COMMITTEE ON WORLD FOOD SECURITY
Rome, 12-16 May 2003
THE IMPACT OF DISASTERS ON LONG-TERM FOOD SECURITY
AND POVERTY ALLEVIATION – POLICY IMPLICATIONS
Table of Contents
I. INTRODUCTION 1-4
II. THE TYPOLOGY AND INCIDENCE OF NATURAL DISASTER 5 - 15
A. TYPOLOGY OF DISASTERS 5–8
B. INCIDENCE OF DISASTERS 9 - 15
III. IMPACT OF DISASTERS 16 - 27
A. DISASTERS DISRUPT THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS AND
INTENSIFY POVERTY AND FOOD INSECURITY 16 – 23
B. DISASTERS MAKE THE POOR EVEN POORER 24 - 27
IV. STRATEGY FOR REDUCING VULNERABILITY TO AND
RISK OF NATURAL DISASTERS 28 - 43
A. SHORT-TERM MEASURES 31 – 35
B. LONG-TERM MEASURES 36 - 43
V. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 44 - 47
For reasons of economy, this document is produced in a limited number of copies. Delegates and observers are kindly requested to
bring it to the meetings and to refrain from asking for additional copies, unless strictly indispensable.
CFS: 2003/7 1
1. Recognizing the immediate and long-term adverse impact of disasters in worsening food
insecurity and poverty, the Heads of State and Government at the Word Food Summit (WFS) in
November 1996 made a commitment to “…endeavour to prevent and be prepared for natural
disasters and man-made emergencies and to meet transitory and emergency food requirements in
ways that encourage recovery, rehabilitation, development and capacity to satisfy future needs.”1
2. At the Word Food Summit: five years later (WFS: fyl) in June last year, the Heads of
State and Governments re-iterated that they will “…strengthen national and international action
to prepare for contingencies and emergencies and to improve the effectiveness of emergency
actions both through food and non-food based interventions.” They stressed that such actions
must be integrated into sustainable development efforts with all stakeholders involved to achieve
food security, and that they are, “… committed to ensuring, through economic development, the
use of early warning systems, and emergency assistance, that famine will never again be seen.”2
3. While emergency assistance to avoid human suffering remains essential, more focus
needs to be accorded to mitigating and preventing natural disasters by national governments and
the international community. The policy agendas for disaster reduction and food security, though
potentially complementary, are not always identical. Unless contained through coordinated
effective mitigation measures incorporated in development efforts, natural disasters would prove
to be a formidable constraint to achieving the WFS target of reducing by half the number of the
undernourished, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.
4. This paper has been prepared as a background for the Committee’s discussion on the
incidence of disasters and their impact on long-term food security and poverty alleviation. Section
II assesses the typology and incidence of disasters; Section III analyses the short and long-term
impact of disasters; and Section IV reviews the policy implications and strategies to mitigate the
impact of disasters, in line with the commitments and recommended actions in the WFS Plan of
Action. Section V puts forward for the Committee’s consideration some specific
recommendations for action by national governments and the international community.
II. THE TYPOLOGY AND INCIDENCE OF NATURAL
A. TYPOLOGY OF DISASTERS
5. Natural disasters are caused when natural hazards occur in vulnerable areas, resulting
in substantial damage, disruption and possible casualties and leaving the affected communities
unable to function normally. In analysing food security impacts of disasters, it is useful to
distinguish between those of geophysical and of hydro-meteorological origin. The first group
includes earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic activity and emissions; while those of hydro-
meteorological origin include floods, tropical cyclones, storm surges, and drought. The latter
types of disasters are likely to have more widespread and substantial impacts on agriculture and
food related activities. Biological hazards3 such as outbreaks of epidemic diseases, plant or
animal contagion and extensive infestation are also referred to as natural hazards.
6. Disasters can also be caused by technological hazards or industrial accidents, which
may take place because of dangerous procedures or infrastructural failures. Environmental
degradation is another form of human induced phenomenon which damages the natural resource
WFS Plan of Action, Commitment
Declaration of the WFS: fyl, paragraph 18.
These hazards are typically acknowledged, but are often excluded from natural disaster data bases.
2 CFS: 2003/7
base or adversely alters the natural processes of ecosystems. Environmental degradation increases
the frequency and intensity of natural hazards4 as well as the vulnerability of communities to
hazards. According to the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
while human induced factors do not alter the scale of geophysical hazards, climate change is
affecting both the frequency and intensity of hydro-meteorological hazards.
