The Yokohama Strategy: emphasising vulnerability

The midterm review of the IDNDR paved the way for the increasingly proactive risk-based prevention approach promoted after the first World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction.

The conference was organised in the city of Yokohama, where participants adopted the Yokohama Strategy for a Safer World: Guidelines for Natural Disaster Prevention, Preparedness and Mitigation (UN 1994).

In this strategy, the close links between risk, disaster reduction, sustainable development, environmental protection and poverty alleviation were made apparent. The emerging framework captured a broader global awareness of the social and economic drivers and consequences of natural disasters that developed as the IDNDR progressed (IDNDR 1999).

Serious risks were recognised to come from the rapidly increasing exposure and vulnerability of populations, particularly those in urban areas to natural events. In light of that, the term ‘natural disaster’ was deemed obsolete (Briceno 2015) and largely avoided in subsequent documents.

John Twigg (2001) summarises the meaning of the reassessment in terminology below:

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a natural disaster, but there are natural hazards, such as cyclones and earthquakes. The difference between a hazard and a disaster is an important one […] the impact of the disaster is determined by the extent of a community’s vulnerability to the hazard. This vulnerability is not natural. It is the human dimension of disasters, the result of the whole range of economic, social, cultural, institutional, political and even psychological factors that shape people’s lives and creates the environment that they live in.

(Twigg 2001)

This strategy was the first internationally accepted document on disaster prevention and was seen as beneficial for countries suffering from disaster losses. It stressed that every country had the sovereign and primary responsibility to protect its people, infrastructure and national, social or economic assets from the impact of disasters. The document was widely welcomed but also criticised in terms of being largely aspirational; confirming member states intentions to improve collaboration and coordination in the disaster reduction sector.

The impact of El Niño/La Niña

Several significant events served to drive on the DRR agenda (in addition to the Yokohama strategy and associated high-level activities). None more so than the El Niño/La Niña (or El Nino Southern Oscillation ENSO) events of 1997-1998, which were the most intense occurrences of the cyclical climatic variation during the 20th century (Picaut 2002.).

ENSO created conditions around the world which led to extensive flooding, extended drought conditions and widespread wildfires. These linked events caused extensive economic costs over and above those normally expected from climate-driven hazards. ENSO also revealed many political, socio-economic and even bureaucratic vulnerabilities. Many of the hazards and impacts from ENSO were transboundary, revealing failures in collaboration and cooperation from forecasting through to preparedness and response. The more research and policy developed, the more complex and hierarchical we realised the solutions were going to be.

In the review of the strategy ten years later, many accomplishments were detailed by countries around the globe to develop and improve a culture of disaster prevention. It did, however, recognise that greater commitment was required to move beyond the recognition and endorsement of the core values of the strategy towards concrete implementation by nations on the ground (UN 2005).

Your task

The Yokohama strategy presented 10 principles for disaster prevention to be used to set priorities for action:

See page eight of:

UN (1994) Yokohama Strategy and plan of action for a safer world [online] available from [18 December 2019]

Compare these to the goals of the IDNDR summarised by Lechat (1990) on the first page of the article:

Lechat M. F. (1990) ‘The International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction: Background and Objectives’. [online] available from [18 December 2019]

What are the significant differences and omissions?


UN (1994) Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action for a Safer World [online] available from [18 December 2019]

UN (1994) Final report of the Scientific and Technical Committee of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction [online] available from [18 December 2019]

Briceño, S. (2015) ‘Looking Back and Beyond Sendai: 25 Years of International Policy Experience on Disaster Risk Reduction’. Int J Disaster Risk Sci 6, 1–7

Twigg, J. (2001) Corporate social responsibility and disaster reduction: a global overview [online] available from [16 January 2020]

Picaut, J., Hackert, E., Busalacchi, A. J., Murtugudde, R., and Lagerloef, G.S.E. (2002) ‘Mechanisms of the 1997–1998 El Niño–La Niña, as Inferred from Space‐Based Observations’. Journal of Geophysical Research 107 (5)

UN (2005) Review of the Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action for a Safer World [online] available from [18 December 2019]

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This article is from the free online course:

Disaster Risk Reduction: An Introduction

Coventry University