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No Disaster Is Natural: How investigating climate change adaptation could make a difference

Floods, cyclones, wildfires, etc. Climate disasters and the damage they cause are increasingly making the news. Too often, however, these events are described as natural phenomena, only remotely fuelled by humanity’s unchecked carbon emissions. While reducing emissions is crucial, this article explores possible pathways for investigating climate disasters and how - or whether - communities can adapt to them. It argues that disasters are not the result of natural hazards, but of concrete decisions and actions from governments, companies, international organizations, and communities.

By Leopold Salzenstein

Editorial support: Tyler McBrien, Jose Calatayud, Laura Ranca

Illustration: Yiorgos Bagakis

By digging into hazard exposure, vulnerabilities and coping capacities, investigators can better inform public debates and uncover gaps in adaptation strategies and disaster management systems.

Adopting a deeper approach to investigating the impacts of climate change might also bring this important topic closer to people’s attention, help better inform activists, NGOs and citizens about adaptation measures and hold decision-makers accountable.

As confirmed at the beginning of August 2021 by a report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humans’ responsibility in warming up the planet is ‘unequivocal’. The term — which represents the scientific equivalent of total certainty — summarizes findings from more than 14,000 peer-reviewed studies.

The report was picked up by a range of international publications. Many — but not all— encouraged bold actions to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Emission cuts have been slow to materialize. While the COVID -19 pandemic curbed emissions during the first half of 2020, climate indicators worsened again at the end of the year.

In addition, not everyone is on board with drastic emission cuts: climate disinformation remains widespread, making it difficult for citizens to make informed decisions and for institutions to implement green policies. At the same time, polluting industries such as fossil fuel extractors or shipping companies have little incentive to deeply change their business model.

As disasters increasingly make headlines, however, ignoring the climate question becomes difficult. In Europe alone, the months of July and August of 2021 saw catastrophic flooding killing more than 180 people in Germany and Belgium, a potentially record-breaking heatwave in Sicily and wildfires displacing thousands in Greece and Turkey.

Published at the end of this slew of disasters, the IPCC report confirmed that global warming is already worsening climate extremes around the world. As a result, disasters are likely to get stronger and more frequent in the coming years, with or without sharp emission reductions.

Image: Ongoing disaster situations and alerts as of 13th of August 2021. Source: https://reliefweb.int/disasters

Responding to alarming scientific previsions, many journalists are ramping up their coverage of climate change, trying to reach a broader audience and opening new areas for investigation.

One such area — which so far has been little explored — is that of climate change adaptation.

Simply put, climate change adaptation refers to actions taken to prepare for the future impacts of climate change and respond to those already happening.

It includes a large pallet of activities, ranging from the adoption of new farming techniques to the construction of flood protections or cyclone shelters. Being able to cope with increasingly frequent and destructive disasters is one aspect of it.

  • What are states, cities, international organizations and corporations doing to prepare for the impacts of climate change?
  • Are people being informed, given options and protected?
  • Who makes these decisions?
  • Who is left behind, and why?

These are important questions for investigators.

So far, many climate investigations have focused on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions — uncovering efforts to slow climate action, failures in climate policies or big polluters’ greenwashing strategies, for instance.

Reducing emissions is necessary and urgent if we are to continue living on an inhabitable planet, but only focusing on cutting emissions ignores the fact that the climate crisis is already here.

In fact, emissions reduction — actions aimed at avoiding the unmanageable — must go hand-in-hand with climate change adaptation — actions aimed at managing the unavoidable. Some scholars even consider emission reductions a subset of adaptation, as cutting greenhouse emissions aims to reduce our future exposure to climate hazards.    

Investigating the measures put in place to inform, involve and protect people against climate disasters is increasingly important, as failing to scrutinize these decisions can generate unnecessary deaths, destruction and suffering.

In light of this recognition, I propose a potential path forward for investigating climate change adaptation and disaster management. Included are some useful resources and a few ideas for investigations into less explored issues that could make for impactful local and cross-border investigations.


No disaster is natural


Regardless of climate change, it is important to first consider disasters for what they are: political events.

When an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 on the Richter scale hit Haiti on the 12th of January 2010, it killed approximately 220.000 people and became one of the largest humanitarian crises of the decade. Six weeks later, an even more powerful quake (8.8 on the Richter scale) — followed by a tsunami — shook Chile, this time causing ‘only’ around 500 deaths.

The difference between the two situations was not the earthquake’s strength, but the vulnerability and coping capacity of the country impacted. This resistance to disasters is, in turn, shaped by political decisions and relations of power.

Similarly, a storm in the middle of a desert, which makes no damage or casualties, is rarely considered a disaster. This is because disasters imply the destruction of something we value, such as human life, livelihoods, property, etc.

Since the 1990s, researchers conceptualize disasters as happening at the meeting point between three factors:

  • Exposure to a hazard — such as a storm, a flood, a fire, a heatwave or an earthquake.
  • Local vulnerabilities — the physical, social, economic and environmental factors that make a specific context vulnerable to external shocks. Destruction generated by the Haiti earthquake, for example, resulted largely from the country’s lack of earthquake-resistant constructions, according to a "Nature" study.
  • Coping capacity — the ability to respond to and recover from the effects of stresses and external shocks. In Chile, for instance, shutting down the electricity grid after the earthquake prevented the ignition of fires. This probably reduced the amount of casualties, according to an American Red Cross report.

Each of these elements — and their relationships — can become the subject of an investigation.

How well are building codes designed and implemented? Have rescuers’ salaries been paid on time? Are machines and vehicles well maintained? Is there a system in place to inform people of approaching threats or evacuation procedures? When a crisis hits, responding to these questions is a matter of life or death.

According to a 2007 study, corruption in a country’s public sector is positively correlated with the risk of dying from an earthquake. As summarized by the study’s authors: “earthquakes don’t kill people; collapsing buildings do.”

While the hazard causing a disaster may be natural, disasters themselves rarely are.

Image:: The components of a disaster. Source: https://www.emergencymanagementontario.ca/english/emcommunity/ProvincialPrograms/HIRA/Guidelines/main.html (archived with WaybackMachine here)


Investigating exposure to climate disasters


There are many different hazards related to the climate. Hydro-meteorological events — such as heavy rainfall, floods, droughts, storms, heat waves, cold spells or wildfire — result from changes in temperature, wind speed and precipitation, which are all shaped by the climate.

Geological hazards, for example earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis or volcano eruptions, are also influenced by climate change. Similarly, biological hazards like epidemics or pests are shaped by environmental changes, such as global warming.

The relation between these hazards and climate change is not straightforward, however. In most cases, climate change does not cause a hazard, but only modifies its intensity or frequency. 

Climate change, for example, has already increased the number of heat waves, according to the latest IPCC report. Similarly, global warming worsened intense rains and extreme storms, but reduced the frequency of cold spells, according to the same report.

Investigating exposure involves mapping out the ways in which climate change has modified current hazards, and how it will impact future ones. As described in a 2021 video investigation from Le Monde, for example, while climate change did not necessarily increase the overall number of fires in the world, it did make them more intense and violent. 

To analyse and report on this, investigators can use two tools, among others:

  • climate scenarios,
  • attribution studies.

Climate scenarios predict changes in the physics, chemistry and biology of the atmosphere, land and oceans, given a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions. They can be used to investigate future exposure, such as sea level rise or climate migrations driven by rising temperatures.

Importantly, the technical knowledge and computational power required to predict future climate change may prevent investigators from conducting their own studies. That said, investigators can collaborate with scientists and weather agencies and use existing climate scenarios.

Attribution studies, also called "extreme event attribution", are scientific studies analysing how a past disaster has been influenced by climate change. According to a Carbon Brief article published in February 2021, scientists have conducted more than 350 peer-reviewed attribution studies to date.

One such study, for example, analysed how climate change made the 2018 heatwave in Sweden more likely to happen. Another one found no significant influence of climate change on one of the worst river flooding events in Bangladesh's history. Yet another study concluded that Puerto Rico had become *more exposed to extreme hurricanes — such as hurricane Maria in 2017 — as a result of climate change. Overall, according to Carbon Brief, 70% of the extreme weather events analysed were made more likely or more severe by climate change.

Following the 2021 floods in Germany, The Süddeutsche Zeitung published a deep-dive portraying how climate change — by modifying precipitation, heat, and soil moisture in the country — influenced the event.

While investigators may not always be able to conduct their own attribution studies, collaborating with scientists can help uncover ongoing changes in exposure to extreme weather.

But, focusing only on exposure often proves counter-productive.

Reading about future climate impacts and current environmental destruction can feel overwhelming, apolitical and disempowering for people. An academic article titled “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future”, published in January 2021, stated “the scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its life forms — including humanity — is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

Being impacted by floods, cyclones, heatwaves or wildfire negatively impact people’s mental health, according to a 2021 Imperial London College report. Even just learning about climate change and watching disasters unfolding on TV can collide with people’s sanity.

When only looking at exposure, climate disasters seem inevitable. They become like ‘acts of nature’, which can only be adverted by globally reducing our greenhouse emissions — a task difficult to grapple with as an individual.