7. While most natural hazards may be unavoidable, the damage they cause can be avoided or
at least minimized. The vulnerability of countries and communities to a given disaster may be due
to their location and susceptibility to the environment, but human action also contributes to the
frequency and severity of hazards. Growth of population in semi-arid regions, for example,
promotes the expansion of agriculture and cattle herding into marginal lands, which may lead to
further deterioration of the natural resource base. Similarly, settlement on steep slopes often leads
to changing landscapes in damaging ways, and increases the vulnerability of communities to
disasters. Such activities, as deforestation especially on steep slopes lead to erosion, reduce the
moisture absorptive capacity of the land, and increase vulnerability to flash floods that destroy
houses and cultivated fields during heavy rains. Natural resource degradation, loss of resilience of
the ecological systems, and loss of biodiversity are all factors which contribute to increasing
vulnerability to disasters. Under such conditions, the lack of appropriate environment
management, land-use planning and regulatory mechanisms can exacerbate the vulnerability of
countries and communities to disasters. There is widespread concern that inappropriate
management of resources and agricultural practices, which contribute to the degradation of
resources, may make countries and communities more vulnerable to frequent disasters.
8. The process of climate change is also increasing the vulnerability of countries, posing a
significant threat to peoples’ livelihood systems, and overall development prospects in developing
countries. A rise in sea-level due to global warming is already eroding coastlines where
populations and critical infrastructure are most concentrated. Coastal flooding is inundating
farmland and fresh water supplies with salt, forcing some islanders to abandon their homes
forever. In the Marshal Islands, farmers are resorting to growing crops in old oil drums to avoid
planting in saline soils. On the Carteret atolls, off Papua New Guinea, rising seas have cut off one
island and left 1 500 people permanently dependent on food aid from the main island.5
B. INCIDENCE OF DISASTERS
9. In recent years the incidence of disasters has been increasing drastically in number as well
as in terms of people affected and in magnitude of material losses. Figure 1 shows a trend of
consistent increase in the incidence of disasters during the period 1975 - 2002. In the fifteen year
period (1975-1990) the incidence of disasters increased by more than four-fold. In particular, the
final years of 1990s witnessed major natural disasters in several countries.
10. The number of people affected – injured, left homeless or hungry –tripled to 2 billion
during the past decade, and those at risk have been growing by 70 to 80 million per year6. Direct
economic losses increased five times to US$629 billion in the 1990s. However, in the 1990s the
number of people killed by disasters was 800 000 compared to nearly 2 million lives in the
1970s.7 The decrease in fatalities, among other factors, is due to improved early warning and
forecasting systems, preparedness programmes as well as better communication systems in many
Figure 1: Incidence of Disaster (Annual Averages) - 1975-2001
Some hazards may have natural or human-induced origin (e.g. wild forest fires and desertification). These may be
referred to as hydro-meteorological or environmental degradation.
World Disaster Report 2002.
ISDR: Living with Risk – a global review of disaster reduction, www.unisdr.org
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, World Disaster Report 2002.
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1975-1980 1981-1985 1986-1990 1991-1995 1996-2001
Source: EM-DAT: OFDA/CRED (2002) (http://www.cred.be/)
11. The incidence of hazards demonstrates considerable geographic variation as shown in
Table 1. The data indicate that, during this period, Asia was disproportionately affected by natural
disasters (with about 41 percent of all events) followed by Africa (about 30 percent) the Americas
(16 percent), Europe (10 percent) and Oceania (3 percent).
12. There is a clear relationship between vulnerability to disasters and the level of economic,
social and technological development. Between 1990 and 1998, about 94 percent of the world’s
568 major natural disasters and more than 97 percent of all natural disaster-related deaths were in
developing countries.8 The data further indicates that the incidence of disasters is higher in low-
income than in middle-income countries. In particular, the incidence of hydro-meteorological
hazards is 68 percent (and drought 3 times) higher in low-income countries than in middle-income
countries. An ongoing study on disaster vulnerability, based on multivariate statistical analysis,
confirms a positive relationship between a higher level of economic development and reduced
vulnerability to disasters.
