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Building resilience

Disaster risk reduction and resilience

In March 2015, Australia endorsed the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the global blueprint for building the world's resilience to disasters.

The Sendai Framework guides Australia's approach to disaster risk reduction both here in Australia (led by the National Recovery and Resilience Agency) as well as the support we provide through the Australian development program to assist other countries to reduce disaster risk.

Australia is susceptible to disasters and we are recognised globally for our disaster risk management expertise including through governance, disaster preparedness, and understanding hazards and risk, as well as science and technological innovations to underpin investments and community action.

What is disaster risk reduction?

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) refers to the actions we take before a natural hazard event occurs to reduce the impact of such an event and avert disaster. Examples include developing building codes to ensure infrastructure can withstand cyclones and other hazards, , implementing measures to divert flood water, strengthening social protection systems to facilitate timely assistance, planting drought-resilient crops, and increasing water storage capacity in order to maintain water supply in times of drought.

Understanding hazards and disasters

It is important to understand the difference between a hazard and a disaster.

A hazard is a phenomenon (natural or human) that presents a risk of harm or damage to humans, while a disaster is an event which has caused loss of human life, damage to property or loss of livelihood.

Hazard events do not necessarily result in disasters. The purpose of disaster risk reduction and resilience building is to minimise the potential impact of hazards and avert disasters. On this webpage we refer to “natural hazards”, climate/weather related and geological (e.g. earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruption). We do not refer to “natural disasters”. Disasters are not inevitable, and the impact of natural hazards can be reduced through disaster risk reduction efforts.

How disasters impact our region

The Asia-Pacific region is the most disaster prone region in the world. Australia is regularly challenged, along with our neighbours, to strengthen our preparedness, to improve our disaster response systems, and to make risk-informed decisions in long term economic planning to build all-of-society resilience. Pacific communities have developed well-honed resilience to natural hazards over generations, but the social and economic impacts of increasingly cascading and compounding disasters are testing their resilience.

  • A person living in the Asia-Pacific region is almost twice as likely to be affected by a disaster as a person living in Africa, almost six times as likely compared with Latin America and the Caribbean, and 30 times more likely than a person living in North America or Europe1
  • In 2022, the region experienced the powerful eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano and the ensuing tsunami that led to significant ashfall and flooding in Tonga, causing loss of life and major damage to infrastructure, and displacing almost 3000 people.
  • In 2020, Tropical Cyclone Harold impacted Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, causing loss of life, and significant damage to buildings, crops and infrastructure, including the destruction of more than 17,000 homes. Later in the year, Fiji faced further significant losses from Tropical Cyclones Yasa and Ana.
  • Australia’s 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires were the worst on record, burning through 24 million hectares of land, claiming lives, and destroying homes and livelihoods.

The risk of disasters occurring in our region is growing and the impacts are expected to increase.

  • The number of climate-related disasters, such as floods and storms has almost doubled in the last 20 years compared to the previous 20 years.
  • In comparison to the previous two decades (2000-2019), 2020 was higher than the annual average in terms of number of climate-related disasters (389 recorded events) and economic losses (USD $171.3 billion), even before taking into account the impacts of COVID-192.
  • In 2020, worldwide there were 26 per cent more storms than the annual average, 23 per cent more floods than the annual average, and 18 per cent more flood deaths than the annual average3.
  • As populations grow, the number of people at risk of disasters will continue to increase due to urbanisation and resource pressures.
  • It is estimated over 1 billion people worldwide live in informal settlements that are vulnerable to disasters4.

Disasters are deadly

  • Since 2000, there have been on average more than 60,000 deaths per year owing to disasters, not including the significant death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The increasingly compounding and cascading nature of disaster events reduces the capacity for recovery and resilience, increasing risk of death, injury and loss and damages.

Disasters damage infrastructure and economies

  • In Nepal, almost 4,800 public school facilities were damaged during the 7.8 magnitude (Mw) earthquake in 20155, and the total economic loss was estimated at a minimum of US$5 billion, equivalent to a quarter of the country's GDP6.
  • Infrastructure damage in the Pacific owing to the eight most significant disasters over the past decade is estimated to be over $1.86 billion, with total infrastructure damage owing to all disasters even higher. In 2015, Cyclone Pam damaged 90 per cent of buildings in Port Vila with economic losses estimated at 64 per cent7 of GDP. Cyclones Winston (2016) and Gita (2018) cost Fiji and Tonga an estimated 31 per cent8 and 38 per cent9 of GDP respectively.
  • In 2020, Tropical Cyclone Harold displaced an estimated 10,000 people in Fiji and 80,000 people (27 per cent of the population) in Vanuatu. It damaged 70 per cent of buildings in Luganville and inflicted damage equivalent to 25 per cent of the GDP of Tonga.
  • The economic losses from disasters from 2000-2019 are estimated at US$2.97 trillion10.

Why we provide aid for disaster risk reduction

Disasters undermine efforts to build prosperity, stability and resilience, claiming lives, disrupting essential services, eroding assets, undoing hard-won development gains and increasing inequality and poverty. Investing in DRR is essential to save lives, but also to protect health, livelihoods, services and infrastructure - all essential for achieving the sustainable development goals.

