Disaster risk consists of three elements: hazard, exposure and vulnerability. Risk can be reduced by controlling the frequency and intensity of hazards (e.g. flood protection, slope stabilization), reducing or limiting exposure (e.g. urban planning, urbanization policy, room for rivers to flood in unexposed areas) and reducing vulnerability (e.g. early warning, seismic building codes, contingency and response plans, evacuation). Further, to avoid disasters, society must build resilience to recover quickly after a hazard, mainly through effective response, reduced poverty, risk financing (public or private) and other coping mechanisms.
Accurate measurement of a complex phenomenon as risk is a non-trivial task. Because of its many dimensions, different stakeholders can perceive risk differently. One person’s loss can be another ones gain. Some communities express risk in terms of loss of life and others in financial numbers. Besides this conceptual uncertainty, the various components are not easy to quantify and involve scientific disciplines ranging from natural sciences to social sciences. Due to their nature, some risks can’t be compared on the same scale (e.g. earthquake risk versus droughts).
Nevertheless, there is a need to create multi-hazard risk metrics based on scientific evidence to inform disaster risk reduction policy. One tool that has been used to integrate information from different disciplines and communities is a composite indicator.
This note discusses the opportunities, challenges and strengths of composite indicators to measure progress in disaster risk reduction, and in particular the experience of a recently developed Index for Risk Management – INFORM.
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