Report: Culture Must be a Factor in DRR Approaches

According to a United Nations press release, a new report warns that “disaster risk reduction approaches must recognize why people live with risks and how their behavior and attitudes related to culture affect their exposure and sensitivity to hazards.”

The report is the 2014 World Disasters Report, and it is published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and is backed by the UN. It “explores the question of how culture could become a central consideration in disaster risk reduction efforts, and analyzes the influence of disasters and risks on culture” says the UN.

The report was launched on October 28 in Vienna.

Among other things, the report tries to answer the question of what to do when people in a disaster blame it on a god, for example. According to the UN, examples of this include when the Koshi River in India flooded in 2008 – people blamed the crisis on an angry goddess; or in 2010, how people in Indonesia blamed the mountain god for Mount Merapi’s eruption; or even Hurricane Katrina, when some thought it was a sign of God being displeased with the behaviors of the people who live in/visit New Orleans.

One of the key points of the report is how people’s priorities play into the reason they live in high-risk environments. With “hundreds of millions of people” living in dangerous areas such as “the sides of volcanoes, earthquake fault zones and coasts exposed to storms and tsunamis” says the UN, the report points out that for many people, these are the areas where they can gain their livelihoods.

Speaking at the launch of the report, the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Aldo Lale Demoz said, “We need to do more in helping those who have already been victims of disaster to protect themselves from violence, including violence against women and children and organised crime groups trying to exploit them.”

The UNODC was a part-organizer of the launch event in Vienna. According to the UN press release: “The mandate of UNODC, whether on drugs, crime or terrorism, has a strong connection to the notion of risk. People risk their health and lives by engaging in drug use, drug trafficking or unsafe migration practices. The reasons for such risk-taking might be very similar to those explained in the report as it relates to disasters. As has been seen in the past, places hit by natural disasters are breeding grounds for crime, violence and corruption.”

The report says that in order to reduce the risks people face, it’s essential to focus on livelihoods – how they can be made more robust, safer and in some cases, how they can be replaced.

Here’s an excerpt from the UN press release:

“Reconciling local health beliefs or everyday practices with public health interventions is also vital, as people’s perceptions of health risks involve local traditions, beliefs and social practices that sometimes do not coincide with the expectations of public health interventions. Citing the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa as an example, the report stresses the need to address misconceptions and cultural beliefs through effective social mobilization and behavioural change so that efforts to stop such deadly diseases will not be in vain Future investments must be channelled towards a more culturally sensitive, human-based approach to disaster risk reduction, as part of the discussions in framing a new post-2015 development agenda, the report concludes.”


For more information on the 2014 World Disasters Report, click here:
For the UN press release, click here: