STRATEGY 2020-25

Risk drivers

Six interconnected drivers of risk take particular focus in our strategy.


As well as natural hazards, these include climate change, pandemics, economic and financial instability, terrorism and transnational criminal networks, cyber fragility, geopolitical volatility, various forms of conflict and much more.

Six interconnected drivers of risk have been emphasised by GNDR members and stakeholders for particular focus in this next strategy:

  1. Climate change
  2. Conflict
  3. Gender inequality
  4. Food & water insecurity
  5. Urbanisation
  6. Forced displacement

1. Climate change

Climate-induced disasters accounted for 90% of all major disasters between 1998 and 2017 and are now happening at the rate of one a week – mostly out of the international spotlight.

Climate change threatens to annihilate the development efforts that the world has made in recent times. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that limiting global warming to 1.5ºC goes hand in hand with reaching world goals set for sustainable development and eradicating poverty, and unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society are required to keep warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC or higher.

Extreme weather events and rising sea levels are the new norm and the frequency and intensity of sudden-onset hazards is predicted to increase, and worsen the impacts of slow-onset hazards.

Patterns of weather and rainfall will change around the world with droughts becoming more common and severe in some places, and floods in others. Environmental degradation seen in deforestation, loss of biodiversity, deterioration of drainage patterns, unscientific development and other factors, is increasing risks to society and the land.

Climate and environmental risks are clearly priority challenges that drive risk in a multitude of ways: rising sea levels, desertification, wildfires, water scarcity, extreme weather, crop failures, displacement, migration and increased risk of different types of conflict. In one way or another these affect all the communities with whom GNDR members work with.

The impacts of climate change mean that disaster losses are rising.

The last 20 years have seen a rise of 251% in direct economic losses from climate-related disasters, and it is the people most at risk who are often disproportionately impacted – particularly those in the global south.

Our focus on risk-informed development requires us to provide the frontline perspective to the climate justice debate on loss and damage, to identify methods to further converge climate change adaptation into disaster risk reduction, to advocate for climate and disaster risk-informed investment, and campaign for action at an all-society level.

GNDR members in all regions have highlighted this important challenge which would benefit from the collective strength of our network.

2. Conflict

Many GNDR members operate in fragile states, and in contexts where democracy is unstable or under threat.

The impact of climate change, as well as other threats, exacerbates this fragility, and 58% of deaths from so-called ‘natural disasters’ occur in the top 30 most fragile states, with numbers of people affected often unreported or vastly under-reported.

For every $100 spent on response in fragile states, only $1.30 was spent on DRR between 2005 and 2010.
Disasters are increasingly happening in conflict areas and when conflict, including political violence, is part of the local reality, traditional approaches to risk reduction are challenged.

The experience of many GNDR members is that communities in their countries are faced with violence and fragility which increases their vulnerability to disasters.

Recognition of how conflict, in various forms, drives vulnerability is therefore critical when designing frontline risk-reduction strategies. Conflict and socio-political confrontations also challenge the notion of the centrality of the state in establishing policies and mechanisms as the primary entry point to reducing risk.

With a growing occurrence of fragility and conflict in different forms, members are expressing an urgent need for our network to better understand and prioritise the link between conflict and risk-informed development.

The issue of integrating development, humanitarian, and peace-building actions is one that has gained relevance in the international space. While the importance of the so-called ‘triple nexus’ (development – humanitarian action – peace) is well understood, its operationalisation remains a challenge.

Our contribution as a global network is to learn from the local reality, to share and amplify this learning. This is an area in which members are requesting greater focus.

3. Gender inequality

One of the major barriers to risk-informed development, which interconnects with all other drivers of risk, is gender inequality. Unless development is systematically gender transformative, we will see disasters placing women into intractable cycles of poverty.

Research across the world shows that women and girls remain discriminated against in education, employment, health, political representation, and much more.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by disasters and, whilst often being the first responders, are regularly discriminated against when recovery and rehabilitation efforts take place.
The consequences are damaging not just for individuals, but for families, communities and society as a whole. Patriarchy is manifested in various forms and societies are losing out by not harnessing the diversity of skills, experiences and perspectives from the whole of humanity, rather than just half of the population.

