Risks and Disasters

As stated by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction of the United Nations (UNISDR), a disaster can be defined as a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources. In the last few decades, societies have been becoming aware that disasters can be understood as the result of long-term processes whereby risks are created years or decades before the disaster manifests itself. Risks represent the presence of vulnerable elements in areas exposed to hazards. As reported by UNISDR and other regional and international organizations for more than a decade, such risks rise due to underlying risk drivers such as unequal economic development, poorly planned and managed urban and regional development, the decline of regulatory ecosystem services, poverty and inequality, weak governance and weak local capacities.

This section contains information on the basic definitions and processes related to Disaster-Risk management as well as of Emergency and Disaster Management and the role of the UN in these areas.

Disaster Risk Management

According to UNISDR, disaster risk management is the systematic process of using administrative directives, organizations, and operational skills and capacities to implement strategies, policies and improved coping capacities in order to lessen the adverse impacts of hazards and the possibility of disaster. When successful, disaster-risk management efforts lessen or transfer the adverse effects of hazards through activities and measures related to prevention, mitigation and preparedness.

The UN and Disaster Risk Management

Since the early 1990s, the United Nations have been promoting efforts worldwide to advocate the implementation of policies and measures aiming to reduce risks before such risks evolve into disasters when sudden-onset events like earthquakes and slow-onset events like droughts impact vulnerable communities. The current framework for disaster-risk reduction is called the Hyogo Framework for Action and outlines five Key Priority Areas that encompass all aspects of disaster risk reduction in a coherent way. In March 2015, UNISDR and the governments of most countries of the world will launch a new framework for disaster risk reduction, the HFA-2, that aims to pave the way for governments and societies to implement concrete measures to prevent the creation of new risks, reduce the level of existing risks and strengthen economic and social resilience of communities by addressing both people and assets’ exposure and vulnerability.

Emergency and Disaster Management

According to UNISDR, disaster management focuses on the organization and management of resources and responsibilities to address all aspects of emergencies and disasters, including preparedness, response and initial recovery steps. While emergencies are events that can be managed with local resources, disasters are by definition those events that surpass the capacity responders on the ground to manage them locally, hence requiring external assistance to be managed. Emergency and disaster management encompass three types of phases: response, rehabilitation and recovery. While response and rehabilitation efforts are conducted in the days and weeks following the onset of the disaster, recovery efforts are conducted in the months and years after the onset and include reconstruction of infrastructure and the restoration of livelihoods.

The UN and Disaster Management

Since the early 1970s, the United Nations have been providing humanitarian assistance to countries affected by disasters which have requested such assistance officially. As a way to provide such support in a more timely and efficient way, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has established a structured approach that includes the provision of initial technical assistance through the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams (UNDAC); the establishment of On-Site Operations Coordination Centres (OSOCC) when necessary; and through the OCHA clusters.

The Post-2015 Disaster-Risk Reduction Process

The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) was developed to guide efforts on Disaster-risk reduction in the period between 2005 and 2015. During the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, in Japan, in early 2015, Member States will review the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action and to adopt a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction. UN-SPIDER is working with other international and regional organizations, space agencies, and national civil protection agencies to develop and implement a plan of work for the next decade focusing on the use of space-based applications that will be tailored to the new framework.

Natural hazards

Natural hazards are defined by UNISDR as natural processes or phenomena that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disrution, or environmental damage.  Natural hazards can be characterized by their magnitude or intensity, speed of onset, duration, and area of extent. This section provides an overview by offering a summary of characteristics, impact and damage types, emergency action, mitigation, and further measures for the different types of natural hazards.