13. A closer look at countries with a high proportion of their population undernourished
shows that most of them continue to be affected by recurring natural disasters. At least fifty-one
countries, of those classified as having 20 percent or more of their population undernourished,
each suffered four to eight major disasters during the last two decades. Among such countries in
Asia, Bangladesh suffered eight disasters with the number of people affected ranging between
11.5 - 73 million. Cambodia also suffered ten disasters, the people affected ranging between 0.3-
3.4. In Africa, Ethiopia suffered ten disasters with the number of affected people ranging between
3.8 - 10.5 million; Kenya suffered eight major disasters with the number of affected people
ranging between 0.3 – 6.5 million. In Latin America, Honduras suffered four disasters with the
number of affected people ranging between 0.048-2.1 million; and Nicaragua nine disasters with
the number of affected people ranging between 0.08- 0.87 million. The food security situation in
many of the countries affected by recurring disasters, particularly in Africa, was further
aggravated by war and civil strife. The incidence of HIV/AIDS is also aggravating the
compounded effect of structural problems and disaster shocks, worsening the food insecurity and
poverty of households in many countries.
Table 1: Global Distribution of Disasters (by type and region) - 1975-2001)
World Bank : World Development Report 2000/2001.
4 CFS: 2003/7
Type of Disaster Africa Americas Asia Europe Oceania Total % Share
Drought 263 82 123 23 22 513 4.9
Famine 45 1 16 2 0 64 0.6
Floods 331 485 759 245 71 1891 18.0
Wind Storm 113 538 738 228 163 1780 16.9
Wild Fire 15 79 52 68 21 235 2.2
Extreme Temperature 8 50 76 85 5 224 2.1
Earthquake 25 114 278 114 34 565 5.4
Volcanic eruption 11 43 48 7 8 117 1.1
Tsunami/Wave/Surge 0 2 13 1 2 18 0.2
Landslide 19 82 167 53 13 334 3.2
Insect Infestation 52 3 10 1 1 67 0.6
Human Epidemic 386 74 191 32 8 691 6.6
Industrial Accident 60 149 360 134 4 707 6.7
Transport Accident 645 451 1166 349 22 2633 25.0
Misc. Accident 92 112 365 101 11 681 6.5
% share 29.7 16.2 40.9 10.4 2.8 100 100
Source: Data from EM-DAT (http://www.cred.be/)
14. The increasing trend in the incidence of natural disasters is associated with the fact that
more and more societies are becoming increasingly vulnerable to such phenomena, in part owing
to human activities. The prevalence of massive poverty forces people to be engaged in income
producing activities for survival, like deforestation or farming in marginal areas, which lead to
resource degradation. In addition, some development activities such as clearing forests for timber
or road construction, put at risk natural resource sustainability, and are among factors contributing
to the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. Environmental degradation also contributes to
lowering the potential of resilience and recovery from the effects of disasters.
III. IMPACT OF DISASTERS
A. DISASTERS DISRUPT THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS AND
INTENSIFY POVERTY AND FOOD INSECURITY
15. During the 1990s the average annual costs of natural disasters was US$70 billion, and
rising rapidly. The way they are usually estimated –considering mainly the direct cost of
infrastructure, equipment and inventories damage – results in higher economic losses for
developed countries, both in absolute figures as well as in per capita terms. Although economic
losses are not adequately reported in developing countries, such losses, relative to Gross Domestic
Product (GDP), are higher in developing countries, suggesting a severe income and employment
losses, reduced demand for agricultural and industrial output, and low level of investment. For
instance, the economic losses in the United States from the 1997-98 El Niño were estimated at
CFS: 2003/7 5
US$ 1.96 billion or 0.03 percent of GDP, compared with US$2.9 million of estimated losses in
Ecuador, representing 14.6 percent of GDP, and suggesting a higher relative cost to restore the
economy. Most developing countries do not have mechanisms such as crop insurance, agricultural
stabilization assistance, house and property insurance, and public assistance to help quickly
restore households and the economy, and, as a result, recovery takes longer.
16. The economy- wide impacts of hydro-meteorological related disasters are extremely
severe in economies where agriculture constitutes a high proportion of GDP. Recurrent shocks
often reduce long-term growth rates. The consequences of natural disasters on public finance are
also potentially high, both in terms of destabilizing revenue and expenditure, and reducing public
investment for longer-term development.9
17. The flow chart in Figure 2 shows the transmission of a drought shock through the
economy.10 The adverse impact of drought is primarily manifested through crop and livestock
production. Drought also results in reduced quantities of water in dams and thus on hydro-electric
power generation. With a shortage of rainfall, production of food crops, export commodities and
agricultural inputs and raw materials declines. Shortage of food supplies and a consequent rise in
prices implies an immediate worsening of food security for small subsistence and below
subsistence farmers as well as poor non-farm rural, and urban households. The decline of export
commodities leads to reduced foreign exchange earnings and the country’s capacity to import. 11
Such shocks may intensify existing macro-economic problems such as budgetary deficits, external
debt burdens and currency instability.
