Disaster risk reduction strategies in practice

March 19, 2020
Photo by Kieran McConville

There are plenty of theories, goals, and targets surrounding Disaster Risk Reduction, but what does it all look like in practice? Read on for a few of our stories from the field.

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) protects the lives and livelihoods of communities and individuals who are most vulnerable to disasters or emergencies. Whether the crisis is caused by nature or humans (or a combination of both), DRR limits its negative impact on those who stand to lose the most. 

There are plenty of theories, goals, and targets surrounding DRR, many of which aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. But what do disaster risk reduction strategies look like in practice? Read on for a few of our stories from the field.

Afghanistan: Planning and prevention for all seasons

As seasons change in Afghanistan, drought has more frequently given way to flooding, which in turn has led to landslides and soil erosion across the northern region of Badakhshan. Having been in the country since 1998 (when we responded to a major earthquake), Concern has spent much of the last decade developing watershed management and disaster risk strategies for the country. 

Peter Doyle, Concern’s Head of Emergency Technical Unit, spent time as our Asia Desk Officer and recalled how evident the region’s vulnerability was: “The steep mountains had been badly deforested and the soil constantly eroded, stripping what should be fertile agriculture land of its nutrients and leaving communities at constant risk of flooding and landslides.” 

Crops in northern Afghanistan shielded from flooding by a protective berm.

Crops in northern Afghanistan shielded from flooding by a protective berm.

Badakshan’s mountain village of Lab i Ab bore the brunt of major floods in 2012, and that was where Concern’s environmental protection work began. Working with the community, our teams:

  • Installed check dams to prevent further flooding and soil erosion and increase soil moisture and vegetation. Concern paid locals for the work, giving families a source of income, and helped them purchase the materials they needed to get the job done.
  • Worked with villagers on hazard mapping, highlighting areas of the village that are at-risk for disasters like flooding and landslides. This information helps the community better plan where and where not to build houses or plant crops. 
  • Provided cash transfers for locals (especially those unable to carry out physical labor) to meet household needs. 

It’s a project that community leader Hayatullah told us earlier this year “saved our lives.” 

Chad: Braced for impact

“Any unexpected misfortune here could be disastrous for a family that is really only just surviving from day to day,” says Isaac Gahungu, who coordinates Concern’s programs in southeast Chad. “Disaster comes in many forms: lack of rain, too much rain, illness, accident, market volatility – it doesn’t take much.” 

With this in mind, Concern has been working with poor and isolated communities to identify the biggest risks and come up with workable solutions. These include:

  • Introducing conservation agriculture into the community, which has made a difference in crop yields for farmers normally at the mercy of the weather. Those who have adopted conservation agriculture’s soil and moisture protection techniques have seen an amazing increase in reliability and yield. Ousman Zakariya saw his harvest of sorghum more than double from 11 sacks to 25. Now, he and others are sharing their knowledge with neighbors through Concern’s farmer field schools.
  • Establishing a village hardship fund for those who might fall on difficult times. Haron Said was the first to benefit from this when a fire destroyed his home and all of their possessions — just after his wife gave birth to their first child. “They helped us with building materials and labor to build a house,” he said, “and also gave us clothes and other household items.”
  • Training local health volunteers to bring basic, but life-saving knowledge to women and children in Chad who are susceptible to preventable illnesses. Iklass is one community health volunteer, and is visibly passionate about her work teaching families about the importance of good hygiene, nutrition, and timely visits to the local health center. Illness in a family member or breadwinner can spell disaster for those who rely on them, and the work of Iklass and others has had a noticeable impact. 

Learn more about our worked on integrated approach to responding to (and preventing) further disasters in Chad with the program BRACED — Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters. 

Zambia: Returning to indigenous knowledge

For centuries, floods have been an expected part of the cycle of life and cultural traditions in Zambia’s Western Province. For six months, the riverbanks were one of the most fertile planting grounds in southern Africa. For the other six months, they’re underwater. 

The Lozi people have occupied the Barotse floodplain back into the furthest reaches of time. It was their King Lewanika who first realized the value of trying to control the impact of the river, digging drainage canals to help clear the floodwaters and make full use of the fertile soil. In the late 1960s, the government of the newly-independent nation of Zambia began to pay farmers to do this work. By the end of the century, government support had dwindled away and, without the added incentive of compensation, the canal system fell into a state of disrepair. The amount of land available for cultivation dwindled. 


Mushiba Lutambe in the Sananga Province of Zambia, during Concern’s project on the Upper Zambezi floodplains. Photo: Patrick Bentley

In 2007, Concern Worldwide began to work with the affected communities to see if they could help to make a change, returning to indigenous wisdom. “Our aim was to help these farmers understand the importance of the drainage canals and how they can be used to improve their livelihoods,” says Charles Mjumphi, Concern’s former Program Manager in Zambia. “This is all about self-help.” 

Through a series of local committees, we organized training workshops and demonstrations and provided simple-but-effective digging tools. Our team engaged with traditional leaders and village elders, many of whom remembered the heyday of the canal system, and inspired the younger generation to take action. “It was a challenge to convince them at first,” recalls Charles, “but the key is that people see for themselves the positive impact that this work can have ”.

“Yes they have given the farmers tools to do the work. But, more importantly, they have given us a lasting legacy.” — Muzungu Kalinukwa, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Zambia

“This has changed our lives,” Alice Lubinda told us in 2013 as she took a break from working on a canal near the village of Lifelo. “I can now afford to send my children to school because of the extra crops I grow here.” 

“This work is cardinal for agriculture here to be productive,” added Muzungu Kalinukwa, District Extension Officer for the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. “We have seen the benefits. This floodplain is our biggest asset, and Concern Worldwide have helped our people to understand that. Yes they have given the farmers tools to do the work. But, more importantly, they have given us a lasting legacy.”

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