Disaster risk reduction

Poverty, vulnerability and disasters are linked - it is most often the poorest that are worst affected and suffer most. Their poverty makes them more vulnerable. Their capacity to cope with disasters and recover from the effects are constrained by their lack of resources.

families leave their homes following flooding in Bangladesh, 2006Disasters rob the poor of their meagre possessions, their homes and livestock and most importantly, their livelihoods. Conversely, droughts, floods and even earthquakes have impacted on people's lives and livelihoods without being deemed a disaster, when those people were sufficiently prepared and had the capacity to cope and recover quickly.

The Practical Action approach to disaster management is based on research and operational experience gained over several years in South Asia, Africa and Peru. The work has convincingly demonstrated that secure and sustainable livelihoods reduce both poverty and susceptibility to disasters. Poor communities have been facilitated to undertake activities which increase their resilience to disasters while strengthening their livelihood strategies, using local knowledge, capacities and resourcefulness, coupled with innovative and appropriate technologies.

The Mainstreaming livelihood-centred approaches to disaster management project, which Practical Action has been implementing since January 2006, is putting into practice many of the lessons learned from past experience.

Introduction to Disaster Risk Reduction

Disasters cost lives, destroy infrastructure, disrupt livelihoods and leave a major impact on the survivors' physical and psychological wellbeing. Over the past decades there has been a substantial increase in the number of people affected by disasters and the subsequent socio-economic losses. 1 In 2007, 414 disasters resulting from natural hazards were reported. They killed 16,847 people, affected more than 211 million others and caused over 74.9US$ billion in economic damages. Last year's number of reported disasters confirmed the global upward trend in natural hazard-related disasters, mainly driven by the increase in the number of hydro-meteorological disasters. In recent decades, the number of reported hydrological disasters has increased by 7.4% per year on average. 2

The reality is that developing countries bear the brunt of natural and man-made disasters (90% of the people affected live in Asia) and these countries lack the resources and capacities to respond effectively. Disasters pose a major threat to sustainable development and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

We all live exposed to threats or hazards, so why are disastrous events occurring more frequently and with increasingly severe impacts? Disasters occur when natural or man-made hazards impact on human beings. How much we are affected by a particular hazard and the risks we face depend on two main factors:

Poverty, vulnerability and disasters are linked; it is most often the poorest that are worst affected and suffer most. Their poverty makes them more vulnerable. Their capacities to cope with disasters and recover from the effects are constrained by their lack of resources. Disasters rob the poor of their meagre possessions, their homes and livestock and most importantly, their livelihoods. Conversely, droughts, floods and even earthquakes have impacted on people's lives and livelihoods without being deemed a disaster, when those people were sufficiently prepared and had the capacity to cope and recover quickly.

While disasters have traditionally been viewed as dramatic natural occurrences over which passive victims have little or no control, many more poor people are at risk from hazards other than cataclysmic events. Hunger, disease, slow-onset, man-made disasters and conflict claim many more lives than floods or earthquakes. Yet these disasters pass largely unnoticed; they are "normal" events in less developed countries. Disasters are rarely just one-off events, but more often the result of deep-rooted long-term failures of development which exacerbate the situation. Very often the impact of several small adversities is all that is required to drive the poor from a state of vulnerability to one of total destitution.

If vulnerability is the key component of both the sustainable livelihoods approach to poverty reduction and disaster risk reduction, then all activities which seek to strengthen livelihoods, increase resilience and reduce the vulnerability of poor people are risk reduction measures. The sustainable livelihoods framework identifies hazards as an influencing factor which impinges on the assets necessary to attain a sustainable livelihood. All poor people are exposed to risks and hazards and seek ways to cope when their impact overwhelms their normal livelihood strategies.

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) should thus be regarded as part of long-term sustainable development work and should be a core element of development programme planning. DRR contributes to sustainable development by preventing or decreasing the frequency of shocks occurring, or by increasing the capital resource base of a community so that the impact of the shock is less and/or recovery is more rapid.

Practical Action's disaster mitigation work forms part of our Reducing Vulnerability programme, which aims to improve the susceptibility of poor people to natural disasters, conflict and environmental degradation. More ...

Practical Action has disaster reduction projects in Sri Lanka, Peru, Kenya, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Practical Action also works through consultancy, partnership and joint networks in Costa Rica, Bangladesh, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Columbia, Brazil, the Philippines and India.


1 www.unisdr.org/disaster-statistics/pdf/2005-disaster-in-numbers.pdf
2 Annual Disaster Statistical Review: Numbers and Trends 2007, Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED)

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