The risk of both mortality and economic loss in disasters is concentrated in a very small portion of the Earth’s surface. Countries with large populations exposed to severe natural hazards account for a very large proportion of the global disaster risk. For example, 75% of global flood mortality risk is concentrated in only three countries: Bangladesh, China, and India. Small island developing states and other small countries have far higher levels of relative risk with respect to the size of their populations and economies.

Disaster risk is not just a consequence of hazard severity and exposure, but there is a range of other “drivers” of disaster risk: unplanned urbanization, vulnerable rural livelihoods, and ecosystem decline, which are made worse by the effects of climate change. Investing in disaster risk reduction will help reduce poverty, safeguard development, and aid climate change adaptation.
These are some of the conclusions of a major report by the United Nations on the status of disaster risk reduction in the context of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). Production of the Report was coordinated by the ISDR Secretariat, in collaboration with the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), and a wide range of other ISDR partners.The Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Risk and Poverty in a Changing Climate provides evidence that disaster risk is increasing worldwide. The report analyzes disaster risk patterns and trends by presenting over 30 years of disaster data and examines progress by countries in achieving the Hyogo Framework for Action, the international framework for reducing disaster risk. A 20-point action plan to reduce risk is presented.

Following are other conclusions that are summarized in the Report:

  • Global disaster risk is highly concentrated in poorer countries with weaker governance. Particularly in low and low-middle income countries with rapid economic growth, the exposure of people and assets to natural hazards is growing at a faster rate than risk-reducing capacities are being strengthened, leading to increasing disaster risk.
  • Countries with small and vulnerable economies, such as many small-island developing states and land-locked developing countries have the highest economic vulnerability to natural hazards.
  • Most disaster mortality and asset destruction are intensively concentrated in very small areas exposed to infrequent but extreme hazards. Such damage represents a significant and largely unaccounted for component of disaster impacts.
  • Poorer communities suffer a disproportionate share of disaster loss. Poor households are usually less resilient to loss and are rarely covered by insurance or social protection.
  • Climate change is already changing the geographic distribution, frequency, and intensity of weather-related hazards and threatens to undermine the resilience of poorer countries and their citizens to absorb loss and recover from disaster impacts. This combination of increasing hazard and decreasing resilience makes climate change a global driver of disaster risk. Climate change will magnify the uneven distribution of risk, skewing disaster impacts even further toward poor communities in developing countries.
  • Progress toward reducing disaster risk is still mixed. In general terms, countries are making significant progress in strengthening capacities, institutional systems, and legislation to address deficiencies in disaster preparedness and response. Good progress is also being made in other areas, such as the enhancement of early warning. In contrast, countries report little progress in mainstreaming disaster risk reduction considerations into social, economic, urban, environmental, and infrastructural planning and development.
  • The institutional and legislative arrangements for disaster risk reduction are weakly connected to development sectors.
  • Countries have difficulty addressing underlying risk drivers such as poor urban and local governance, vulnerable rural livelihoods, and ecosystem decline in a way that leads to a reduction in the risk of damages and economic loss.

A failure to address the underlying risk drivers will result in dramatic increases in disaster risk and associated poverty outcomes. In contrast, if addressing these drivers is given priority, risk can be reduced, human development protected, and adaptation to climate change facilitated. Rather than a cost, this should be seen as an investment in building a more secure, stable, sustainable and equitable future. Given the urgency posed by climate change, decisive action needs to be taken now.

*These conclusions are taken from a summary of the United Nations 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Risk and poverty in a changing climate--investing today for a safer tomorrow. The complete report can be found at: