Frequently asked questions about DRR

Why is DRR not a priority for governments?

DRR is often not a priority issue because it requires long-term investment and the rewards may not be visible during an elected government’s term of office. DRR measures are seen as insurance against something that might happen, but not necessarily linked to immediate danger. If DRR measures work well, they represent an invisible success; if there has been no disaster then nobody is conscious of this success, so there is no political reward. Climate change and the measurable increase in the number of disasters worldwide is changing perceptions and attitudes, especially as disasters cause significant damage to infrastructure and even threaten national security and popular support for elected officials.


The progress of different countries in creating the mechanisms and reporting structures under the Sendai Framework can be seen at the Sendai Framework Monitor at:

Is disaster risk a development issue?

Yes, disasters and disaster risk reduction are a development issue. DRR has been clearly recognized as fundamental to achieving the 2030 Development Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Is DRR really cost effective?

Investment in disaster risk reduction generally represents a large saving in terms of avoided losses and reconstruction costs with cost benefit ratios ranging from 3:1 to 15:1 or higher in some cases, according to a study published in UNDRR’s 2015 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. Both the World Bank and the US Geological Survey believe risk management can deliver significant benefits, and that economic losses worldwide from disasters in the 1990s could have been reduced by US$280 billion if US$40 billion had been spent on preventive measures. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) believes US$1 invested in prevention could save US$7 in recovery. The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says US$1 invested in prevention saves between US$4-7 in recovery.

The Sendai Framework
Figure 9: Economic impact The total economic damage caused by different types of disasters originating in natural hazards between 1975 and 2019. As with the number of disasters, the figures show an upward trend.

Displacement of populations

The 2020 Global Report on Internal Displacement produced recently by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre evidences the link between disasters and displacement.

  • There were 33.4 million new displacements in 2019.
  • Nearly 2,000 disasters triggered 24.9 million new displacements across 140 countries and territories in 2019. This is the highest figure since 2012, and approximately three times the number of those displaced by conflict and violence.
  • 23.9 million of the 24.9 million were displaced by weather-related disasters.
  • Much of the new displacement reported in 2019 took place in the form of pre-emptive evacuations.
  • Cyclones Fani and Bulbul triggered more than 5 million in India and Bangladesh alone. Evacuations clearly save lives, but many evacuees had their displacement prolonged because their homes had been damaged or destroyed.
  • 8.5 million people were displaced by conflict and violence, driven by increasing levels of violence in Burkina Faso, Yemen and Libya.

Do you have to be a rich country to implement DRR policies?

DRR policies are more an investment than a cost. And it is more a question of priorities rather than costs. There are measures that do not cost a lot, but which can save lives and protect livelihoods, such as Bangladesh’s volunteer-based Cyclone Preparedness Programme and inclusion of DRR in the school curriculum. Other measures may add to costs but not prohibitively so. For example, upgrading construction to make it more resilient could add as little as four per cent to building costs, which is not a lot compared to the cost of rebuilding if it is destroyed in a disaster. The message is “build to last” to avoid having to “build back better.”

What are the limits of DRR?

DRR can reduce the impact of disasters, but it cannot make a region or a nation totally disaster-proof. Early warning systems can reduce the impact of a tsunami if people know what to do when an alert is issued but cannot protect someone on the beach from a 10-metre wave. Communities have different capacities to face disasters, but even wealthy countries that spend heavily on risk reduction can suffer severe damage, as was the case when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

Why has it taken so long to include DRR in humanitarian relief and development policies?

Historically, disasters were widely seen as unpredictable natural events to which citizens and governments could only respond. Most governments, NGOs and even donor nations focused on emergency action. Now, experts have a better understanding of the causes and the socio-economic factors that go into the making of disasters and have shown that political action is possible before disasters happen. DRR policies are now seen as solutions that could help reduce the impact of disasters and make communities more resilient to future hazards. The shift from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention is a slow one, but it is taking place.

The Sendai Framework
Figure 10: Small allocations for DRR. Share of DRR in international aid for disasters (constant 2016 $, millions), 2005–2017. Source: UNDRR with data from OECD.

Are disasters linked to conflict?