18. By reducing the production of agricultural raw materials and inputs, drought can also
affect the manufacturing sector and reduce the production and availability of manufactured goods.
As a result, domestic industries may be forced to operate at partial capacity and to lay off workers.
Job losses in both agricultural and non-agricultural industries combined with price rises of food
and non-food items would not only render those who lose their income and employment food-
insecure, but would also lead to a general decline of consumer purchasing power with the
possibility of depressing the economy and reducing investment both in the agricultural and non-
agricultural sectors thus slowing the overall development process. This would suggest that those
who lost their jobs would remain unemployed, joining the rank of the structurally unemployed
and falling into a situation of poverty and food insecurity.
19. Analytical studies on the long-term economic and food security impact of disasters are
generally limited. A study on the impact of disasters in southern Africa – a region which suffers
from recurrent droughts - shows that the 1992 drought , which was the worst in fifty years,
reduced aggregate cereal production in the ten affected countries (Angola, Botswana , Lesotho,
Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe), by 10 million
tons, implying output losses of US$1.2 billion. The drought affected 16 million people in the ten
countries, the same number affected by the current drought.
20. The study also showed that the 1991-92 drought had slowed overall economic growth in
Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe, largely as a consequence of the
drought, the value of the country’s manufacturing output declined by 9.5 percent and export
receipts from manufactures declined by 6 percent. The drought impacted on the manufacturing
sector in a variety of ways, including through input supply shortages, reduced demand for both
Benson and Clay, “Economic and Social Impacts of Natural Disasters: an assessment of their effects and options for
mitigation: synthesis report”. Overseas Development Institute, London, 2003 (draft)
The flow chart could be applicable to other types of disasters.
If the area and people affected by drought is small relative to the country’s economy, when normal rains return,
recovery could be fast particularly in resuming production of commodities with annual cultivation cycles, provided
farmers have at their disposal agricultural inputs and tools to resume farming activities. In cases where drought affects
livestock and production of crops with multi-year production cycle such as sugar cane and coffee recovery could be
6 CFS: 2003/7
agricultural inputs and basic consumer goods such as clothing and footwear, as well as water and
electricity supply shortages.12 Regionally, agricultural GDP fell by about 25% and total GDP by
2.3%, despite the buffering effects of the minerals extraction sector, massive relief programmes
and external assistance. Because of the impacts of a subsequent major drought in 1994/95, as
well as other unfavourable factors, these countries made only modest progress in reducing the
extent of food insecurity before the onset of the current drought crisis in 2002-2003. In some
countries, notably, Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, during the period
1990-1992 to 1998-2000, the number of the undernourished has increased.13
21. The impact of disasters in other countries and regions, on GDP and in slowing growth
was also severe. In 1982 Peru’s GDP declined by 12 percent, half of which was attributed to the
El Niño-related floods of that year. In Honduras, damages and losses from hurricane Mitch
equalled to about 70 percent of GDP, which, according to the World Disaster Report 2002, “put
Honduras’s economic development 20 years back.” Climate extremes associated with the 1997-98
El Niño resulted in losses of 16 percent of agricultural GDP in Ecuador offsetting three years of
growth in the sector. In Asia, where 70 percent of the world’s floods occur, the average annual
cost of floods over the past decade was estimated at 15 billion, with infrastructure losses
accounting for 65 percent.14
22. Underpinning these economic figures is not only the destruction of productive assets and
vital infrastructure and the loss of livelihood systems but also their implication to economic
development and poverty aggravation. In general, the poor are frequently the primary victims of
natural disasters not only because they live in marginal areas directly exposed to changes in
environment, but also because they have less capacity in terms of financial and other assets to
safeguard themselves. When disasters occur poor households suffer greater relative losses in
terms of physical and social assets, resulting in deepening their poverty further. Such losses of
assets can trap household in chronic poverty and food insecurity.
World Bank Technical paper No.401.
