The authors argue for using a place-based approach to reduce social vulnerability to disasters and close the gap between contemporary DRR efforts and local cultural interpretations.

The DRR, development and humanitarian aid scene has burgeoned with a global estimate of $3 trillion in aid in the past two decades. Despite many decades of international humanitarian efforts to reduce risk and build resilience, disasters and climate-related risks are rising.

Key international fora including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (ASD) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction have explicitly recognized that the drivers of disaster risk need to be addressed in innovative and people-focused ways if DRR efforts are to be meaningful.

Recent research has recognized culture as a determinant of vulnerability and an important factor in DRR. However, these references to culture are vague, making the integration of culture difficult to operationalize in diverse local contexts. Meanwhile, the growth and diversification of the international aid community has resulted in organizational culture clashes, fragmentation, and a concerning disconnect from on-the ground realities.

The convergence of multiple cultural responses to risk formed in distinctly different contexts can lead to misunderstanding, compromising the effectiveness of DRR efforts. External aid actors may project their cultural biases on communities and bypass existing social arrangements, distributing aid in a way that is inequitable and culturally irrelevant, causing new power dynamics and favoritism to emerge within the community, and reinforcing existing inequalities, for example, related to gender, ethnicity, or disability.

The authors argue that cultural knowledge needs to be better reflected in DRR policy and practice if disaster risks are to be reduced or better managed. Tools and frameworks must be developed that equitably reflect diverse culturally-influenced understandings of risk.

Without an engagement with culture, the implementation of culturally mismatched DRR and development plans will result in both wasted resources and increased risk.

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Note: This brief is part of a collection of “crowdsourced briefs ” from the scientific community solicited by the United Nations to inform the Global Sustainable Development Report, which will be reviewed by policy-makers at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.