Meaningful action is a key antidote to climate anxiety, but only investigating hazard exposure prevents us from learning how to concretely reduce deaths and damage from disasters. It also shifts the focus away from holding to account those responsible for informing, involving and protecting people.

In addition, climate exposure represents only one part of the story. According to a report published by the World Meteorological Organization at the beginning of September 2021, while extreme climate events have increased since the 1970s, less and less people are dying as a result of a climate disaster. This is due to changes in countries’ vulnerability and coping capacity, two essential aspects for investigations. 


Investigating local vulnerabilities


Investigations of climate vulnerabilities explore the factors making a specific context more or less resistant to climate hazards. They also aim to explain the reasons behind this vulnerability.

The vulnerability of Haiti to earthquake and cyclones, for example, stems from a long history of “slavery, revolution, debt, deforestation, corruption, exploitation and violence”, according to historian Alex von Tunzelmann quoted in this 2010 Guardian article.

The action or inaction of various parts of society — including city planners, risk managers, municipalities, governments and corporations, search-and-rescue programs — also shape local vulnerabilities.

This is a fertile ground for investigations, both before and after a disaster strikes: iIs your local authority ready to respond and recover from climate disasters? Has the government planned and prepared for various types of hazard? Do rescue teams or firefighters protect all parts of the population equally? Are recovery plans accounting for socio-economic disparities?

In 2021, for example, an investigation from NPR unveiled how both climate change and policy failures contributed to the doubling of North American workers dying from heat at the work place since the 1990s.

While different vulnerabilities are rarely independent from each other, it can be helpful to separate them in four categories: physical, social, economic and environmental.

Four types of intersecting vulnerability (Source: Powerpoint presentation from Magnus Hagelsteen, shared with the article’s author and reproduced with Hagelsteen’s permission)


Physical vulnerability

Physical vulnerabilities include such things as building codes, vegetation cover, population density, construction materials, land use, the location of critical infrastructures, industrial sites and transportation systems, among other things.

In Brazil, for example, favelas, or historically neglected informal neighborhoods, are often most impacted by landslides and flash floods, because they are built with low-quality material, on steep slopes and away from hospitals. As climate change modifies patterns of hazard exposure, investigators can identify decisions likely to generate or reinforce these types of physical vulnerabilities.

Ideas of investigations:

  • Are housing regulations in your neighbourhood accounting for future climate projections? Are they implemented? If so, how? If no, why not?
  • Are building permits allocated in current or future high-risk areas of your city? If so, how is this happening, who manages the process and what is at stake?
  • Do different parts of your country’s population have unequal access to public resources, such as hospitals or evacuation shelters?
  • Are climate protection measures, such as flood embankments, creating new vulnerabilities or benefiting only parts of the population in your local area?

Social vulnerability

Social vulnerabilities illustrate how belonging to different social groups influences people’s risk.

Depending on their gender or religion, for example, Bangladeshi farmers are more or less protected from climate extremes. Similarly, immigrants in Sweden were more heavily impacted by COVID-19, partly because governmental crisis communication had not been translated into their mother language.

Segregation, violation of human rights, gender inequalities or illiteracy all influence people’s vulnerability to disasters. Are decision-makers accounting for these factors when planning and responding to climate extremes?

Ideas for investigations:

  • Are minorities left exposed to climate extremes, either on purpose or by sheer ignorance and lack of inclusive practices?
  • Do decision-makers account for different needs related to gender, ethnicity or disability when designing adaptation policies?
  • Are disasters used to justify segregation or unnecessary population displacements?

Economic vulnerability

Economic vulnerabilities refer to inequalities in people’s financial ability to cope with disasters. They include individuals’ differences of income or debt levels, insurance coverage and access to credit, but also countries’ respective national fund for disasters and gross domestic product (GDP).

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 primarily affected low income — and largely Black — segments of New Orleans’ population in the United States, according to a 2007 study by Brown University.

One example among many: while the city’s mayor issued an evacuation order 19 hours prior to hurricane Katrina, the local government did not organise public transportation for the approximately 100.000 people who did not own a car. As a result, they were unable to leave and faced the storm. 

Ideas for investigations:

  • Are insurance systems adequately prepared for future climate disasters?
  • Are climate shocks used to justify unequal economic reforms?
  • Are different social-economic groups differently protected from the impacts of climate change?
  • Do some economic groups (companies providing climate protection services, insurances, government institutions, etc.) benefit from climate disasters?

Environmental vulnerability

Environmental vulnerabilities refer to environmental factors or processes which increase the susceptibility of an individual, a community, assets or systems to the impacts of hazards, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction (UNDRR).

