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Disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management

Confusion arises over the relationship between Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Disaster Risk Management (DRM).

DRR is the policy goal of reducing disaster risk. DRR policies and strategies define the goal, objectives and timescales over which disaster risks will be reduced.

The UNISDR (2015) state that while the terms are often used interchangeably, DRM can be thought of as the implementation of DRR, since it describes the actions that are intended to achieve the aim of reducing risk. As such, we tend to have a DRR policy and strategy and DRM plans and projects. However, you may see both terms being used.

DRR is targeted at preventing or mitigating and preparing for the adverse impacts of hazards. It is also increasingly viewed as a key component of sustainable development. Failure to reduce risks will mean any development is unsustainable.

DRR is used in this course when referring to policy frameworks, policy, legal, institutional and administrative structures that enable disaster risk to be limited. DRR seeks to improve and maintain good governance in disaster risk management.

Activities for reducing risk can be described as:

  • Non-structural – policy-making, land-use planning, awareness-raising
  • Structural – improving infrastructure quality through the implementation of building codes

Alongside this, institutional arrangements, legislation, mechanisms for administration, participation and accountability used by institutions to develop and implement DRM is termed risk governance (UNISDR 2011).

Other important definitions used in disaster risk policy formulation

For the sake of clarity, this course also defines the following terms as:

  • Aims: an overarching statement that defines a long-term purpose or desired outcome.
  • Goal: a specific target for the short or long term.
  • Objectives: action plan statements that define a series of specific tangible, timed and measurable actions that will be achieved on the way to achieving the overall aim.
  • Policy: defines the aims and goals that are to be achieved and a set of principles (ways of doing) or rules, often linked to regulation. Policy is usually set by government administrations and applies to stakeholders. Policy development may be facilitated by defining a policy framework.
  • Strategy: describes actions to be undertaken to achieve the policy aims and goals. It specifies how the policy will be applied in a given context (regional, national, local or institutional). The term ‘strategy’ may be used interchangeably with ‘strategic plan’ or ‘plan of action’, but these are normally the associated document rather than the process of defining and implementing the strategy. Strategy statements should be periodically reviewed and revised to deal with uncertainty and change where policy is more likely to be fixed for the long term. The review process may result in challenges and review of policy.
  • Programmes and projects: once a strategy is defined, institutions may define a (or a series) of thematic programme(s). A programme is guided by national policy and organisational strategy and is made up of a number of aligned projects that, when implemented, will contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s strategic objectives and the national policy.

(Hill and Hupe 2009; Hallsworth and Rutter 2011)

Your task

There are many similar terms used to describe areas of importance to the sector. This can lead to confusion with different bodies using slightly different terms.

Read the following article from the Humanitarian Practice Network that describes some of the confusion:

Twigg J (2007) Disaster Reduction Terminology: A Common-Sense Approach [online] available from https://odihpn.org/magazine/disaster-reduction-terminology-a-common-sense-approach/ [12 December 2019]

What do you think this means for international policy development?


Hill, M., and Hupe, P. (2009) Implementing Public Policy. 2nd edn. SAGE Publications Inc: Thousand Oaks

Hallsworth, M., and Rutter, J. (2011) Making Policy Better: Improving Whitehall’s Core Business [online] available from https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Making%20Policy%20Better.pdf [12 December 2019]

(UNISDR, 2011) Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2011 [online] available from https://www.preventionweb.net/english/hyogo/gar/2011/en/home/download.html [20 December 2019]

UNISDR (2015) Global Assessment Risk Report [online] available from https://www.preventionweb.net/english/hyogo/gar/2015/en/home/index.html [12 December 2019]

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This article is from the free online course:

Disaster Risk Reduction: An Introduction

Coventry University