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The Importance of Disaster Risk Reduction
The Role for Satellite EO
Future Challenges
spacer The Importance of Disaster Risk Reduction

The 3rd United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) gathers members of the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) community such as government officials, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations, governmental agencies, scientific institutions, and the private sector to discuss strategies for disaster risk reduction (DRR).

UNISDR defines DRR as reducing the damage caused by natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, droughts and cyclones, through an ethic of prevention.

According to an October 2014 Asian Disaster Reduction Center assessment, 361 natural disasters were reported worldwide in 2013, with 23,538 lives lost and close to 100 million people affected. Economic losses from natural disasters in 2013 have been estimated at approximately US$119 billion.

The 3rd WCDRR has been convened to review implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) and to adopt a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.

spacer HFA was adopted in 2005, and fostered a public awareness and understanding of the importance of DRR. Countries responded to HFA by strengthening their institutional, legislative and policy frameworks, and early warning systems, and increased their disaster preparedness activities through risk assessments, education, and research.

HFA has made progress in reducing losses, but it is recognised that disaster risk is on the increase worldwide and there is a renewed sense of urgency in defining a post- 2015 framework for disaster risk reduction that will provide a powerful tool to support substantial reductions in loss of life and property and societal impact on communities and countries in the coming decade and beyond.

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spacer spacer Risk on the Increase

Natural disasters are of increasing frequency and severity in the modern world. Impacts of disaster events on human lives and the economy are increasing every year due to growing urbanisation and an increase in the number and severity of extreme weather events. Worldwide economic losses due to disasters have surpassed US$100 billion every year since 2010.

Exposure is one of the major drivers of risk, and growing urbanisation is a key factor, causing more people to be exposed to risk. Over the past 30 years, the portion of the world’s population living in flood-prone river basins has increased by 114% and that of those living in coastlines threatened by cyclones has increased by 192%. Today, over half of the world’s cities of 2–15 million people are in areas of seismic risk.

The 2014 revision of the World Urbanization Prospects published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) estimates that population in urban areas will increase by approximately 2.5 billion by 2050, mostly in informal settlements in cities at risk from the increasing effects of climate change.

Image credit: MunichRe. Click to enlarge.

spacer These informal settlements are highly vulnerable, as they tend to be inadequately managed, planned, and suffer from environmental degradation and poverty, magnifying their susceptibility to damage and loss from natural disasters. This was made clear by the difference in outcomes of the 2010 earthquakes in Chile (525 fatalities) and Haiti (estimates vary but possibly more than 100,000 fatalities). Urban areas with poor living conditions and infrastructure are most at risk and typically suffer high loss of life from natural disasters.

As with residential developments, there has been an increase in private and public, commercial, and industrial investments being concentrated in hazardous areas which, due to economic globalisation, also presents a risk to global supply chains, businesses, governments, and society.

Damage to businesses severely effects the local population by removing public infrastructure/services and sources of employment/income. The increased exposure of people living and working in these at-risk areas is compounded by the increased hazard of extreme weather events. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) WG1 states that an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity is more likely than not in the Western North Pacific and North Atlantic, and that increased incidence and/or magnitude of extreme high sea level are very likely. The IPCC’s AR5 WG2 has indicated that Europe is at risk of increased economic losses and people affected by flooding in river basins and coasts, driven by increasing urbanisation, increasing sea levels, coastal erosion, and peak river discharges; and Asia is at risk of increased riverine, coastal, and urban flooding leading to widespread damage to infrastructure, livelihoods, and settlements.

Climate change-induced sea level and temperature increases are also resulting in risks related to agriculture and food security, ecosystem degradation, and health. DRR, climate change, and sustainable development are intrinsically related and must be confronted in a unified manner.

Development patterns are increasing the exposure and vulnerability of people and property, and hazards are becoming more frequent due to climate change. The world’s population has never been exposed to such a high level of disaster risk, and this is likely to grow in the coming years as the same trends continue.

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spacer spacer Decision-making for Risk Management Requires Comprehensive Information

The post–2015 framework for disaster risk reduction will build on the successes of the existing Framework and set ambitious targets for DRR, targets against which progress can be measured in practical terms. The new framework is expected to incorporate focused actions across sectors by states at local, national, regional and global levels in the following priority areas:

– Understanding disaster risk;

– Strengthening governance and institutions to manage disaster risk;

– Investing in economic, social, cultural, and environmental resilience;

– Enhancing preparedness for effective response and building back better in recovery and reconstruction.

The availability of information for decision-making, implementation, and monitoring is fundamental to the activities in these priority areas and the overall success of our efforts as a society to recognise, address, and reduce the increased disaster risks we are facing.


To respond effectively, decision- and policy-makers require up-to-date, accessible, reliable, scientific information that is complemented by knowledge from the community and other stakeholders.

The Framework will require all states and stakeholders to collect, analyse, and disseminate information and data that can help influence public policies and decision- making. Sustainable mechanisms for the generation of that information and its management are required to ensure ongoing availability of the source data.

Satellite EO can be a powerful tool to generate uniform information across a range of countries and covering a wide span of risk scenarios. It supports the generation of objective, coherent information about risk that is easy to update and difficult to challenge. This standard indicator can be linked to actual exposure to risk (by tracking populations and assets in hazardous areas), to measuring the impact of risk reduction initiatives (by measuring change of the previous indicator), or to many other indicators. Applied in a systematic way, satellite EO can help create consistent and comparable information to measure implementation of the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction, when measures can be concretely observed.

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The implementation of policies and activities related to DRR requires open access to science-based risk information and knowledge.

Early warning systems for natural disasters, such as extreme meteorological events, forest fires, drought, or tsunamis, all have unique data needs, must be tailored to the requirements of end users, and require large volumes of information for increased accuracy.

Responders to a disaster also require near real-time data in order to increase their situational awareness and effectiveness. An effective disaster response and recovery is enabled by accurate information on the scope, extent, and impact of the disaster event.


UNISDR is anticipated to provide support for the monitoring and review of the post–2015 framework for disaster risk reduction. Five global targets facilitate the assessment of global progress towards the desired outcomes:

1. Reduce disaster mortality;

2. Reduce the number of people affected by disasters;

3. Reduce economic loss from disasters;

4. Reduce damage to health and educational facilities caused by disasters; and,

5. Increase the number of countries with national and local strategies.

Assessment of these targets requires that a number of indicators be monitored. Transparent, globally consistent, and multi-scale information is a necessity for accurate assessments.

Satellite EO are a unique source of synoptic information at global, regional, and local levels; can operate in all- weather conditions, day and night; and can contribute to all disaster phases from preparedness to response and recovery. In the context of the post–2015 framework for disaster risk reduction, satellite EO can simplify consistent and comparable implementation and monitoring and can link hazards, risk, and climate. While obtaining the right spatial and temporal resolution for observations is a challenge on a global basis, systems capable of monitoring the evolution of risk are in place. Innovative partnerships between governments and the private sector may be required to deliver high-resolution global imagery to meet this challenge.
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spacer spacer Further Information

World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR):
EM-DAT International Disaster Database:

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