FAO, The State of Food Insecurity in the World,2002.
World Bank Development Report .2000/2001.
CFS: 2003/7 7
? Public revenue & ? Interest rates?
? government ? Money supply?
expenditure on drought ? Public debt?
? Demand from ? Migrant remittances
drought-inflicted from neighbouring
regional markets drought-afflicted Rundown of foreign
? Agricultural countries exchange reserves and
production external borrowing
? Export earnings of payments
? Creation of
hydro-electric power Non-drought related imports
? Imports Intermediate goods
(commercial & Investment capital
aid) of food & Spare parts
DROUGHT agricultural inputs
? Water intensive
? Industrial output ? fixed (& possibly Demand-constrained
variable) costs of
production and ? profits
? Inflation ? Investment &
delayed adoption of
? Water availability for
household use with
? Unemployment Supply constrained
consequences for health, Supply constrained
? Real non-indexed constrained
? Expenditure ? Private savings
Fig 2.Transmission of a drought shock through an economy
(Source: World Bank Technical Paper No. 401)
8 CFS: 2003/7
B. DISASTERS MAKE THE POOR EVEN POORER
23. The decline in GDP due to hydro-meteorological disasters is often accompanied with loss of
employment and income opportunities in the affected sectors. Large-scale disasters can thus increase
the depth and extent of poverty in affected developing countries (Box 1). The need to replace damaged
infrastructure also means that governments have to divert resources from longer-term development
objectives, compromising efforts to reduce poverty and food security.
Bangladesh : Impact of 1998 floods
Besides the relatively visible direct impacts such as destroying housing and washing away crops, and indirect
economic impacts putting people out of work, the flood had also other related consequences on the poor :
1.The greatest relative impact of the disaster was on families reliant on wage labour, specifically Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
2.The poor were more severely affected by the flood because they owned fewer assets that could be used to
cover expenditure needs during the disaster, and had a harder time recovering to pre-disaster level;
3.The poor who lost income opportunities due to the flood were heavily reliant on borrowing (principally
from money-lenders) to cover basic needs after the flood;
4.The number of poor relying on borrowing did decrease over time, indicating that the impact of the disaster
5.Food security for the poor, who were reliant on purchases to cover food needs, worsened after the flood
due to difficulty in buying food (lack of disposable income and higher prices) rather than a lack of food
(particularly rice) on the market;
6.Health conditions (disease incidence and malnutrition) worsened after the flood. In worst affected areas
the percentage of households affected by illness of the main earner rose from 10% prior to the flood to
38% in October 1998, and only returned to normal levels six months later.
Source : Kelly and Choudhury, 2002; del Ninno and others,2001; Helen Keller International,2001
24. When emergencies occur, households often resort to selling their assets, such as livestock and
other holdings, to meet their emergency food needs. In extreme circumstances, people migrate in
search of relief and employment. Poor households are hit particularly hard when they incur injury and
disability, affecting their ability to work, their main asset. The disruption of livelihood systems, with
severe and repeated crop failure results in further pauperization of households and communities
Ethiopia : Disasters and Household Asset Depletion
In South Wello, a drought prone part of Ethiopia, research conducted in times of drought, revealed that droughts
affect households differently in asset holding. Well-off households achieve or maintain higher asset holdings
(livestock, cash, and equipment) through purchase of devalued assets from poorer households and keep their
assets and products off a devalued market. Asset-poor households, however, find themselves in a situation of
declining values for their meager assets as markets for such goods collapse, declining wages for their labour,
rising costs of borrowing and declining access to social networks and support institutions during periods of
A group of researchers are conducting a further study on this empirical observation. The group is looking into
the “hypothesis” that asset –rich households will re-accumulate depleted assets at much steeper rates, while
asset-poor households may never be able to re-accumulate depleted assets even as more time passes. Poor
household would be trapped under the poverty line with no way of emerging. Food aid helps many households
through the immediate period following a natural disaster, yet some families find that they can never recover
from the poverty in which they find themselves.
Source : http:/www.basis.wsc.edu
CFS: 2003/7 9
25. As a result of disasters, the nutritional status of vulnerable groups, especially children, also
deteriorates. Studies of the impact of the 1994-95 droughts in Zimbabwe found that women and young
children were the most affected. For women the effect of drought on health (as measured by body
mass) was temporary. With good rains the following year they regained much of the lost body mass.
