A persistent challenge in disaster risk reduction is that development, which is crucial for reducing vulnerability to disaster risks, often exacerbates them instead, because poor decisions put people and property in harm’s way. Disasters, in turn, can destroy many years’ worth of development investments. If recovery is not handled well, disasters can leave people even more vulnerable to future hazards.
The SEI Initiative on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk, launched in 2015, aims to tackle this dilemma by focusing on the relationship between development and disaster risk reduction (DRR). The work starts by recognizing that decision-making at all levels – from individuals to national governments – involves trade-offs. Even when we pursue desirable objectives, we may create new risks. We cannot eliminate all risks, but by understanding the trade-offs being made, we can better manage and reduce the risks.
We identify five main types of trade-offs in decision-making about disaster risk and development –involving power, equity, time, risk and aggregation. The power trade-off is about who gets to be part of the decision-making process and how power is shared. The equity trade-off relates to how the development gains and the disaster losses are distributed across the population. The temporal trade-off weighs short-term versus long-term gains. The risk trade-off is about which risks we weight heavily, and which matter less. Finally, the aggregation trade-off weighs macroeconomic development gains against disaster losses.
We illustrate how the trade-offs could occur in practice by applying the typology to the concept of “building back better”, a widely embraced approach to post-disaster recovery, and highlight critical issues, opportunities for transformative change and relevant indicators for monitoring progress.