1. Introduction

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) gives us a new way to think about development programming and emergency responses, so that they:

  • achieve lasting improvements in the lives of people most vulnerable to disasters;
  • reduce the links between disasters and poverty.

Poverty and disasters reinforce each other. The poor are more vulnerable to disasters, and disasters often cause increased poverty. Looking at disaster risk reduction as a cross-cutting approach recognises that, to break this cycle, development programming must address the risks posed by disasters. Programmes must protect poor communities before and after disasters. In turn, emergency responses to disasters must take a long-term approach that tries to reduce vulnerability to future disasters. It must not simply recreate the same conditions that led to the disaster in the first place.

Disaster risk reduction covers all activities that help communities systematically “analyse and manage the causal factors of disasters, including through reduced exposure to hazards, lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events.” (UNISDR definition of DRR)

Disasters are increasing in frequency and severity. This is due to the changing climate and constantly degrading ecosystems. Changing climate patterns, deforestation, changes in land use patterns, as well as demographic developments, socio-economic changes and conflict are some of the important factors that have caused hazards  to become more frequent and intensify. They have caused new ones to emerge. They also configure and reshape the patterns and severity of vulnerability. For disaster risk reduction to work, it should be both climate-smart and ecosystem-smart in its approach. The systematic incorporation of disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and ecosystem management as an approach to reduce risks is called Integrated Risk Management (IRM).The changing vulnerabilities and hazards-together with changing, often weakening, coping mechanisms-lead to changes in the level of risk faced by poor communities. These must be addressed before, during and after disasters to stop increasing poverty and spiralling vulnerability.

disaster is a situation that causes substantial losses and damage to communities and individuals, possibly including losses of life and livelihood assets and damage to the ecosystem, which leaves the affected communities unable to function normally without outside assistance.

Any disaster is compounded by two factors:

  1. One or more hazards. Hazards can be natural (earthquakes, floods, drought, cyclones, wildfires, extreme temperatures, etc.) and human-made (conflicts, industrial accidents, severe pollution, etc.).
  2. The vulnerability of people to these hazards. Vulnerability to a hazard is the extent to which people lack protection or buffering capacity against possible hazards.

In other words, a disaster reflects the nature, intensity and magnitude of one or more hazards and the vulnerability of the affected people to these hazards.

Disaster risk is the likelihood that people will experience disasters. This risk is a function of: the nature, probability and intensity of hazards; the vulnerability of the people to these hazards; and, inversely, of their capacities to withstand or cope with these hazards:

DR (disaster risk) = V (vulnerability) * H (hazard)
                                       C (capacity)

From this equation it can be concluded that disaster risk reduction encompasses three areas of activities:

  1. Prevention or mitigation of hazards
  2. Reduction of vulnerabilities to hazards
  3. Strengthening capacities to withstand or cope with hazards.

These areas of activity should be a focus during emergency and development programming alike.

CARE considers DRR as a cross-cutting issue that applies equally in emergency and non-emergency programming. All humanitarian and development activities need to be planned and implemented with an appropriate understanding and consideration of the disaster risks that face the partner communities. Risk analysis needs to be integrated throughout the project cycle. This will lead to projects and programmes relating to relief, reconstruction and development that enable people to establish and structurally enhance their livelihoods in a safe and disaster-resilient fashion. In certain locations, CARE also promotes explicit DRR programmes, particularly where development activities are being undermined by disasters and where people’s livelihoods are under major threat of disasters.

Mainstreaming disaster risk reduction throughout CARE’s programmes, and ensuring that adequate mitigation and preparedness measures are undertaken before any emergency, will help CARE and partners to face and withstand shocks from a disaster.

A disaster risk reduction approach helps us consider our emergency response activities in light of existing and new disaster risks. This enables us to design or adjust our activities so that people and communities become safer and more disaster-resilient, as well as safeguarding efforts to create and expand enabling conditions for sustainable poverty alleviation and development.

DRR approaches and tools will prevent relief work from rebuilding the vulnerabilities that made people prone to similar disasters. DRR provides valuable insights into the underlying factors of vulnerability to hazards and the features of those hazards. It helps us identify and map local capacities to cope with these hazards. Ultimately, the DRR approach helps us conduct effective disaster response while reducing risks that similar disasters will reoccur. It also ensures that our emergency response does no harm by replacing or reinstating critical vulnerabilities. Some practical examples of DRR issues are outlined in the case study in section 3.2.