Nature for lives

 Investing in ecosystems for disaster risk reduction

The past few decades have seen a rise in disasters worldwide. Given the urgency,  IUCN has been working to step up disaster risk reduction using ecosystems. In the light of the 2016 International Day for Disaster Reduction, the spotlight is put on nature as a tool to reduce losses from disasters.

Storms, floods, earthquakes, droughts and other similar natural events are often identified as disasters or 'natural disasters'. However disasters are not natural and only occur when a society or community cannot cope with the events. The social impacts include loss of human lives, economic losses and loss of properties and source of livelihoods.

While the occurrence of natural hazards can rarely be prevented, actions can be taken to reduce the chances for them to result in disasters and affect society. 

Video: United Nation Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
"With this year's theme of 'Live to Tell', IUCN is working with disaster-prone communities who are able to share their stories on how nature has helped them survive past disasters. These stories must compel us to invest in ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction"  Radhika Murti, Senior Programme Coordinator, Disaster Risk Reduction, IUCN

Nature is our ally: Learning from past experiences

Photo:Tim Plowden

By gathering experiences on disasters and using participatory research, IUCN works with partners to document the links between sound environment management and disaster risk reduction. Global experiences in the past 12 years clearly demonstrate the role that nature plays in reducing risks to natural hazards.

The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 brought much destruction and losses of human lives in South East Asia. In Sri Lanka, the destruction of sand dunes has been linked to the extent of losses that coastal hotels have experienced.

Destroyed hotel in Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami

Photo: Brian  McADoo

Sand dunes protected hotels during the tsunami

Sand dunes in front of  a hotel (green roofs within the vegetation) that was protected from the tsunami. Photo: Brian  McADoo

In Japan, the Government  declared the expansion of its coastal forests, in the form of the Sanriku Fukko Reconstruction Park, as it helped reduce the impacts of the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. 

Following the earthquake in Japan

Photo: Naoya Furuta

Sanriku Fukko National Park in Japan

Photo: Junpei Satoh/ CC BY-SA 3.0

Helping nature help us

Past lessons illustrate how nature can protect society either by providing physical protection and acting as a buffer or providing important resources to local communities and contributing to resilience. 

Through projects like Ecosystems Protecting Infrastructure and Communities (EPIC), IUCN is turning past lessons into actions by promoting the use of ecosystems for risk reduction. 

NePAL: Plants to the rescue 

Nepal is considered a disaster hotspot with earthquakes, floods and landslides being the main challenges. Landslides cause several hundreds of casualties per year and are sometimes the result of poor road planning. IUCN and partners are working with communities in three districts in Nepal to identify suitable local plants and use these to restore and stabilise steep slopes.

Senegal: protecting food and income 

The impact of disasters including loss of lives is disproportionately greater in poor countries and communities. Addressing poverty and making livelihoods resilient is key to minimising such inequalities. In the department of Foundiougne in Senegal, floods and land degradation have widespread impacts on arable land which is the main source of livelihoods of  the rural communities. 

By implementing  traditional land practices that preserve soil quality and fertility, and increasing tree cover, IUCN is working with six communities in the region to restore the land and protect livelihoods. 

To scale-up ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction and protect communities, it is now key to transform these local experiences into  large-scale global actions.

Using its demonstrative national pilots, IUCN and partners are influencing global policy including the Sendai Framework

Photo: IUCN / Radhika Murti