A blueprint for disaster management research, development and design supporting the SDGs

Department of Infrastructure Engineering

The climate has undergone accelerated warming in the last century, resulting in modification of ecosystem processes and in extreme events across the globe. Long-term climate change is influencing weather patterns, causing glacier recession, raising sea-levels, altering river regimes, and leading to soil erosion and sediment deposition, all of which can cause acute events that endanger human life; disasters. Worldwide, about 12,000 natural disasters were reported during 1970–2014, with hydro-climatic disasters (floods and storms) the greatest share of these.

A perfect storm for deaths from disaster

In poor and developing communities, low incomes, inadequate education and poor health systems increase vulnerability to disasters. Losses per disaster have declined over the years due to improved preparedness, coping mechanisms, and disaster responses. However, an increasing number of disasters has meant more people are exposed, particularly in developing countries.

A ‘perfect storm’ of inequality, increasing populations and hydro-climatic changes has resulted in more than 1.6 million deaths due to disasters during 1990–2015. The Sustainable Development Goals, which are intended to create, “a future that is just, inclusive and equitable, and which provides prosperity, all within environmental limits” necessarily call for cooperative, proactive and equitable disaster risk reduction (DRR).

The Sendai Framework and the SDGs

In response, important steps have been taken at the international level, coordinated by the United Nations. March 2015 saw the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 at the 3rd International Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. With seven targets and four priorities for action, the Sendai Framework provides a set of guiding principles and targets for governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders to reduce disaster risks and losses in health, economic, physical, social, and environmental assets.

Aerial shot of agricultural countryside next to river.
Long-term climate change is influencing weather patterns, causing glacier recession, raising sea-levels, altering river regimes, and leading to soil erosion and sediment deposition.

The global adoption of the SDGs and the Sendai Framework, as well as the establishment of their general inter-relationship, has brought greater awareness to the critical significance of prioritising disaster preparedness and resilience in a way that can support countries and communities in sustainable development. Progressing sustainability is dependent on defining the linkages between priority research areas in disaster management and the individual SDGs.

A blueprint to overcome disaster risk via the SDGs

The Blueprint for Disaster Management Research, Development and Design (RD&D) Supporting the SDGs, developed by the Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety (CDMPS) in the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, is a framework for guiding research that enables the DRR component of sustainable development to be achieved rapidly and effectively. It establishes the relationships between disaster management and the SDGs to guide future research and policy. It outlines the steps necessary to answer the question; 'how can we translate our research into consistent and executable strategies that overcome disaster risks and sustainable development challenges cohesively?' by guiding researchers in the comprehensive integration of the SDGs in disaster research initiatives. The framework also encourages partnerships that help achieve the SDGs.

As an example, the Blueprint demonstrates the links between DRR and SDG 4: Quality Education.

Education is essential to strengthening community resilience and DRR, as well as promoting sustainability more broadly. The destruction, by disasters, of educational facilities and the displacement of teachers and students not only postpone the attainment of education for affected populations but also cause the loss of many lives. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) reports that impediment to education progress can increase disaster-related fatalities by 20 percent per decade. Raising awareness about preparedness, response, and recovery procedures in educational curricula and incorporating disaster risk reduction policies in education infrastructures can facilitate equitable and quality education for all.

From mitigating disasters to strengthening recovery responses

CDMPS takes a whole-system approach to DRR research, focusing on preparing for, responding to, recovering from, and mitigating disasters. CDMPS has identified five major research priority areas (RPAs) to develop whole-system responses and improve the resilience of infrastructures, institutions, and communities. These are,

  • RPA1: Understand and mitigate extreme events and critical incidents
  • RPA2: Enable technology, informatics and analytics
  • RPA3: Improve whole-life infrastructure system performance and resilience
  • RPA4: Strengthen organisational, institutional and community resilience
  • RPA5: Enhance policy and decision making

The Blueprint for Disaster Management RD&D Supporting the SDGs focusses on building the capacity of organisations to align work, in this case DRR, with the goals and targets of the SDGs. The work is important for leveraging the DRR research opportunities that are made possible by the SDGs’ shared agenda of equitable and sustainable development. Specifically, the Blueprint makes the linkages between disaster management research and the SDGs explicit. This helps ensure that all research in DRR gains traction and can make a meaningful contribution to sustainability as defined by the global community.


Portrait photo of Professor Abbas Rajabifard
Professor Abbas Rajabifard – Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety, Department of Infrastructure Engineering