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Disaster reduction

In the last 20 years, the number of natural disasters has increased from about 200 to over 400 per year. Nine out of ten disasters today are linked to climate change. Developing countries in particular are in many cases not taken by surprise, but are nonetheless inadequately prepared.

This increases the urgency of the question as to what Germany can do to save lives and prevent damage even before these disasters happen. Disaster reduction is therefore a priority of the Federal Foreign Office’s humanitarian aid.

Every year, the Federal Foreign Office earmarks 10% of its humanitarian aid funds for disaster reduction projects, a considerable sum when compared with other countries. The sheer dimension and risks of climate change underscore the need for this strategy.

What is disaster reduction?

Disaster reduction encompasses all measures that help avert or mitigate the impact of extreme natural events on human beings and on economic structures in vulnerable regions. By setting up early-warning systems and strengthening the capacity of the local population to help itself, it ensures that those affected can actively prevent deaths and material damage before a disaster occurs.

Disaster reduction takes in three key elements: risk analysis, disaster prevention and preparedness.

Risk analysis is the basis for all disaster reduction measures, since it enables us to predict the probability of natural disasters occurring in a given area. It includes an analysis of the physical risk (hazard assessment) and the susceptibility of the local population (vulnerability assessment).

Disaster prevention encompasses all appropriate medium to long-term measures designed to prevent or contain the negative impact of disasters. It comprises above all political and legislative activities, as well as relevant planning and infrastructural measures.

Preparedness is primarily concerned with improving society’s ability to react sensibly in the face of a natural disaster. In other words, it must be ensured that the vulnerable population and responsible organizations know what to do in the event of a disaster before that disaster strikes. They should also be put in a position to organize the necessary logistical preparations.

Why disaster reduction?

In the period between May 2008 and March 2011 alone, extreme natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and droughts claimed more than 500,000 lives. The number of natural disasters increased by 60% between 1997 and 2006 compared to the previous decade. Within this period, the number of registered fatalities increased from 600,000 to 1.2 million. The damage caused by such natural events is also constantly increasing. Growing importance is given to climate change in this context.

Effective disaster reduction can considerably lower the number of victims and the damage caused. One example for this is Bangladesh. When cyclone Sidr hit the Bay of Bengal in November 2007 with a speed of up to 240 km/h and a radius of 500 km, some 3.2 million people had already been transferred to emergency accommodation or higher lying regions as a disaster reduction measure. As a result the number of victims was much lower than in 1991, for example, when a similar cyclone claimed around 140,000 lives.

In addition to effective early-warning and protection systems, the transmission of fundamental knowledge, such as training related to the creation of and compliance with building standards in areas threatened by earthquakes, is important. Whereas more than 220,000 people died in the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, there was not a single death reported after an even stronger earthquake in New Zealand in September 2010, thanks partly to safer methods of building.

Efficient disaster reduction therefore makes concrete savings possible when it comes to dealing with the ensuing disaster. Moreover, the better disaster reduction is implemented, the less a country will be dependent on outside help should disaster strike. It will be far better able to take preparatory steps and rebuild on its own.

What is the Federal Foreign Office doing?

Work to strengthen disaster reduction is being conducted at different levels. Cooperation with the United Nations is to the fore.

The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) in Kobe, Japan, and the international dialogue on disaster reduction provide the conceptual framework.

Germany is working closely with the United Nations Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) based in Geneva and its Platform for the Promotion of Early Warning (PPEW) based in Bonn. In 2006 the Federal Foreign Office held the third Early Warning Conference in Bonn under the auspices of the United Nations.

On the European level, Germany contributed much both to the creation of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, which emphasizes the necessity of disaster reduction and also to the EU strategy to support disaster reduction in developing countries of 2009.

More on EU disaster reduction under DIPECHO.

The Federal Foreign Office is also supporting the work of the German Committee for Disaster Reduction. The Committee serves as the national platform on disaster reduction and competence centre for disaster reduction issues. It has produced pioneering studies on the implementation of the Hyogo goals and is an important partner for international networks for catastrophe prevention.

What support is the Federal Foreign Office providing?

The Federal Foreign Office uses 10% of its humanitarian aid funding every year for disaster reduction projects.

In these projects, the Federal Foreign Office works with non-governmental organizations, the United Nations and the organizations of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. There are guidelines governing the earmarking of funds. They include:

Priority of humanitarian need: The fundamental objective of both our disaster reduction and humanitarian aid activities is to save lives and protect livelihoods.

Adapting to a changed global environment: Disaster reduction is an issue of increasing importance especially in the light of climate change. Projects are to reflect this.

Disaster early warning: This is a thematic focus in the sphere of disaster reduction.

Vulnerability: The projects are carried out above all in particularly vulnerable areas of poorer countries in which the population faces a high risk of disaster.

Practical relevance: Scientific research findings should be utilized with a view to applying them practically.

Focus since 2008: Protecting endangered coastal regions from flooding

Floods are the most common natural disaster. Asia is particularly affected where there are almost twice as many floods as there are on the African or American continents.

Flooding and the rise in sea level also particularly affect island states such as the Philippines and the Dominican Republic.

The Federal Foreign Office has been focusing its project work since 2008 particularly on disaster reduction in endangered coastal regions. Some two-thirds of the global population live in coastal regions. Thus a large number of people rely on a functioning infrastructure such as roads, industry, ports and energy facilities, but also on agricultural lands central to the regions. Projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America help effectively protect the lives and livelihoods the population.

Special support focus 2009-2011: Afghanistan and Pakistan

Since 2009 the Federal Foreign Office has been focusing its assistance particularly on strengthening disaster reduction in Afghanistan. In 2010 this focus was expanded to include Pakistan. Both countries are especially vulnerable to a series of regularly occurring natural disasters.

Afghanistan is often affected by earthquakes, floods, drought, avalanches, and landslides. Periods of extreme cold alternate with increasing droughts. Heavy rains cause flooding of riverbeds and moraines. The need to strengthen local structures and capacities for disaster reduction is especially high in Afghanistan. The Federal Foreign Office thus supports projects in the provinces Baghlan and Badghis.

The population of Pakistan must contend above all with the effects of earthquakes and floods. The extreme flood disaster of 2010 alone affected 20 million people. Lasting damage and destruction of agricultural areas exacerbate the humanitarian situation. Germany is among the main donor nations worldwide and in addition to immediate support for the victims in the summer of 2010, it also supports prevention measures to assist the local population in their efforts to be better prepared for future disaster of this magnitude.

You can find more information and concrete examples here:


Last updated 23.10.2009

Professor Zschau, Professor Hüttl and participants of the training course for seismologists

Federal Foreign Office supports training courses for seismologists from developing countries

Since the early 1990s the Federal Foreign Office has funded annual training courses in the field of seismology and seismic hazard assessment, risk assessment and disaster prevention organized by the GeoForschungsZentrum (Geosciences Centre) in Potsdam (GFZ). The courses take place alternately in Potsdam or as regional courses.

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Early Warning Conference (EWC III)

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