Navigator Insights

Strengthening capacity of local government for disaster risk reduction

The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), a United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) initiative in 2005 outlined five priorities for action. There has been significant progress since 2005 on disaster risk reduction, some of which include; a) allocation of separate budget by countries for risk reduction; b) better preparedness of communities against disasters; and c) significant focus of education on disaster preparedness in schools.

In the last decade, there has been a greater emphasis on mainstreaming disaster risk reduction across the housing, transport and agricultural sector into the planning and budgeting at the national level. This is a significant step to ensure that risk reduction gets priority in the national planning process. There has also been recognition of the limitations of strictly top-down approaches to disaster management, and the important role of a large number of actors – communities themselves, community organisations, local government, state governments, and national governments – in disaster management is being acknowledged.

Even though we have witnessed an upsurge in number of community-based disaster management programs over the last decade, the important role of the government, particularly the local government cannot be ignored. In most countries, the governments have an extensive network that reaches all segments. During the times of disasters local governments are best positioned to provide leadership, supervise the distribution of relief goods, medicine, manage evacuations and provide equipment and tools. Similarly, since it is the local government institutions that are most closely involved in the local development processes (e.g. the development plans for village, district and provinces), they are the ones that can most effectively play a leadership role in long-term risk reduction.

Strengthening Local Government
At present the performance of local governments in most developing countries raises concern. Some important issues that need to be addressed include: financial and human resources, strong links between need and supply, a legislative framework, collective training institutions and regular communication, clarity in jurisdiction, co-ordination in regional disasters, a sense of commitment, and maturity in priority-setting.

During the last few decades, a number of countries have adopted decentralised state structures and functions, accompanied by a re-organisation of government and civil services. Such governments will tend to define problems and assemble resources for others, while at the same time improve co-ordination between NGOs and the community. In the wake of this paradigm shift, the local governments should build their capacities to play a more effective role in disaster management. This can be achieved through the following:

Human Resource Development: This will include equipping local government officials with an understanding of prevalent hazards, vulnerabilities and risk (through the development of risk profiles and atlas) and capacities in their local area of operation, the necessary risk assessment skills and knowledge of risk management approaches.

Institutional Development: This will entail change in the organisation management and priorities with emphasis on providing an enabling environment to strengthen local government capacity to act as facilitator for co-ordination between the organisations and communities involved in disaster management and encouraging information dissemination for increased disaster awareness among communities.

Legislative and Regulatory Enforcement: There is significant work to be done in strengthening the enforcement of land use and regulations for construction activities. A more complex challenge is to strengthen the existing built infrastructure (especially the informal settlements in cities) including housing to enable them to resist potential disaster. This could be achieved by encouraging an organisation such as the Development Workshop ( that helping to strengthen the housing will enhance the community’s capacity to reduce their vulnerability.

As our understanding of the social, economic and environmental aspects of disasters has improved, the disaster management community now includes large number of stakeholders that have embarked on a wider range of activities than before. In such a context, efficient and effective risk management will be achieved only through the active participation of local government, communities and other stakeholders.