UN: The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) – Building on a ten-year Foundation (IFFN No. 22 – April 2000)


The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR)
Building on a ten-year Foundation

(IFFN No. 22 – April 2000, p. 101-103)


Just over ten years ago, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared the 1990’s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). Its mandate was to initiate and marshal wide-ranging international cooperation on a series of action and awareness programmes aimed at reducing the loss of life, property damage and social and economic disruption caused by natural disasters.

The need to take action was clear. For several years, economic losses stemming from natural disasters had been dramatically increasing, thanks to a combination of several global trends, among them:

  • climatic changes, leading to an increase in hydrometeorological hazards worldwide;
  • demographic shifts, exposing more and more people to natural hazards;
  • a substantial increase in the density – and thus the vulnerability – of the built environment; and
  • widespread lack of planning and preventative thinking.

Even if natural hazards can never be eliminated, it was obvious that human decisions and actions could play a critical role in preventing natural hazards from becoming future disasters. The mission of the IDNDR was thus to influence these decisions and help create long-term, pro-active disaster prevention strategies. The scope of the challenge was – and remains – enormous, but during its ten-year life, the IDNDR succeeded in coordinating a new, global approach to improving the resiliency of local communities.

The birth of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR)

As its name implied, the IDNDR officially came to an end in 1999. However, during its ten-year span of activities, it achieved such important successes – especially in terms of forging vital links among the political, scientific and technological communities – that the United Nations created a successor body to carry on its work. This new body of coordinated action programmes, with a small secretariat in Geneva, is ISDR.

The ISDR is therefore a new structure, but one which is based on well-established international disaster prevention networks and working methodologies, not to mention the support and legitimacy of the United Nations. For example, because it works through an inter-agency task force comprising United Nations agencies, various actors within civil society and regional representatives, it can call upon resources from an array of partner institutions, among them:

  • the UN system itself
  • the education and academic communities
  • scientific and technical institutions
  • private-sector partners with commercial and/or financial interests
  • the media
  • various NGO’s
  • an increasingly wide range of professional disciplines

Strength and Experience

Based on its invaluable experience and expertise built up over ten years, particularly in developing countries, the ISDR is extremely well-placed to foster the multi-disciplinary and inter-sectoral relationships necessary to bring about the all-important shift from the mainly reactive mindset of today to the pro-active mindset of tomorrow, where prevention and risk management are paramount. It has already established a global network of public, private and local community partners with whom it is developing risk prevention strategies, integrating them into long-term sustainable development plans.

An Inter-Agency Task Force has also been established, focusing on overall programme priorities, assessing risk, studying options and, together with political leaders, putting workable disaster prevention and management plans into place.

In addition to the input of experts and the cooperation of political decision-makers, public confidence is also crucial if such prevention plans are to be effective. To this end, the ISDR has established active media contacts and important partnerships with members of the education communities, both vital forces in ensuring that public understanding is enhanced and participation is therefore increased in various local endeavors.

Funding for the ISDR comes exclusively from voluntary and purpose-designated contributions.

Working Together

To fulfil the two overall objectives of the ISDR, namely:

  • enabling all communities to become resilient to the effects of natural, technological and environmental hazards, reducing the compound risks they pose to social and economic vulnerabilities within modern societies; and
  • proceeding from protection against hazards to the management of risk through the integration of risk prevention into sustainable development

To continue the interagency work with regard to the El Niño phenomenon, and the follow up to the early warning initiatives that led to the Potsdam Conference of 1998.

To implement non operational substantive initiatives in line with the endeavors and priorities of the ISDR.

For a true culture of prevention to take root – in many different regions across the globe, and within the context of many different political, economic and social environments – cooperation and coordination are required among a wide variety of actors, each bringing expertise, knowledge or resources to bear on this huge humanitarian challenge.

Recognizing the need for greater coordinated networking, ISDR warmly extends a hand to all organizations with an interest in improving mankind’s ability to manage the hazards and risks inherent in our physical environment. Together, it is possible to improve our understanding of the myriad factors which cause natural disasters to happen, and to change the way we deal with them – before they take place.

Contact Address

International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR)
Palais des Nations
CH – 1211 Geneva 10

Fax: ++41-22-917-9098 / 99
Tel: ++41-22-917-9000
e-mail: isdr@un.org

IFFN No. 22

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