The post-2015 agenda: Transforming DRR to reduce vulnerability
By Karlee Johnson

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

KarleeJohnson_120x179DRR efforts are at a crossroads. The post-2015 framework presents an unique opportunity for making transformational changes to DRR approaches.

Current approaches to DRR are mainly characterized by vertical networks of power and influence and focus on technological quick-fixes and protecting prevailing economic interests.

There is growing evidence that many underlying causes of social vulnerability are not understood or adequately addressed by policy-makers.

The important linkages between natural resource management, development, disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation are being ignored. 

Building long-term resilience to environmental risks requires a fundamental shift away from current top-down and expert-driven governance approaches.

The post-2015 DRR framework discussions are occurring at the same time as the formulation of the new Sustainable Development Goals and a new UNFCCC agreement on international climate change action.

Hence the post-2015 environment provides an unique opportunity to rethink DRR approaches using past lessons, and reshape the DRR agenda for a transformational change in DRR, adaptation and development governance to reduce vulnerability and create development patterns that are more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.

At this critical junction, we need to focus efforts on at least three key areas: a. enhance understanding of the root causes of vulnerability and risk through a contextual and cultural lens b. strengthen linkages between different communities of practice, and c. explore potential adaptive processes and transformations.

Contextual factors such as cultural belief systems, social norms, economic systems, governance structures, and contextualised framings of problems and solutions influence vulnerability and resilience levels to risk.

Organisations often assume that people share their DRR priorities, logic framework and ‘rationality’ in the face of hazards, overlooking the potential cultural clashes that may arise with target communities. Consequently, many DRR efforts are ineffective, being based on invalid assumptions that lack honest ground-truthing.

Linkages between the three communities of practice – DRR, adaptation and development – are often blocked by institutional barriers including differences in language and methods. Better coordination and complementary action between the three areas is crucial.

DRR governance must facilitate more bottom-up and multi-stressor based approaches that build trust through greater transparency and accountability, include diverse stakeholders, incorporate local knowledge and experience, and place greater value on noneconomic assets.

A critical evaluation of the post-2015 agenda informed by issues of power, competing value systems, social equity and justice is crucial.

A transformational change in DRR, adaptation and development governance is needed to reduce vulnerability and create development patterns that are more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.


This blog piece is based on the brief submitted for GSDR 2015 titled “Transforming disaster risk reduction for more inclusive, equitable and sustainable development” by Frank Thomalla, Karlee Johnson, Sukaina Bharwani, Åse Johannessen and Ruth Butterfield from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). (

Karlee Johnson is a Research Assistant at SEI’s Asia Centre. Her responsibilities include conducting research on disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, vulnerability, and disaster resilience. She joined SEI in March 2014.