Ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction

The degradation of ecosystems – such as forests, wetlands, coastal and marine systems, and drylands – is a major driver of disaster risk and a key component of vulnerability to disasters.

For example, deforested slopes can cause more landslides, while reclaimed wetlands can worsen flooding.

Over the past decade, disasters linked to natural hazards have exacted a significant toll on human lives, livelihoods, assets and economies. We work to prevent and reduce the impacts of disasters on vulnerable communities and countries through improved ecosystem management. Ecosystem-based, or Nature-based Solutions (NbS) can reduce disaster risk as well as provide co-benefits from  ecosystem services, which will contribute to livelihoods but also to building local resilience to disasters and climate change.

With our solid technical expertise and direct field experience, we work with Governments to support them in integrating ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR) into national and local development strategies. We are committed to accelerating implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda through evidence-based advocacy, capacity development, partnerships, and field-testing of innovative Eco-DRR solutions that promote sustainable and resilient development. Read on for a description of our major areas of work.

Our main collaborating partners are: the European Union (the European Commission's DG DEVCO), the Government of Norway and the United Nations Development Account (UNDA).

Country activities

We work in the field to demonstrate and document the effectiveness of Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR). Between 2013-2016, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in partnership with the European Commission, implemented Eco-DRR demonstration projects (phase 1) in four countries: Afghanistan, HaitiDemocratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan.

The goals of the interventions were to improve ecosystem management to enhance local resilience to disasters and climate change impacts; to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of the Eco-DRR approach; and to enhance local and national capacities to integrate Eco-DRR in national and local development planning.

Following this, the European Commission has awarded a three-year project to UNEP, in collaboration with Partners for Resilience (PfR), to focus on scaling-up Eco-DRR interventions and promote large scale implementation of Eco-DRR (phase 2). Key country activities in collaboration with PfR are taking place in: Uganda, Haiti, India, Indonesia and Ethiopia.

The main aim of the phase 2 project is to develop different models for demonstrating large-scale implementation of Eco-DRR, which advance implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Agenda.  Activities are also taking place in other countries (Colombia, Guatemala, India, Mali, Kenya, Oman, Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Sudan), as well as at the regional and global scale, to improve capacity on Eco-DRR.

Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction

We actively support partnerships and networks to build a global community of decision-makers, advocates and practitioners who integrate ecosystem management solutions for disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and development strategies. We are a core founder of the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR), a global partnership of 24 organizations that promotes ecosystem management as a key strategy to enable vulnerable communities and countries to reduce disaster risk and build resilience to disasters and climate change. In 2019, five regional PEDRR networks (Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America, Middle East-North Africa/ West Asia and Europe/North America) were created to support regional activities.

Global Advocacy

We participate in major international conferences related to disaster risk reduction, environment and climate change adaptation, including the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, the World Recovery and Reconstruction Conference, Understanding Risk Forum, the World Reconstruction Conference, UNFCCC Conference of the Parties and the IUCN World Conservation Congress, among others.

In collaboration with partners, we also convene international and regional workshops, round-table discussions, and public outreach activities.

Capacity development and technical assistance

A national training course on Eco-DRR: We have delivered national-level trainings around the world, reaching more than 300 participants, mostly from government ministries. More details of the course can be found at the PEDRR website and in the course flyer.

A post-graduate course on Eco-DRR: Working with the Centers for Natural Resources and Development (CNRD), we developed a post-graduate course entitled “Disasters, Environment and Risk Reduction”. Approximately 75 universities worldwide are currently delivering the course or part of the course. The course has been translated into Spanish and French. It is available to Universities and National Training Institutions, following a simple registration process. For more information, please write to: [email protected].

Training of instructors: To widen the reach of the graduate course, we have directly trained more than 300 faculty members from over 200 academic and teaching institutions.

Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): In partnership with the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, we developed a MOOC entitled “Disasters and Ecosystems: Resilience in a Changing Climate”, which was launched in January 2015 through the iVersity MOOC platform and again in 2017-2018 through the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center e-learning platform. Together, the courses attracted over than 17,000 participants from more than 183 countries and led to the establishment of the popular Facebook group: Disasters and Ecosystems

A new MOOC on Nature-based Solutions for Climate and Disaster Risks is expected to be launched in the second half of 2020.

Integrated Strategic Environmental Assessments: We have developed an Integrated Strategic Environmental Assessment (ISEA) tool to support decision-making and development planning, while assuring environmental sustainability and disaster risk reduction. The tool was piloted in Sri LankaNepal and Côte d’Ivoire.

Opportunity mapping tool: With the support of the European Commission and the Government of Norway, UNEP is collaborating with the Global Resource Information Database - Geneva (GRID-Geneva) to develop an Opportunity mapping tool for Eco-DRR. The ‘Opportunity mapping tool’ works by overlaying global datasets on ecosystem distribution and hazard exposure. This tool highlights areas in which there are opportunities to restore or protect ecosystems to enhance disaster risk reduction. Its aim is to raise awareness of the potential of ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction solutions and catalyze increased public and private investments in green infrastructure (e.g. coral reefs, coastal forests, protection forests on steep slopes).


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