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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Disaster Risk Reduction

Disaster preparedness contributes to saving lives, speeds up recovery and reduces the impact of future hazards. Disaster preparedness is proof that people are far from helpless when facing hazards with the appropriate local knowledge, practice and response mechanisms.

Why prioritize disaster preparedness?


Earthquake simulation, Tajikistan
Photo : EC/ECHO Thierry Bertouille

Every year millions of people are affected by droughts, floods, landslides, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, wild land fires, and other hazards. Increased population densities, growing mega-cities, environmental degradation, and the impact of Climate Change adding to poverty, make the impact of natural hazards worse. In the past few years, natural disasters have struck with significant impact in all parts of the world, from the Indian Ocean tsunami to earthquakes in Iran and South Asia, from cyclones in Burma, the Caribbean and the Pacific to heavy flooding, mudflows and landslides in several parts of Asia and Latin America. Hundreds of thousands of people lose their lives and millions their livelihood, due to disasters caused by natural hazards. Billions worth of homes, livestock and investments are destroyed every year in such crises.

An estimated 97% of natural disaster-related deaths occur in developing countries and these countries bear the heaviest the burden in terms of livelihoods lost. In addition, it is often the poorest communities that suffer the most as they tend to live in greater density in badly-built housing on land at risk. They possess limited resources to deal with the risks they face.

Most hazards are sudden-onset events and take people by surprise. Although it is impossible to prevent hazards, the impact of the disasters can be limited through the preparedness of the populations and investing in effective response-mechanisms at local, regional and national level.

ECHO´s approach

The European Commission's Humanitarian aid and Civil Protection Directorate General (ECHO) provides rapid and effective support to the victims of disasters beyond the European Union's borders. On average, approximately 16% of ECHO humanitarian relief is a response to sudden-onset natural disasters. The importance of disaster preparedness is clearly recognised in ECHO's mandate and in the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid adopted in 2007. In 1996 ECHO launched a specific programme, DIPECHO (Disaster Preparedness ECHO) dedicated to disaster preparedness. Disaster preparedness also has a central place in the 23 principles for Good Humanitarian Donorship agreed in 2003 in Stockholm by leading humanitarian donors, including ECHO.

ECHO's humanitarian mandate prescribes a focus on saving lives, providing relief and thus assisting the most vulnerable groups. ECHO prioritizes 'people-oriented' preparedness measures and, therefore, focuses on supporting strategies and complementing existing strategies that enable local communities and institutions to better prepare for, mitigate and respond adequately to natural disasters by enhancing their capacities to cope and respond. This increases their resilience and reduces their vulnerability. ECHO's support is a combination of community-based projects and projects at national or regional level that strive to increase resilience in the event of natural hazards. Projects are implemented through a wide range of partners, including local organisations that provide access to the most marginalized and vulnerable people.

ECHO involvement in DRR/DP has increased significantly in the last decade both in terms of funding as well as in terms of expansion of activities (DIPECHO, slow onset disasters, involvement in epidemic prevention, targeted Disaster Preparedness projects).
However, the main component of ECHO's contribution to the global Disaster Risk Reduction efforts remains the DIPECHO programme which now covers 8 disaster-prone regions. The DIPECHO programme therefore targets highly vulnerable communities living in some of the most disaster-prone regions of the world. This is what we term our 'community-based approach'.

The DIPECHO programme

Since the launch of the DIPECHO programme in 1996, ECHO has invested more than €255 million in disaster preparedness.

DIPECHO allocations 1998-2011


Budget (million €)
































Click on the map to enlarge

The DIPECHO programme had been expanded over the years and now covers eight disaster prone regions: the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Central Asia (which now also includes the South Caucasus countries), South Asia, South East Asia, South East Africa and South West Indian Ocean and Pacific Region (see map). The projects funded by the programme include simple preparatory measures, often implemented by the communities themselves. They have proven extremely effective in limiting damage and saving lives when hazards suddenly strike. DIPECHO-projects will typically emphasize training, capacity-building, awareness-raising, establishment or improvement of local early-warning systems and contingency-planning. There are numerous examples that these simple and community-owned preparedness measures enable communities at risk to save their own lives and livelihoods when disaster strikes. As any other relief provided by ECHO, DIPECHO projects are carried out by European-based aid agencies and UN agencies in close cooperation with local NGOs and authorities.

The best results are only achieved when there is effective co-operation between citizens, civil society groups and local, regional and national authorities. ECHO has found that in most cases, community organisations and municipalities are enthusiastic and actively contribute to DIPECHO activities.

Integrating disaster preparedness in relief operations

ECHO's contribution to disaster preparedness goes well beyond the DIPECHO programme as many of ECHO's major humanitarian financing decisions include disaster preparedness or mitigation of disaster impacts as an objective. Even post-disaster emergency responses often have risk reduction elements. Examples of such activities include livestock shelters built after extreme cold snaps to protect against further losses of depleted herds (Peru); training and equipping of community-based fire brigades in forest fire risk zones (Indonesia); cholera preparedness and health information (Malawi); and anti-rust measures to prevent water pollution and protect pipes from the effects of volcanic ash (Ecuador).

These activities are undertaken as an integral part of the ECHO relief operations in areas affected by ongoing humanitarian crises. The establishment of suitable crisis information, alert and rapid damage-assessment systems for the humanitarian community can also be considered as mainstreaming.

The integration of DRR components, activities and actions through humanitarian operations has to be considered as important part of a comprehensive humanitarian response. The application of principle of "build back better", ensures that humanitarian actions take into account hazards, vulnerabilities and risk analysis and therefore improves the quality and efficiency of humanitarian assistance.

Advocacy towards mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into development cooperation

The DIPECHO programme has been designed to demonstrate measures and initiatives at community-level and can serve as components of integrated disaster risk reduction strategies for a municipality, district or even at national level. However, Disaster Risk Reduction is a long-term development effort and ECHO is therefore encouraging other stakeholders that can provide longer-term financing to systematically integrate disaster risk reduction in their strategies. ECHO has actively participated to the development of the EU Strategy supporting Disaster Risk Reductionin developing countries, adopted in February 2009 and its Implementation Plan. This Strategy commits the EU to integrate DRR considerations more effectively into EU development and humanitarian policies. ECHO intends to continue its advocacy work towards development services of the European Commission , the European Union Member States, national governments, international financial institutions and other development partners. As show-cased in the website section with eye-witness accounts, DIPECHO projects have made a real difference to vulnerable communities. The challenge ahead is to ensure that disaster risk reduction becomes an integral part of sustainable development policy – in particular in countries at high risk.

Contribution to international Disaster Risk Reduction efforts – the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015

ECHO strongly supports all international efforts, including those coordinated by the United Nations, to increase disaster risk reduction worldwide.

ECHO therefore actively supported the World Conference for Disaster Reduction held in Kobe, Japan in January 2005 following the Tsunami. This conference was one of the milestone events that led to the formulation of the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 and the international commitment to strengthen the International System for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) established within the auspices of UN OCHA. During the different sessions of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, held in 2007, 2009 and 2011, ECHO actively participated sharing its strategy and experience in community based Preparedness and Disaster Risk Reduction with government representatives, specialised UN agencies, lead donors, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, scientific and regional experts, civil society and private sector representatives.

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