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 recent projects.

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 examples. 

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.”

Follow along with our work in disaster risk reduction — and more