Disaster risk reduction (DRR) has come a long way in the last 20 years, from rhetoric, to concept, to the first formal framework endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2005. As we stand on the cusp of a new international framework for action due for final approval in Autumn 2015, how has it changed?

The new framework for DRR will develop the current strategy rather than start anew, said the UN Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, who came to speak at the Royal Society last Friday.

Some shifts in thinking: Golden forest by Ian Muttoo

  • A three-pronged approach is required:

Minimise risk generation by tackling underlying risk drivers, such as climate change

Reduce existing risk

Strengthen resilience to that risk

  •  Disaster risk management (DRM) should move from shielding social and economic development against shocks to transforming elements to manage risks. An example might be the introduction of ecosystem management into development planning, alongside engineered structures. Ecosystems can provide physical protection, for example a mangrove dissipating wave energy, but also support livelihoods and local economies, helping to enhance recovery should a hazard occur.
  • DRR needs to be trans-boundary and take a systems view – this requires linkage across scales. From river catchments to managing the now globalised impacts of local events, disaster risk affects all sectors of society and decisions made in how to manage it must be joined up. Considering the previous framework sidelined all sectors except government to an Annex, this is clear evolution.

Particular progress has been made in disaster preparedness, notably early warning, since the first framework was put in place, but more must be done to tackle strategic bottlenecks. This means moving towards mechanisms for implementation (identifying funding and research needs, strengthening institutions), understanding underlying risk drivers, learning how to govern risk and ensuring accountability.

Margareta believes that we cannot have a sustainable development agenda that doesn’t take risk into account. 2015 is a big year in the policy world. New climate, development and disaster goals are on the cards and there is extensive rhetoric on reconciling the priorities of these frameworks.  The policy base seems strong, but without inclusion, participation and buy-in, action will be weak.