But for children ages 12-24 months the drought probably left a permanent effect. These young
children lost an average 1.5 –2.0 centimetres of linear growth. The impact was even severe among
children in households with little livestock, the principal asset of households to maintain food
consumption in years of severe food shortages.
26. As the level of poverty and food insecurity worsens, communities remain more exposed than
ever before to disasters, allowing affected populations to fall into a "vicious cycle of poverty" and
long-term food insecurity. Disasters thus could affect the overall economic social fabric of societies.
According to the World Disaster Report 2001 “Some places prone to continual “unnatural” /natural
disasters are also becoming lawless and a threat to security”15, thereby creating an unfavourable
environment for development activities.
IV. STRATEGY FOR REDUCING VULNERABILITY TO AND RISK
OF NATURAL DISASTERS
27. The cyclical relationship between poverty, environment degradation and increasing incidence
of disasters can only be broken through a sound national development strategy which combines short-
term and long-term policies and programmes with the dual aim of reducing vulnerability to natural
disasters and accelerating sustainable social and economic development.
28. The nature and the specific content of national strategies will vary depending upon the type of
hazard/disaster a country is prone to, the availability of human and other resources, as well as on the
strength of existing institutions of the country. Strategies, however, may have common elements in
approach and objectives. The objectives of disaster risk reduction strategies include:
7.Reducing the incidence of disasters which are preventable. Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
8.Minimizing the impact of those disasters that cannot be avoided, in terms of area and the
number of people affected and in terms of potential economic and assets damage.
9.Avoiding the risk of poor household getting poorer through the loss of assets, property and
10.Avoiding or minimizing the risk of disruption of economic and social development process
through the balanced allotment of resources to relief assistance and rehabilitation.
11.Accelerating sustainable agriculture farming practices and rural development with the view to
minimizing the vulnerability of rural communities to disasters and breaking the poverty cycle.
29. To be effective and to achieve the above objectives, strategies should have a two-pronged
approach: (A) short-term measures to respond quickly and effectively when and if disasters take place;
and, (B) long-term measures to reduce vulnerability to disasters and to ensure accelerated sustainable
A. SHORT-TERM MEASURES
30. Elements of a short-term strategy for disaster management include
12.Early warning and forecasting of disasters. Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
14.A Preparedness Programme.
31. Early warning and forecasting to provide advance information on possible impending
disasters is an indispensable element of any disaster mitigation and management strategy. Such a
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, World Disaster Report 2001.
10 CFS: 2003/7
system is useful to draw attention of policy makers, to raise public awareness and to make
preparations to avoid or minimize the impact of disasters. While it is possible to get long lead times
for some hazards like drought, lead time for other types of disasters remains relatively short, though
significant improvement have been attained owing to technological advances in hazard forecasting.
The use of satellites to provide advance information about timing and location of tropical cyclones has
doubled the warning time, from 24 hours in 1990 to 48 hours in 1999, while the warning time for
tornadoes improved from around 8 or 9 minutes to 17 minutes. The early warning on tropical cyclones
appears to have significantly improved in terms of providing lead-time to move people and assets
from areas to be affected. This is particularly important in saving farmers and fishermen working in
vulnerable coastlines. With better information and understanding of natural phenomena, building
norms and standards have also been improved in many parts of the world.
32. Risk assessment includes detailed quantitative and qualitative information and understanding
of a risk of a disaster, its physical, social, economic, and environmental implications and
consequences. It entails the systematic use of information to determine the likelihood of certain
events occurring and the magnitude of their possible consequences. This may include the following
15.Identifying the nature, location, probability and intensity of a possible disaster. Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
16.Determining the degree of vulnerability and exposure to a possible disaster.
17.Identifying the institutional capacities and resources available to withstand the potential
consequences of a disaster.
18.Elaboration of scenarios and measures.
33 The third important element in disaster management, over the short term, is a preparedness
programme spelling out the actions to be taken, institutional responsibilities and arrangements, as
well as resources, policies and actions to be kept in readiness and to be brought into operation when
and if a disaster occurs. This includes management of adequate emergency supplies (food, medical
and other stocks) at strategic locations; maintenance of contingent financial mechanisms; and a plan
for the logistics that may be needed.