We are in a new era of disaster risk management where we face complex and interconnected systemic challenges. We are grappling with the health, economic and social shocks of COVID-19, on top of climate change and conflict-related disruptions. To effectively manage the risks of disasters, a dramatic shift is required from investing in disaster response, to investing in risk reduction and risk-informed development. Globally, only $5 in every $100 of disaster-related assistance is spent on disaster prevention and preparedness, while 90.1 per cent is spent on emergency responses to disasters – amounting to $1.05 trillion between 2010-2019.

Effective disaster risk reduction minimises the human and economic losses that can set back a country’s development progress. It also reduces the need for external assistance.

Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2022

Australia will host the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (APMCDRR) in Brisbane from 19-22 September 2022.

APMCDRR is convened by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and is one of the most important mechanisms in the Asia-Pacific to progress disaster risk reduction efforts.

The Asia-Pacific is the most disaster-prone region in the world. The conference provides an important opportunity to review efforts to prevent new and reduce existing risks, and for countries and organisations to make actionable commitments against the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

This is particularly relevant as the APMCDRR will occur during the Midterm Review of the Sendai Framework, which provides countries with an opportunity to assess where action must be accelerated.

The theme for the conference is ‘From Crisis to Resilience: Transforming the Asia-Pacific Region’s future through disaster risk reduction.’

For more information, and to register to attend and/or host an event at APMCDRR, visit the conference website.

How we assist countries to reduce disaster risk

Australia works with partner countries in the Asia-Pacific, and particularly our Pacific island neighbours, to help improve resilience to disasters.

  • We assist partner governments to meet their commitments to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-30, the global blueprint for disaster risk reduction.
  • We work to ensure disaster risk reduction and resilience efforts are inclusive, gender-responsive and reflect the needs of all of the community.
  • We work to ensure essential infrastructure is climate and disaster resilient, including through our support to the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) and its Infrastructure for Resilient Island States initiative.
  • We help strengthen financial preparedness to manage disaster and climate shocks by establishing and enhancing emergency financing systems in our region.
  • We support the integration of anticipatory action into policy, financial and operating systems to strengthen disaster preparedness and to save lives, protect assets, and safeguard development gains.
  • We work with partners to ensure that post-disaster activities result in greater resilience, both physically and institutionally (“Building Back Better”).
  • We support our neighbours in the Pacific to take an integrated approach to DRR and climate action, in line with our region’s Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific.
  • We invest in science and technology to ensure hazard mapping, modelling, climate projections, forecasting and early warning systems can inform local level disaster planning, preparation, response and recovery.
  • Our approach is underpinned by a commitment to localisation, recognising, respecting and strengthening leadership and decision-making by local and national actors.

Australia assists partner countries to reduce disaster risk through focussed disaster risk reduction programs, including in Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. Australia also has partnerships with the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the World Bank's Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction (GFDRR). Further information is outlined below.

Australia ensures disaster risk reduction considerations are prioritised throughout our development program. We take an all-hazards approach to screen for and manage disaster risk in Australia’s international development investments, and encourage and support our implementing partners to adopt the same approach.

Australia's estimated total contribution to disaster risk reduction through the international development program has consistently exceeded the target of 1 per cent of ODA since it was recommended at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2009.

Disaster and Climate Resilient Infrastructure

Ensuring new and existing infrastructure is resilient and adaptable to climate change and disasters is key to sustainable development.

Australia supports our neighbours to build more climate and disaster resilient infrastructure in the face of changing trends and increasingly unpredictable hazard patterns.

Investing in disaster-resilient infrastructure pays off. When Cyclone Harold damaged 70 per cent of buildings in Luganville, Vanuatu, the Australian-funded classrooms built nearby withstood the Category 5 cyclonic winds and served as evacuation centres. Similarly, the Luganville Market House, renovated with disaster-resilient features with Australian assistance, was operational as soon as the cyclone passed enabling more than 3000 vendors, mainly women, to continue business. In Fiji, none of the 181 schools and 25 public buildings completed under Fiji’s “Build Back Better” program were damaged by Tropical Cyclone Harold.

World Bank research (2019) identified an $8 net benefit for each $1 invested in more resilient infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries11.

Australia supports the India-led Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) as a founding and executive member. Australia is committed to deepening CDRI’s engagement in the Pacific and is providing AUD 10 million for the CDRI’s Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) initiative, targeting three outcomes:

    • Improved resilience of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) infrastructure to climate change and disaster risks
    • Strengthened knowledge and partnerships for integrating resilience in SIDS infrastructure
    • Gender equality and disability inclusion promoted through resilient SIDS infrastructure.

Disaster and climate resilience is integrated within

Inclusive DRR

To be effective, our efforts to build resilience and reduce the risk of disasters must be gender-sensitive and disability inclusive. Ensuring women and girls, people with disabilities, young people, the elderly, indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups are included in decision making on risk-informed development and disaster risk reduction is essential. This is a policy priority for Australia.

Where inequalities exist in our communities, they are exacerbated by disasters. Women and girls, and people with disabilities, are disproportionately affected when disasters occur. Yet they are frequently excluded from decision-making on disasters. To build sustainable resilience for all, we must harness the capabilities and resources of the entire community, and ensure all voices are heard.

Australia has partnered with UN Women to launch the Women’s Resilience to Disasters (WRD) Program in the Pacific - a AUD 13.5 million partnership to empower women in Fiji, Kiribati and Vanuatu to lead Pacific solutions to disaster prevention, preparedness and recovery. The goal of WRD is to make the lives and livelihoods of women and girls resilient to disasters and hazards, contributing to sustainable, secure and thriving communities.

The WRD Knowledge Hub is a one stop shop for the latest gender-related disaster and climate resilience information and knowledge.

Australia also supports the Women’s International Network on Disaster Risk Reduction (WIN DRR), in partnership with UNDRR. WIN DRR is a professional network to support women working in DRR, to enhance their role in decision making and empower them to attain leadership. Read more about women who are leading the DRR field, including profiles of the winners of the annual WIN DRR awards.

Innovating Disaster Risk Management

Complementing our long-standing climate and disaster risk reduction investments, Australia supporting a shift in the humanitarian system towards forecast-based financing and risk-informed, earlier humanitarian action. By better linking early warning systems and forecasts with disaster risk management, we can support governments and empower communities to initiate timely and appropriate actions to reduce the impact of hazards and extreme weather events. Taking risk-informed action and providing support before a shock occurs will not only save lives, protect assets and safeguard development gains, but will also make assistance more efficient and effective.

Australia contributes to global pooled funding mechanisms, such as the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Disaster Relief Emergency Fund, both of which support risk-informed and early humanitarian action. Supporting efforts to integrate anticipatory action into policy, financial, and operating systems is a priority in our humanitarian partnerships. We also support anticipatory action research through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) and Disaster READY.

Australia Pacific Climate Partnership

The Australia Pacific Climate Partnership (APCP) ($75m, 2018-22) brings together a suite of long running programs that connect high quality climate and geo-hazard data with decision making for climate and disaster resilient development across the region. A particular focus is connecting this data with Australia's multi-sectoral assistance programs in the Pacific. For more information about the Australia Pacific Climate Partnership program please visit the Pacific Regional page.

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

UNDRR is responsible for the international coordination of strategies and programs for the reduction of disaster risks. UNDRR coordinates and monitors the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Australia is supporting UNDRR's work in the Asia-Pacific region to assist governments and communities to implement the Sendai Framework, to engage with the private sector to develop more disaster resilient investment and prevent new risks, and to ensure disaster risk reduction efforts are inclusive of all members of the community, including marginalised groups. More information about UNDRR can be found on the UNDRR website.

UNDRR (convenor) and the Australian Government (host) are working together to organise the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (APMCDRR) in Brisbane from 19-22 September 2022. More information, including on how to register, is available on the conference website.

Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR)

The World Bank's GFDRR is a global partnership committed to helping developing countries reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards. GFDRR is one of only a small number of climate change and disaster risk specialist organisations operating a grant-funding mechanism to support disaster risk reduction projects at a global level, with all funded activities aligning with the Sendai Framework.

GFDRR provides analysis, technical assistance, and capacity building to help countries bring resilience to scale. Activities aim to mobilise larger development programs, and build the resilience of people and economies by ensuring development policies, plans, and investments – including post-disaster reconstruction – minimise disaster risks. Through this partnership, Australia supports the strengthening of financial preparedness of Pacific Island countries and communities to manage disaster and climate shocks.

More information about GFDRR can be found on the GFDRR website.

Geoscience Australia

A partnership between DFAT and Geoscience Australia enables Australia to provide technical advice in support of implementation of the Sendai Framework. The expertise of Geoscience Australia has also been harnessed to assist the Governments of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines build understanding of hazard and risk science and develop tools to model the impact of floods, earthquakes, volcanos and tsunami. Multi-hazard software platforms are used to assess where people, assets, and activities will likely be affected by disasters. These impact and risk assessments support local governments in improving land use, contingency planning and targeting development investments.

1 Report 2017 Low res.pdf page 2

2 United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters

3 The human cost of natural disasters 2015: a global perspective, Centre for Research on the epidemiology of Disasters, 2015, p. 7.

4 UNDRR: 2018 – Extreme weather events affected 60 million people

5 GFDRR: Nepal Safer Schools Technical Assistance; Assessment, Recovery and Resilience of Education Infrastructure affected by the April 25 2015 Earthquake.

6 The Actuary 'Economic losses of Nepal earthquake equal to 25% of nation's GDP'

7 Government of Vanuatu, 'Post-Disaster Needs Assessment', Tropical Cyclone Pam, March 2015, page ix

8 World Bank, Resilience and love in action: rebuilding after Cyclone Winston, web article

9 Government of Tonga, 'Post Disaster Rapid Assessment', Tropical Cyclone Gita, February 2018, page 11


11 World Bank Lifelines : The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity

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