsibility and be held accountable for the implementation of DRR. 12

1The United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), What is DRR, http://www.unisdr.org/who-we-are/what-is-drr
2UNISDR, History, http://www.unisdr.org/who-we-are/history#60s
3Approaches to Disaster Risk Reduction, Concern USA, September 2005. http://www.concernusa.org/media/pdf/2007/10/Concern_ApproachestoDRR%20pa...
5UNISDR, Who We Are – Mandate, http://www.unisdr.org/who-we-are/mandate
6ISDR, Living With Risk Volume I, 2004. http://www.unisdr.org/files/657_lwr1.pdf
7World Conference on Disaster Reduction, Brief History of the WCDR Process, 18-22 January 2005, Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. http://www.unisdr.org/2005/wcdr/wcdr-index.htm
8UNISDR, Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. http://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/publications/1037
9Ann-Sofie Roth and Per Becker, Challenges to disaster risk reduction: A study of stakeholders’ perspectives in Imizamo Yethu, South Africa, JÀMBÁ: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies, Vol. 3, No.2, May 2011. http://www.jamba.org.za/index.php/jamba/article/viewFile/41/41
10UNISDR, Mid-Term Review of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), 2010-2011. http://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/publications/18197

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