34. Various country experiences have shown that sound preparedness programmes play a key role
in minimizing loss of life and damages during disasters. When hurricane Michelle – the most powerful
storm since 1944- hit Cuba in November 2001, effective disaster preparedness and planning ensured
that 700,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters in time. When two years of record floods
affected Mozambique, well-prepared local and national plans saved 34,000 people from drowning. In
Bangladesh when a strong cyclone took place in 1997, thanks to the Cyclone preparedness programme
(CPP), one million people were evacuated into shelters; and the loss of life was less than 200,
compared to the 500,000 lives lost in the 1970 floods. The global decline in the number of deaths on
account of disasters in the 1990s compared to earlier decades is attributable to such preparedness
B. LONG-TERM MEASURES
35. Over the long term, accelerated sustainable agricultural development strategies incorporating
disaster reduction schemes and mitigation measures, are the most successful way to reduce
vulnerability to disasters at local and national levels. Available studies indicate that only an
insignificant fraction of the amount of funds spent on disasters is used for investment to reduce the
vulnerability to disasters. Research has also shown that US$40 billion spent in disaster mitigation
would have reduced global economic loss by US$280 billion, if the money were to be invested on
long-term schemes which minimize the vulnerability of communities to disasters.
36. Broad based successful agricultural development with effective disaster mitigation schemes to
ensure sustainability of the resource base and the development process can reduce vulnerability
through: (i) alleviation of poverty by employment creation and income generation in rural areas; (ii)
stimulating overall economic growth since agriculture, in many low-income countries, is the most
viable lead sector with linkages and multiplier effects across the economy ; (iii) diversifying the base
CFS: 2003/7 11
of the economy through stimulating growth of other sectors and increasing their share in GDP, while
reducing that of agriculture which is the most sensitive sector to hydro-meteorological disasters; (iv)
owning to increase in incomes, enhancing the capacity of household and communities as well as the
country as a whole to withstand the impact of disasters; and (v) enhancing the capacity of
communities to enhance natural resource conservation and sustainability.
Disruptive effect of disasters become less in Small Island Caribbean countries
The highly disaster-prone small island economies of the Eastern Caribbean continue to periodically suffer the
impacts of tropical storms. However, the disruptive effects have been less severe, shorter in impact and no longer
a threat to longer-term food security. Dominica, for example, did not require internationally supported food relief
operations after the devastation of Hurricane in 1979. A favourable combination of developments has
contributed to reduced vulnerability, including economic diversification, some risk-spreading, and infrastructure
protection schemes. Factors in this declining vulnerability include the following:
Structural change in the economy: agriculture’s share of the economy has rapidly declined (e.g. in Dominica
halving to only 19% between 1977 and 1997) while manufacturing, tourism and financial services have grown
and increased their share of GDP.
Risk spreading: the compulsory WINCROP banana crop insurance scheme, introduced in 1987-88 by the Banana
Marketing Board of the four Windward Islands (Dominica, Grenada, Grenadines and St Lucia) , protects
growers by offering partial financial protection in the event of storm damage;
Disaster mitigation investment: design standards for new and expanded infrastructure, rehabilitation of disaster
damaged facilities has gradually reduced hazard vulnerability
Disaster impacts are usually localised, households are also resilient within open economies with relatively
unrestricted labour mobility and income remittances.
Source: Benson and Clay, 2001; OAS, 1996, 1997,1999
37. Land use planning should form the basis for national efforts to mitigate natural disasters. Once
appropriate plans are formulated, there are a number of agricultural, forestry and fishery approaches in
practice that can be applied to reduce susceptibility and increase resilience. Integrating disaster risk
reduction strategies to development plans ensures that efforts to mitigate disasters are carried out on a
continual basis, thereby minimizing possible disruption on development efforts by recurring disasters.
Mitigation measures would vary according to the type of disaster.
38. The mitigation measures that need to be undertaken in drought prone countries may include:
19.Development of small-scale irrigation systems especially in semi-arid areas with approaches to Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
control salinity, water-logging and ground water pollution.
20.Integrated natural resource management at watershed level including through rehabilitating of
degraded lands and appropriate water management.
21.Rehabilitating degraded land and water resources in-arid and semi-arid areas including through
control of soil erosion, tree planting, introducing agro-forestry in farming systems, efficient
water management and integrating crop and livestock production to ensure sustainable
22.Diversification of cropping systems.
23.Introducing yield increasing crop varieties including improved crop varieties and hybrids that
are more drought tolerant and pest resistant.
