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The International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction

The term ‘natural disaster’ as used below reflects how it was used in the documents referred to. We’ll review the notion of ‘natural disasters’ in later steps.

In 1989, the UN General Assembly declared the 90s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The purpose was to reduce the increasingly devastating effects of ‘natural disasters’ through international collaboration to reduce the loss of life and limit economic losses, especially in developing countries.

The goals of the decade (UN General Assembly 1988) were to facilitate states at risk to develop:

  • A better understanding of the causes of natural disasters
  • Early-warning systems for hazard events, particularly storms, floods, volcanic eruptions and pest infestations
  • Mitigation measures largely focusing on improved building quality in earthquake zones
  • Mechanisms for information sharing and technology transfer to build the capacity of LMICs that tend to suffer large scale losses from natural disasters

IDNDR encouraged national governments to develop national disaster mitigation policies and programmes to reduce the consequences of natural disasters. Scientific and technical organisations, financial bodies, insurance institutions and other relevant organisations were encouraged to prioritise preparedness, prevention, relief and recovery in their research, co-operation and operational activities (Lechat 1990).

The approach adopted

The primary emphasis was on gathering a more detailed understanding of scientific and technical aspects of disaster. Huge quantities of research money were made available by western governments distributed to national research institutions focused on hazard processes, hazard precursors, monitoring technology (particularly remote monitoring through satellite technology) and modelling for forecasting and prediction (IDNDR 1996).

A second focus was on engineering and construction, particularly in areas affected by earthquakes and tsunamis. Since it was recognised that sufficiently accurate earthquake prediction was unlikely, scientists and engineers turned their attention to resistant construction, hazard assessment and land zoning. This knowledge facilitated the development of hazard databases, building codes and some urban planning policies (UN General Assembly 1988).

A third focus – though given proportionally less coverage in UN documentation – was continued development in administrative, management and coordination mechanisms for preparedness, evacuation and response. The intention was for this to be supported by education and training. Many early training and education programmes emphasised hazard process and impact knowledge, later shifting in emphasis to effective actions that could be taken before, during and after a disaster (IDNDR 1996).

Criticism of the approach

Katayama (1993) identified that by 1993 numerous conferences and symposia had occurred, he criticised the lack of engagement by national policymakers, the lack of funding streams, continued siloing of hazard research and the dominance of members from More Economically Developed Countries (MEDC), which would likely lead to high tech solutions that would not be within the capacity of many of the most at-risk countries to implement.

He also critiqued the mandate as being too broad, that national institutions found the breadth off-putting and that that triggered procrastination and inaction.

Your task

How do you think the criticisms identified by Katayama could be overcome?


Lechat, M.F. (1990) ‘The International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction: Background and Objectives’. Disasters 14 (1), 1–6.

UN Secretary General (1988) International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction: Report of the Secretary-General [online] available from https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/49133 [16 December 2019]

IDNDR (1996) Towards practical and pragmatic natural disaster reduction by the year 2000: a policy document based upon observations and lessons learned during 1990-1996 [online] available from https://www.preventionweb.net/publications/view/31176 [16 December 2019]

Katayama, T. (1993) ‘International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction: Are We Chasing a Dream?’ in IECON Proceedings (Industrial Electronics Conference). held 15-19 November 1993. Maui, USA: IEEE, 1-6

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This article is from the free online course:

Disaster Risk Reduction: An Introduction

Coventry University