Humanitarian disaster risk reduction

Many rely on aid after floods

Many rely on aid after floods, © dpa/picture alliance

25.11.2016 - Article

The aim of disaster risk reduction is to limit the impact of extreme natural disasters before they occur. Risk analysis, disaster prevention and preparedness are all key elements.

Natural disasters affect millions of people each year, cause untold suffering and pose enormous challenges to those affected, particularly people in less developed countries and fragile contexts. However, thanks to intensive endeavours by the international community, a large number of countries particularly prone to natural disasters have now been better prepared for these dangers. As a result, the number of people affected has declined in recent years.

Despite this welcome decline, the number of people affected by natural disasters is still very high, at an average of 190 million people worldwide. The costs of the damage incurred amount to tens of billions of euros each year and often significantly more in the case of particularly severe disasters.

Despite all of the achievements, funding humanitarian disaster risk reduction measures remains an essential part of the Federal Foreign Office’s work. As a result of human-induced climate change, it can be assumed that the intensity and frequency of natural disasters will rise significantly, posing additional challenges to the international community.

Apart from the increased number of extreme weather events, other humanitarian crises and conflicts make local populations more vulnerable to natural hazards. More than 60 percent of the people killed by natural disasters worldwide currently die in the 30 most fragile countries.

At the same time, studies show that investments in disaster risk reduction cost far less than emergency aid and reconstruction after a natural disaster.

What is disaster risk reduction?

Disaster risk reduction encompasses all measures that help to avert or mitigate the impact of extreme natural events on people and the economy in vulnerable regions.

Disaster risk reduction has three essential elements:

  • Risk analysis is the basis for all disaster reduction measures, as it reveals the probability of natural disasters occurring in a given area. It includes an analysis of the physical risks posed by natural events (risk assessment) and the local population’s vulnerability to such risks (vulnerability assessment). An analysis of people’s current capacities to help themselves is also carried out in order to be able to implement support measures on the basis of existing capacities.
  • Disaster prevention and disaster reduction encompass all appropriate measures designed to prevent or reduce the negative impact of disasters in the medium to long term. Examples of such measures include drafting building regulations on earthquake or flood-resistant construction methods and adopting and implementing land-use and regional development plans. Fostering national and transnational networks for large‑scale protective measures is also an important part of disaster prevention. This also includes measures to mitigate landslides, education programmes and teaching the local population about potential disaster risks.
  • Preparedness primarily involves improving society’s ability to react to natural disasters. The goal is for the people at risk and the responsible state agencies and non‑state organisations to make the necessary logistical and organisational preparations before a disaster occurs and to know what to do in case of an emergency. This includes activities such as setting up early warning mechanisms, drawing up emergency plans, conducting evacuation exercises, stockpiling supplies, training the population in first aid and training local humanitarian aid workers on the ground.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reductions

Impact of a tropical storm in the Philippines
Impact of a tropical storm in the Philippines© Platform on Disaster Displacement

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which was adopted at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, on 18 March 2015, is the international benchmark for disaster risk reduction. It replaces the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015.

The Sendai Framework focuses on comprehensive risk management. Its priorities are

  • to improve understanding of disaster risks
  • to strengthen local, national and international steering mechanisms for managing disaster risks
  • to invest in disaster risk reduction in order to enhance resilience
  • to improve preparedness for disasters in order to ensure an effective response to them and to facilitate preventive reconstruction (“building back better”).

The Federal Foreign Office played a major role in drawing up the Sendai Framework. During the negotiations, Germany was one of the countries that called for the development of indicators to enable progress on the goals agreed under the Framework to be measured against established global benchmarks for the first time.

Germany's commitment to desaster risk reduction

Rescue workers searching for people buried by rubble
Rescue workers searching for people buried by rubble© picture-alliance/dpa

Within the European Union and the United Nations, Germany has long advocated the strengthening of international disaster risk reduction. On the European level, Germany was highly involved in the drafting of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, which emphasises the necessity of disaster risk reduction. It also provided input to the EU strategy for supporting disaster risk reduction in developing countries, which was adopted in 2009, and works closely with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

Since 2012, the Federal Foreign Office has been working to establish mechanisms, for example to provide adequate protection to people affected by disaster-induced displacement. Germany has been chair of the Platform on Disaster Displacement, with Bangladesh as vice‑chair, since 1 July 2016. It will hold the chairmanship for 18 months.

Further information on the Platform on Disaster Displacement

In 2013, the German Government agreed the German Preparedness Initiative with a large number of governments and international aid organisations. This text includes concrete recommendations for action based on the experiences of many stakeholders in the area of effective disaster preparedness. Since the adoption of these recommendations on 11 June 2013, the Federal Foreign Office has been working hard to ensure their dissemination, implementation and further development. The paradigm shift in international humanitarian aid that began with the Preparedness Initiative has helped to switch the focus from reactive to forward-looking humanitarian aid.

In this context, the Federal Foreign Office, in close cooperation with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, has developed an innovative package of measures on humanitarian adaptation to climate change and increasing extreme weather threats. The German Red Cross is coordinating the implementation of this package of measures and working with a large number of experts on the topic of climate change in the humanitarian context.

These measures will enable the humanitarian sector to make better use of available extreme weather forecasts and to react promptly and more effectively to short to medium-term extreme weather risks in particular countries and regions. In line with the concept of forecast-based financing, special thresholds for early warning are being developed on the basis of short to medium-term forecasts in selected pilot countries. When these thresholds are crossed, previously agreed preventive measures for immediate risk reduction are funded and implemented.

Since 2016, the Federal Foreign Office has also tasked the German Red Cross with providing special guidance services in the field of humanitarian disaster risk reduction. The aim of these guidance services is to ensure an exchange of experience with regard to the operative implementation of disaster risk reduction measures. At the same time, the aim is to support cooperation between those involved in the various levels of disaster risk reduction in Germany. This is achieved via various networks:

  • The conference on disaster risk reduction, which provides a forum for dialogue between German experts involved in national and international disaster risk reduction. At this annual conference, experts from the various sectors have an opportunity to discuss current developments, approaches and measures in the different fields of disaster risk reduction.
  • The Preparedness Working Group, in which the relevant German actors in the field of humanitarian disaster risk reduction meet to discuss preparedness. The aim of the working group is to draw up concrete recommendations for action on the operative implementation of preparedness measures in disaster risk reduction.
  • Regional workshops, which are held in high-risk regions with German aid organisations’ local partners and complement the activities of the Preparedness Working Group. These workshops provide an opportunity to discuss experiences and approaches on the ground. The results of the discussions are included in the recommendations for action to the Federal Foreign Office.

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