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Terre aride craquelée, sécheresse
How can we prevent and react effectively to natural and technological disasters in the current age of global warming, growing urbanization of the population, and political conflict? On the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, this article focuses on the new challenges that disaster risk reduction policies must deal with.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, droughts, storms, epidemics, nuclear accidents, train derailments…. Over the last 10 years, natural and technological disasters have affected more than 1.5 billion people around the world. This is why some especially exposed states and cities, with support from actors like AFD, have started up “disaster risk reduction” (DRR) policies aiming to limit disaster effects as much as possible. Such policies may consist, for example, in meeting earthquake-resistant standards when constructing buildings, erecting dikes, replanting trees in rural areas (to avoid landslides), and setting up an alert system for the local population.

“Our work first of all involves helping to raise awareness among local populations and our partners about the risks they must face. This awareness-raising is crucial. We then strengthen their capacities for response at the time of the disaster and in the 72 hours that follow it,” explains Guillaume Bouveyron, Disaster Risk Reduction Project Officer at AFD.

Anticipating risks

While the risks are well identified and mapped country by country, the stakeholders must now deal with a new difficulty: predicting how these risks are going to evolve in the light of new factors such as climate change, demographic growth, urbanization, and political conflicts. Researchers have in fact shown that climate change is likely to multiply weather phenomena such as storms, floods, and droughts. Demographic growth and uncontrolled urbanization for their part contribute to an increase in the number of potential victims in the risk zones, and they sometimes complicate relief efforts. Political crises can also lead to population movements towards areas exposed to a natural risk.

“Influence from these factors is not easy to measure, and it complicates the risk-prevention actions that have already been started. It’s difficult to know how they are going to evolve.”


Guillaume Bouveyron

To respond to these new challenges, countries are trying to better identify the processes at their source and to take action on them. This is the case of the Philippines, an archipelago particularly threatened by global warming. Three cities there – Dagupan, General Santos and Santa Rosa – have drawn up climate protection plans that they have included in their urban policies. Meanwhile, the Economic Community of West African States (15 members plus Chad and Mauritania) has been working to improve its regional information system and to better connect the food storage centers spread out in the various countries. The objective: to mobilize reserves more rapidly in the event of drought or other crises, prior to an international response. In these two cases, AFD financial backing has helped to implement technical support.

AFD has carried out actions for more than 10 years on disaster risk reduction projects, having devoted 2 billion euros to them between 2006 and 2016. Last May, two new financial tools were created: “standby” credits and “contingency agreements.” They target disaster-stricken countries, to help them immediately obtain funds to deal with their crises. Work is also underway with the French civil protection service to extend its role, in France and abroad, especially in risk analysis, mapping, and post-disaster intervention.

“Some countries unfortunately wait until they suffer a disaster before investing in prevention, their excuse being that preventive actions generally have low visibility and are difficult to finance,” deplores Guillaume Bouveyron. Unfortunately, its seems that the need for disaster risk reduction policies aren’t about to disappear…