Disasters caused by natural hazards such as earthquakes, drought, volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis and hurricanes can have major political consequences. They often create grievances that lead to conflict by causing mass disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods. In the immediate aftermath of a major disaster, a country’s physical infrastructure is affected, preventing the adequate distribution of food and medical supplies; crops are destroyed, giving rise to food shortages; and localised conflicts can take place over resources. Disasters can also destroy key social and political institutions, thus threatening political stability.

The impact of disaster on divided communities can fan the flames of dispute, or perhaps extinguish them. The Indonesian region of Aceh was the scene of a long and bitter conflict between separatists and the central government when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit the coast in December 2004. The devastation seemed to help warring communities to make a new beginning, with a formal compromise in 2005. But the same wave of destruction seemed to make little difference to the civil war in Sri Lanka, according to research published by the University of Oslo.

The Sendai Framework
Figure 11: Displaced. New displacements by conflict, violence and disasters worldwide (2009-2019). Source: 2020 Global Report on Internal Displacement

Drought and conflict

Drought is an exacerbating element in a number of conflict-affected countries including Syria and Yemen as evidenced by recent research: “There is evidence that the 2007-2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers. […] We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict,” write Colin P. Kelley, Shahrzad Mohtadi, Mark A. Cane, Richard Seager and Yochanan Kushnir in their report Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought.


The link between drought and conflict in Syria

“An abundance of history books on the subject tell us that civil unrest can never be said to have a simple or unique cause. The Syrian conflict, now civil war, is no exception. Still, in a recent interview, a displaced Syrian farmer was asked if this was about the drought, and he replied.” Of course, the drought and unemployment were important in pushing people toward revolution. When the drought happened, we could handle it for two years, and then we said, it is enough.”


Should disaster risk reduction be a mandatory policy?

Despite representing one of the biggest threats to sustainable development and human safety today, disaster impacts can be either substantially reduced or avoided by good disaster risk management, but disaster risk reduction policies are not yet mandatory.

According to the Sendai Framework, which is not a legally binding agreement, each State has the primary responsibility to prevent and reduce disaster risk. Responsibilities should be shared by national governments and relevant authorities, sectors and stakeholders. Disaster risk management should protect persons and vital assets while promoting and protecting all human rights, including the right to development. It requires participation by all State institutions and an all-of-society engagement and partnership, paying special attention to those most affected by disasters, especially the poor and including a gender, age, disability and cultural perspective in all policies and practices. Local authorities and communities need to be empowered, and women and youth leadership should be promoted.

Though the Sendai Framework is not a binding document it has been unanimously adopted and approved by the UN General Assembly. The majority of countries have a Sendai Framework focal point to support its implementation. It encourages the adoption of national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction along with legislative change to bring about improved risk governance. The aim is to create an enabling environment for reducing risks posed by natural hazards, preventing new risks from arising and making communities safer. Since the adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters (HFA), and following the devastating effects of recent large-scale disasters, many countries have sought to revise and improve their legal frameworks for disaster risk reduction (DRR), especially by adopting new laws for disaster risk management (DRM laws).

In December 2015, The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched The Checklist on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction and its accompanying guide, The Handbook on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction, to provide practical guidance on this area of law.

Disaster Law is increasingly recognized as a vital tool to better protect citizens against disaster risks and to make governments and main disaster risk reduction stakeholders accountable for their policies. As we have seen in media reports, mayors and government representatives can be prosecuted and imprisoned because of failures to plan for and to prevent obvious risks to the lives and well-being of their citizens.

News story: 2009 Aquila earthquake in Italy

Scientists jailed for manslaughter because they did not predict deadly earthquake in Italy which killed 309 people have been cleared. Nov 2014- Six scientists who were each sentenced to six years in prison because they failed to predict a deadly earthquake in Italy which left 309 people dead have been cleared. The group, which includes some of the country's most respected seismologists, was jailed for manslaughter after underestimating the risks that an earthquake posed to the town of L'Aquila. The medieval mountain town was decimated by the killer quake in 2009, which measured more than 6.3 on the Richter Scale and killed more than 300 people and left thousands homeless.



These documents provide an understanding of the relevance of disaster law: