Transforming Development and Disaster Risk

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Rehabilitating coastal livelihoods in Pacific Islands. Photo by Alexander Tewfik, 2008

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There is a growing recognition globally that development is crucial to reducing vulnerability to disasters, but it is also a major driver of disaster risk. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction identifies rapid urbanization as a key concern in this context, as it concentrates large populations in what are often high-risk areas, such as coastlines, with the poorest people often in slums. 

Most of the efforts in DRR take place within the wider context of development, and the sustainability agenda recognizes the complexities of these challenges. Many of these also relate strongly to disasters. For, example, of the 17 goals in “Transforming our World”, six are particularly relevant for DRR (UNISDR 2015; Fowler 2015).

This weADAPT theme is aligned with the SEI Initiative on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk. The SEI Initiative seeks to integrate disaster risk reduction (DRR) around the world with equitable, sustainable and resilient development by transforming the relationship between development and DRR. It will carry out context-specific research on a range of environmental risks, aiming to generate knowledge to support changes in governance, policy and practice. The goal is to improve understanding of how risks are created and how they accumulate, recognizing that disaster risk and development are closely interlinked.

The role of climate change is another key consideration, as it poses additional layers of risk and may complicate future DRR efforts. The progress made in climate change adaptation has much to contribute to DRR and many agencies are actively striving to integrate and learn from the two disciplines e.g. see European Commission PLACARD and emBRACE projects. 

Three key gaps in DRR

Despite tremendous progress in knowledge and technology for understanding and dealing with disaster risks, the basic dilemma between development and disaster risks remains unchanged. That is, globally, development is more often a root cause of disaster risk, rather than a means to reduce it. The reasons are manifold, but we see three key gaps:

  • A failure to adequately understand the complexity of vulnerability creation;
  • A failure to be scale-appropriate and apply what we know to the scale at which fundamental change is required; and
  • A fixation within contemporary DRR research and practice on the goal of “reducing” risk, rather than understanding the trade-offs that underpin decision-making processes at all levels (from individual and community to society at large).

Addressing these fundamental gaps requires both a development perspective on risk, and a risk perspective on development. The need to articulate this dual perspective and explore supportive analytical approaches and tools are the primary motivations underlying this Initiative.

This weADAPT theme will aim to generate knowledge to support changes in governance, policy and practice. The goal is to improve understanding of how risks are created and how they accumulate, recognizing that disaster risk and development are closely interlinked. Adaptation or development actions that aim to increase the resilience of a system nearly also result in trade-offs in which some people gain more thna others, so building resilience alone does not result in equitable development.

The theme will explore the social, economic and environmental dimensions of disaster vulnerability and resilience with the aim to inform transformative change towards addressing complex environmental risks.

Underpinning the generation of policy-relevant research findings is the synthesis and integration of different types of knowledge in order to advance conceptual thinking, theory, methods and tools for DRR, and to overcome the current fragmentation and inaccessibility of some types of knowledge and the silencing of particular voices and perspectives.

Further ambitions of the theme are to improve the coherence between Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction particularly through knowledge management, see current UNISDR/SEI online dialogue to address gaps and fragmentation challenges in current climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction research, policymaking and practice.


UNISDR (2015) “Disaster risk reduction in the post-2015 development agenda: 'Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development'” (Available at:

FOWLER, J. (2015) “DRR is in sustainability's DNA” (Available at:

Featured Content

The SEI Initiative on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk

SEI Policy Brief: Transforming disaster risk reduction for more inclusive, equitable and sustainable development

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Participating Organisations


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Gloria Bulus

Climate Change Reality Leader
p4043135 - climate adaptation.

Jana Junghardt

Senior Advisor Disaster Risk Reduction at Caritas Switzerland
360 - climate adaptation.

Johannah Wegerdt

Technical adviser and project formulator at UNDP
360 - climate adaptation.

Robert Ochieng

at Stockholm Environment Institute
360 - climate adaptation.

Maurice Otieno

Chief Environment Planning Officer
fareed 33 - climate adaptation.

Fareed Ullah

House No. 1, Gul Mohar Road, University Town Peshawar
360 - climate adaptation.

Philippa Thornton

at University of Oxford
360 - climate adaptation.

Wendy Hosein

Environmental Research Assistant
360 - climate adaptation.

Eveline Studer

Advisor Disaster Risk Management (DRM) at HELVETAS


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