While the World Economic Forum highlights that progress is being made, it still predicts that globally, gender parity is a long way off and there are enormous gaps to be closed, particularly in the economic and political empowerment dimensions.

Experience of GNDR members working with local communities is that, for transformative progress to be made in the reduction of risk and strengthening of community resilience, a focus on gender inequality is critical when understanding the drivers of risk, identifying points of focus and designing and developing different activities. It means ensuring that women who face risks and are in vulnerable situations are empowered to provide solutions, demand rights, services and increased access to information, and participate in decision-making processes.

In the next five years, this means us standing together to bring about a shift from women being viewed as a homogenous group with a ‘one size fits all’ approach to reducing their risk, to developing distinct ways of building resilience relevant to the diverse contexts and factors which women are experiencing, including age, culture, class, caste, and more.

4. Food & water insecurity

Food and water insecurity are seen by many to be the biggest threats to our future. A lack of nutritious food, harmful water management and water scarcity, are all connected to multiple socio-cultural factors and economic policies, and this increasing threat has been highlighted by GNDR members in different parts of the world as an area for particular focus.

Food security is defined when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.

However, the fact is that while enough food is produced in the world to feed each person 2,800 calories every day, more than most adults require, one in nine people are chronically malnourished.

Water security is considered ‘the reliable availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks.’

More than a billion people live in water-scarce regions and predictions are that 3.5 billion could face water scarcity by 2025.

700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030.

The availability of freshwater has fallen short of adequately meeting its demand in most parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and nearly two billion people in the world lack access to clean water.

Land encroachment, unplanned expansion, over-exploitation of resources, deforestation, corruption and the corporatisation of land and water are all contributing to increasing food and water insecurity.

It is the communities living in poverty, with whom GNDR members are working, who are most at risk. They face the challenges of availability, accessibility and affordability of nutritious food and clean water. GNDR members report that a lack of these basic necessities is causing deaths, malnutrition, disease and conflicts around the world.

5. Urbanisation

More than half of the world’s population are now living in urban areas — increasingly in highly-dense cities. Urbanisation across many low-to-middle income countries has increased rapidly over the last 50 years.

Nepal and Mali, for example, have seen the share of people living in urban areas more than quadruple; in Nigeria and Kenya, they have more than tripled.

When this urban growth is unplanned, slums develop and risk increases with a lack of access to basic resources. Furthermore, 80% of the world’s largest cities are vulnerable to a variety of hazards, with flooding, earthquakes and windstorms being the biggest threats.

379 million urban residents are at risk of river flooding. 283 million urban residents are at risk of earthquakes, while 157 million are threatened by windstorms.

Adding to this, sea-level rises are threatening millions of people living in coastal cities less than 5 meters above sea level.

Increasingly, more and more disasters are reported from the urban areas of low and middle income countries, and with many GNDR members working with communities most at risk in these urban settings, this trend of growing urbanisation and the associated risks that this can entail is an important area for future focus.

6. Forced displacement

UNHCR reports that 2018 saw the world’s forcibly displaced population reach a record high: 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, generalised violence, human rights violations, or other reasons.

On a daily basis 37,000 people are fleeing their homes because of conflict and persecution.
With the average length of displacement reaching 25 years, it is critical that it is not only the short-term needs of internally displaced people and refugees that are met, but also that they are able to build longer-term resilience.

Large-scale population movements within and across borders can reduce access to essential services and livelihood options, and increase exposure to violence, poverty and insecurity, not just for displaced populations but also for host communities.

Building resilience when people are on the move is inherently difficult. How can we support communities most at risk to withstand and transform in spite of shocks, when their livelihoods have been left behind? How can we build disaster resilience of communities who have lost connection with their support networks?

Many of GNDR’s members work with both host communities and displaced people to reduce that risk in extremely challenging circumstances. This growing trend is another challenge for our network: we need to consider how we work together, across and beyond our membership, to support those people most at risk.