A risk reduction assessment is an analysis of all components of risk related to disasters to understand and address root causes. It determines the nature
and extent of the risk. According to the ISDR definition, risk is “the combination of the probability of a hazard event and its negative consequences”. It is
composed of hazards, vulnerability, and exposure, and is usually expressed as expected losses.
A subsequent disaster risk reduction action plan aims to address different components of risk. There is no agreed upon format for a DRR action plan but it
should ideally be composed of a prevention plan, including the role of ecosystems for physical protection and for livelihoods support, a plan to address the
root causes of vulnerability and exposure, as well as a contingency plan in the event of a hazard event.
Hazards are potentially dangerous or damaging events that negatively affect lives, property, and/or activities. Hazards can be
divided into natural hazards (e.g., earthquakes, floods, wildfires, epidemic diseases) and human-made hazards (e.g., conflict,
industrial pollution from nuclear or chemical wastes, and environmental degradation). A hazard assessment should examine root
causes of these hazards to see if they are related to environmental management. For example, if stakeholders identify that
flooding is a concern, the hazard assessment team should determine if environmental factors such as shifts in land uses
(including urbanization), wetland drainage, road construction, or topsoil removal are contributing to the root cause of the
This type of analysis will reveal opportunities for addressing root causes by implementing ecosystem-based DRR activities as
further described in previous sessions of the course. Sound environmental management for hazard abatement is especially
important considering an increasing number of extreme hazard events and future uncertainties in predicting future climaterelated hazard events.
According to the ISDR definition, vulnerability describes the characteristics and circumstances of a community, system or asset
that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard. Vulnerability varies significantly within a community and over time.
This definition identifies vulnerability as a characteristic of the element of interest (community, system or asset), which is
independent of its exposure (ISDR, 2009). Communities living in hazard-prone areas may be made vulnerable because of physical
PEDRR Eco-DRR Course – SESSION 3 – Step 4 - Handout for participants
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factors (e.g., location and disaster-resistance of buildings), weak social organization, limited economic opportunities, political
processes, and other factors, including the integrity of natural resources.
When conducting the vulnerability assessment, project planners should be sure to consider the environmental factors of
vulnerability, in particular the extent, quality and/or depletion of natural resources in the area. For example, coastal vegetation
and wetland buffers can play important roles in the protection of coastal communities from storm surge during cyclones and
other storm events. If these systems are degraded, then communities will be more vulnerable to disaster impacts. If livelihoods
are based on natural resources such as fish, and fish stocks have been depleted, then it will be harder for fishermen to recover
their livelihoods after the disaster, and they and their families will be more vulnerable. Similarly, if fresh water resources, or
building materials such as timber and sand are already locally depleted, it will be costly and time consuming to restore daily lives
or reconstruct infrastructure after a disaster. Local communities will be dependent on outside suppliers for critical needs.
Exposure is sometimes included in vulnerability, and often described separately. An exposed population is one that is subject to
potential losses from a hazard event, and often due to poor land-use planning and especially a lack of enforcement of zoning
laws. Exposure can refer both to hazards, such as people living in flood plains, or exposure to toxic and hazardous pollutants.
Populations that have been under exposure to toxic or hazardous pollutants prior to the disaster will have added difficulty
recovering because their health may already be compromised. Hazard events may also further distribute these pollutants within
the community and environment, resulting in contamination of soil and water resources.
Capacities are a combination of all the strengths and resources available within a community, society, or organization. Coping
capacities are considered short-term abilities to cope with the effects of a disaster. Adaptive capacities refer to long-term
abilities to change livelihood choices to shifting environmental condition. Both types of capacities include physical, institutional,
social, or economic resources, as well as skilled personal or collective attributes such as leadership and management
Capacity assessments represent an opportunity to identify the root causes of hazards and to see if there are linkages with
environmental management. If it is determined that environmental degradation is contributing to hazard risk, then the capacity
assessment can help determine what physical, institutional, social, or economic means can be used or enhanced, through DRR
interventions, to address this problem.
PEDRR Eco-DRR Course – SESSION 3 – Step 4 - Handout for participants
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Most risk assessments are undertaken with the idea that they will lead to action. With respect to integrating the environment
into action plans, there are two main points to consider:
1. In all DRR activities, project planners should make sure that the intervention does not negatively impact the
environment, in keeping with the principles of “Do No Harm.” This is particularly the case for infrastructure-based DRR
activities, such as road construction, dam building, drainage systems, floodwalls, seawalls, and building relocations.
2. DRR project planners should consider ecosystem-based activities for reducing disaster risk. These include such things as
implementing restoration programs (e.g., mangrove planting), setting aside conservation areas (e.g., establishing coastal
and river buffer zones), implementing hybrid measures (combining ecosystem management with engineered solutions),
and raising awareness about the importance of good environmental management.
RiVAMP, Jamaica
The Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Methodology Development Project (RiVAMP) was conceived to develop a methodology
that takes into account environmental factors in the analysis of disaster risk and vulnerability. While there are different types of
risk and vulnerability assessments, what is new about RiVAMP is that it recognizes ecosystems and climate change in the risk
assessment process.
The purpose of RiVAMP is to use evidence-based, scientific and qualitative research to demonstrate the role of ecosystems in
disaster risk reduction, and thus enable policymakers to make better-informed decisions that support sustainable development
through improved ecosystems management. In this regard, the targeted end-users of RiVAMP are national and local government
decision-makers, especially land-use and spatial development planners, as well as key actors in natural resource and disaster
As a pilot initiative, the RiVAMP methodology is intended mainly for application in SIDS or coastal areas, and focuses on tropical
cyclones and their secondary effects (coastal storm surges, flooding and strong winds). Accelerated sea level rise associated with
climate change is also considered as an important factor contributing to risk of storm surges and beach erosion.
BIRKMANN J., Risk and vulnerability indicators at different scales: applicability, usefulness and policy implications. Environmental
Hazards, 2007 : 7 (1), pp. 20-31.
BOLLIN C. & HIDAJAT R. (2006) Community-based disaster risk index: pilot implementation in Indonesia. (in: BIRKMANN J.
(éd.), Measuring vulnerability to natural hazards. Towards disaster resilient societies, Tokyo, New York & Paris : UNU
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Press, 400 p.).
CARDONA, O. D. (2006) A system of indicators for disaster risk management in the Americas. (in: BIRKMANN J. (éd.), Measuring
vulnerability to natural hazards. Towards disaster resilient societies, Tokyo, New York & Paris : UNU Press, 400 p.).
CARDONA O. D. (2004) The need for rethinking the concepts of vulnerability and risk from a holistic perspective: a necessary
review and criticism for effective risk management. (in: BANKOFF G., FRERKS G., HILHORST D. (éd.), Mapping
vulnerability: disasters, development & people, London : Earthscan Publications, 356 p.).
Modified from: WWF-American Red Cross (2010). Green Recovery and Reconstruction Toolkit .
PEDRR Eco-DRR Course – SESSION 3 – Step 4 - Handout for participants
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