39. In areas which are prone to floods and storms, disaster mitigating measures relating to
agriculture may include:
24.Introducing more storm-resistant crops (e.g. tannia, ginger, pineapple, roots and tubers) and Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
diversified cropping systems that offer insurance against losses.
25.Introducing salt-resistant agriculture.
26.Planting of forestry windbreaks or shelter belts.
27.Planting of tree and grass species for physical slope stabilisation.
12 CFS: 2003/7
28.Maintenance of mangroves in storm and flood prone areas to serve as windbreaks and buffer
zones (the protective role of trees and mangroves was clearly demonstrated during the storm
and tidal floods during spring 1991 in the Bay of Bengal).
29.Installing drainage works where roads, settlements and arable land are vulnerable to landslide
and flood following heavy rain.
30.Constructing small-scale embankments, dams, canals and improved drainage systems for the
protection of arable and grazing land from flood and tidal waves in coastal areas.
31.Supplying life-saving devices and improved boats for ocean-going fisher folk.
32.Equipping fishermen with radios to enable them to benefit from early warning of storms.
40. With respect to housing and settlements, mitigating measures may include:
33.Designing and constructing storm-resistant and protective structures. Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
34.Constructing earth platforms to raise homestead ground levels.
35.Constructing cyclone shelters in vulnerable areas where large number of families can be secure
against the high winds and floods. During the rest of the year, the shelters can be used as
schools or community centres. The construction of shelters and the establishment of better
early warning systems and evacuation are playing an important role in reducing casualties in
36.Re-locating communities in low risk zones.
41. To mitigate the impact of earthquakes, many countries have instituted building codes and
standards to be followed by construction industries to protect buildings form the impact of
earthquakes. Many others, however, have yet to introduce such codes.
42. According to the report “Living with risk- A global review of disaster reduction initiatives”16
by the United Nations, many countries have taken steps to integrate disaster risk reduction into their
national economic and social development planning. Countries notably like China are progressively
implementing their national disaster reductions plans within their overall economic and social
development plans. In many other countries while the basic framework for a disaster risk reduction
strategy exists, the process of integrating it and implementing it within the context of national
development policies and programmes yet remains to be a challenge.
V. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
43. Besides causing sudden loss of life, human suffering and destruction of property, disasters
intensify poverty and food insecurity and often impede efforts to achieve sustainable development
objectives. The recurrence of natural disasters in many of the developing countries poses the danger
that the WFS goal of reducing the number of the undernourished by half and the other Millennium
Development Goals will not be reached by 2015, unless concerted efforts are undertaken at national
and international levels to reduce the incidence of disasters and to accelerate sustainable development.
Available empirical evidence suggests that without successful programmes to avoid or minimize the
impact of disasters, it is possible that the intensity and extent of poverty may increase in many Low-
Income Food-Deficit countries. Not only will the number of the poor increase but poverty will even be
more severe in many of these countries.
44. To facilitate the progress towards the main WFS goal and the MDGs, the Committee may
wish to make the following recommendations for implementation by member nations and the
45. In line with Commitment five of the WFS plan of Action and paragraph 18 of the Declaration
of WFS: fyl, member countries should:
37.Develop short and long-term strategies to reduce vulnerability to disasters if they have not Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
already done so;
CFS: 2003/7 13
38.Integrate the disaster prevention/mitigation strategies into the overall development programme
at local and national levels, with proper budgetary and other resource allocations needed for
39.Mainstream disaster -related issues and concerns in the activities of public institutions at
national and local levels as well at community level including through enhancing community
awareness of the dangers of risk of disasters and the advantages of preventing/mitigating
40.Accelerate the implementation of such strategies with a view to achieving sustainable
development and to reduce rural and urban poverty within the context of the WFS objective
41.Strengthen existing regional and international disaster management schemes to complement
46. The international community should continue to support national and local efforts to reduce
vulnerability to disasters in the developing countries through:
42.Continued emergency assistance to reduce human suffering in the immediate aftermath of Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
43.Stepping up financial and technical assistance to help developing countries implement their
long-term disaster mitigation strategies within the framework of sustainable development;
44.Strengthening FAO’s capacity to enable the organization to respond to developing countries’
requests for technical assistance to: (i) tackle the impact of disasters and rehabilitate their
agricultural sectors through helping small farmers resume normal farming activities by
providing inputs and equipments, (ii) help them designing short and long-term disaster
mitigation and management strategies integrated with their agricultural and overall economic
and social development plans.