The Benefits of Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Building - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Benefits of Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Building

 Disasters have the capacity to cause irreparable harm. But it is possible to mitigate losses associated with disasters and thus protect lives and communities.

Photo by Scott Webb


Addressing the root causes of disaster risk - poor economic and urban development choices, degradation of natural resources, poverty, inequality and climate change - it is possible to reduce disaster risks while simultaneously supporting development.


Preventing loss of life


As our planet experiences more natural hazards, risks to both lives and property continue to increase. Disasters often have lasting economic losses and social disruption effects for those at greater risk - particularly poorer people and communities. It is therefore crucial for governments, businesses, and communities to build resilience against disaster through risk reduction measures and investments in resilient development strategies.


Resilience building provides several key benefits, chief among them preventing loss of life. This goal and purpose drives many countries' resilience investments. Preventing disasters is far less expensive and more effective than responding or recovering afterwards, while investing in resilience may yield additional returns such as reaping additional "third dividend" benefits such as multipurpose flood defence tunnels which double up as traffic tunnels.


Resilient development offers another key advantage by helping avoid poverty traps. Poverty is one of the main drivers of vulnerability to natural hazards, as people living in poverty lack information, resources and capacities necessary for responding effectively to disasters - especially climate change impacts - leaving them more susceptible than their wealthier counterparts to being trapped by disasters and likely to face poverty traps themselves.


Investment in resilient development is the most cost-effective way to reduce disaster losses and foster sustainable economic development, but many countries lack the expertise, policies, or resources necessary to include it in their planning. Countries must make disaster risk reduction a central element of national development plans while including all relevant agencies - meteorological services, water supply agencies, land management bodies.


For decades, countries relied on historical patterns when estimating natural hazards' risk, but these will no longer apply given how human activities and climate change are impacting Earth's ecosystem. Despite these challenges, developing and emerging economies are investing in disaster risk reduction to safeguard hard-won development gains while helping their people recover quickly from disasters.


Preventing damage to property


Disaster risk reduction aims to protect life and property through the avoidance of natural hazards, including earthquake-resistant houses, drainage systems designed to divert flood water, drought-tolerant crops planted, early warning systems established and increased capacity for response. It includes measures such as building houses that can withstand earthquakes, creating drainage systems to divert flood waters away and planting drought-tolerant crops. DRR also encompasses measures taken to build resilience within communities before disasters strike - for instance creating community resilience strategies, establishing early warning systems and increasing capacity for response - with UNESCO providing essential support in terms of disaster risk science, education & culture as well as through promotion among scientists and key actors alike.


Growing populations, climate change and rapid urbanization put more and more people at risk from disasters, with vulnerable groups like children particularly susceptible. Governments must invest in development that is resilient in order to decrease vulnerability among vulnerable groups such as children. School-based DRR and resilience education can help children understand hazards as well as assess local vulnerabilities and capacities that contribute to making communities more resilient.


Resilience refers to the capacity of individuals, communities and countries to resist hazards, shocks and stresses without being compromised in terms of long-term prospects for development. Resilience has become a widely accepted concept worldwide and was adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) 2005 conference held in Kobe, Japan as its central objective.


Enhancing resilience requires long-term shifts in both physical (including methods, materials and infrastructure systems) and cultural aspects (management processes, institutional arrangements and legislation). Coordination between sectors to help communities reach resilience is also central. UNESCO strives to lead this effort, by engaging all its specialized divisions and units. Focus areas include education, culture and communication, science and technology as well as international cooperation in disaster risk reduction and resilience building. They have created various tools for disaster risk management while working closely with UN agencies, research institutions and civil society.


Preventing economic loss


Disasters can have significant economic repercussions that devastate health, education and social development of a country's citizens, including losses due to natural hazards, infectious disease outbreaks, acts of terrorism or financial catastrophes. Resilient nations are capable of quickly responding and recovering from these events quickly; disaster risk reduction (DRR) plays a critical role in this ability.


DRR seeks to prevent disasters from occurring and mitigate their impacts by identifying and reducing their underlying drivers of risk, such as poor economic and urban development practices, environmental degradation, poverty and inequality as well as climate change. Focusing on these drivers of risk can reduce disaster risk as well as its associated impacts and help ensure development continues sustainably.


Disasters have significant economic costs. These costs include loss of life and property as well as business opportunities missed; furthermore they can cause global trade to drop and investment to drop as well as GDP to decline. To minimize such losses, governments must invest in DRR strategies such as building earthquake-resistant infrastructure; developing flood protection infrastructure; strengthening social protection systems and planting drought-resistant crops. According to World Bank research, each dollar invested in DRR saves four dollars in avoided disaster losses.


Unfortunately, many individuals and businesses fail to recognize the significance of DRR. They often discount low-probability future losses as unlikely and resist investing in resilience - this underinvestment can have long-term negative repercussions, particularly for low-income countries and small island developing states.


UNESCO is working to increase understanding and awareness of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Their work centers around education and training to promote DRR as well as building partnerships between different stakeholders; additionally they address vulnerable groups like children who may be particularly susceptible to natural disasters as a result of climate change impacts; they could lose access to essential services and social support if disaster strikes.


Disasters cannot be completely avoided, but shifting the focus from response to prevention can significantly mitigate losses and minimize damage. According to research cited by UNESCO's report on Bangladesh, each dollar spent on DRR measures saves four dollars in flood damages.


Preventing social disruption


Disaster risk reduction and resilience building are at the core of humanitarian efforts to avoid, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. But many have incorrect ideas of what this work entails or its relevance.


Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) refers to actions taken prior to natural hazard events to minimize their impact and vulnerability, such as building codes for infrastructure designed to withstand cyclones; diverting flood waters with dams; planting drought-resilient crops; strengthening social protection systems so assistance arrives quickly if a disaster strikes; etc.


DRR measures also involve strengthening environmental management in areas most exposed to weather hazards and protecting ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangrove forests that serve as barriers against coastal hazards. They may also include supporting transitions away from livelihoods that degrade the environment in favor of those that build resilience - recent World Bank studies have demonstrated this by showing that for every $1 invested in DRR measures in low and middle income countries can expect $4 in benefits, with that benefit doubled when climate change is factored into calculations.


Disaster risk reduction investments can yield substantial returns in terms of lives saved, livelihoods protected and economic loss avoided. For this to be achieved successfully, disaster risk reduction efforts must encompass both structural and non-structural measures; to do this successfully will require long-term changes in both physical and cultural approaches to building infrastructure as well as managing one's life and the natural environment.


DRR offers great promise to the poorest and most vulnerable populations - especially children and youth, who tend to experience more significant impacts from disasters than other groups. Such effects may interfere with their health, nutrition, educational opportunities and livelihood opportunities; as well as with building a future free from risks and vulnerabilities associated with disasters.


The United Nations has set forth an agenda and goals for disaster risk reduction (DRR) through the Hyogo Framework for Action, providing a solid roadmap and structure for DRR that has allowed the international community to move beyond vague policy statements into concrete commitments to reduce disaster risks at all levels - this approach being essential in today's era of compounded hazards, increasing interconnection, and unprecedented strains placed upon human and natural worlds alike.


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