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2. Background and Justification

There is evidence to suggest that in many countries there has been an increase in the risk of natural disasters occurring - natural hazard risk - due to environmental degradation (World Bank 2002). Natural disasters are complex and multifaceted events resulting from mismanaged and unmanaged risks that reflect current conditions and historical factors (Alexander 2000). Disaster risk is collective in its origin and remains mainly a ‘public,’ shared risk that makes finding individual, and often community solutions, difficult (Comfort 1999). A disaster is said to take place precisely because the losses originated by a given event overwhelm the capacity of a population (local, regional or national) to respond and recover from it. Disaster risk emerges from the interaction between a natural hazard - the external risk factor - and vulnerability - the internal risk factor (Cardona 2001).

International consciousness raising about integrated disaster risk management (of which disaster risk mitigation is a part) was given a boost by the recently concluded United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR - 1990-1999). The World Food Summit in 1996 recommended ‘support for disaster prevention and preparedness’ as a priority area of intervention. The FAO of the UN, through its Rural Institutions and Participation Service (SDAR) “promotes community based approaches and bottom-up capacity building processes through participatory analysis and the dissemination (and facilitating adaptation) of new concepts and training materials that help strengthening local public institutions and civil society organisations such as farmer organisations, pastoral herder associations, cooperatives, and water user associations” (FAO, n.d.: 4). It is within this context that increases in natural hazard risk are addressed, given that there is growing evidence of the urgent need to involve human resources, local population groups and their organisations, in more vertically and horizontally integrated efforts at DRM. The task of exploring avenues for doing so, based on existing experiences and distilling lessons there from, thus lies with the mandate of FAO/SDAR, who commissioned the present literature review, and who are also carrying out a series of complementary field-level case studies in a number of countries in several disaster-prone developing regions.

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