They encompass people’s natural environment, such as the use of natural resources and the management of lakes, forests or waterways. This environment — and the processes shaping it — influence the strength of various natural hazards.

Forests and wetlands can protect people from natural hazards. Deforestation, as well as industrial pollution and intensive agriculture, increases the intensity and impact of sandstorms in China, for example.

Similarly, The Kontinentalist analysed how unequal tree covers in Asian cities means that different parts of the population are more or less exposed to high temperatures.

Ideas for investigations:

  • Are municipalities or corporations destroying forests that provide protection from climate hazards? If so, what enables this to happen?
  • Is water or food wasted? Will this prevent us from coping with future climate extremes?
  • Is climate change creating new, unsuspected environmental risks?

Together, hazard exposure and vulnerability form the preconditions for climate disasters. Different kinds of vulnerabilities are also often intertwined. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, economic vulnerabilities meant that low-income population could not afford to be housed in higher, less physically vulnerable grounds, and were therefore more impacted when the levies breached. 


This picture remains incomplete, however, if we do not account for coping capacities.

By shining light on the unequal impacts of climate disasters, investigators can at least:

  1. provide evidence and tools for the public to have an informed debate about these issues, and
  2. make evidence available to others in the civil society (e.g., activists, NGOs, think tanks) who can advocate and/or work with policymakers to ensure that adaptation measures are implemented and do not discriminate between people.

Investigating coping capacity


Coping capacity is our ability to withstand and recover from shocks. When a flood, a fire or a storm hits, people react. Citizens help each other, rescuers search for survivors, hospitals treat the wounded, NGOs campaign for more support, action and transparency, etc.

When a hazard is perfectly handled by responders, resulting in no casualties and no damage, the process and policies behind this outcome rarely make headlines. Often however, disasters happen because of a lack of planning or inadequate response from authorities.

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in October 2017, the island’s emergency-supply warehouses were almost empty and the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was understaffed.

Hurricane Maria led to the displacement of approximately 130,000 Puerto Ricans — who are also U.S. citizens — and destroyed an estimated $94.4 billion worth of properties. While the government initially reported 64 casualties, several investigations uncovered a much higher death toll. 

Sometimes, response to one disaster can even create another one. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a contingent of Nepalese UN peacekeepers allegedly brought Cholera into the country. The resulting epidemics killed approximately 10.000 people. 

To limit the impact of climate disasters, investigators can scrutinize the measures put in place to mitigate risk in the long-term, prepare for disasters, respond to them and recover after they happened.

These steps coincide with the four disaster management phases: mitigation, preparedness, response and rehabilitation. Each step — which often overlap and inter-connect in reality — can inform an investigation.

Image: The four disaster phases. Source: https://www.mbaskool.com/business-articles/operations/9351-operations-in-disaster-management-case-study-based-approach.html


Risk mitigation

Several measures can be put in place in the long-term to reduce the likelihood or consequence of climate disasters. Risk mitigation aims to reduce the impacts of hazards on societies and lives, for example by modifying people’s behaviour or putting new safety systems in place.

Reducing greenhouse gas is one way to limit climate disasters in the long run. Other measures include adopting climate-resistant crops or diversifying livelihoods. As illustrated in a game developed by the Los Angeles Times, for example, city planners and local governments can mitigate the risk of sea level rise before a disaster happens. Similarly, a 2021 article from the Washington Post explored how prescribed fires could be mitigate the risk of out-of-control forest fires.

Investigating risk mitigation means ensuring that different segments of society are already pro-actively planning and preparing for future climate risks.

Ideas of investigation:

  • Are critical infrastructures (dams, bridges, electric grid, nuclear power plants, etc.) well maintained and prepared for future climate scenarios?
  • Are farmers adapting their techniques to climate change?
  • Are adequate systems and policies put in place to coordinate disaster management and climate change adaptation?

Preparedness

Preparedness measures are put in place before a disaster hits to help us better cope with it. Unlike risk mitigation — which aims to reduce long-term vulnerabilities — the objective of preparedness is to increase coping capacities.

Preparing for disasters is key to societal safety. Every $1 invested in preparing for disasters  saves $13 in responding to them, according to a recent study from the US’s National Institute of Building Science.

Individuals can stock basic supplies in their homes, companies and cities can plan and exercise for disasters, states and donors can fund preparedness efforts, etc. The list goes on.

In fact, investigations themselves can be considered part of preparedness, as uncovering gaps in adaptation and disaster management systems helps us prepare for the next climate disaster.

Ideas of investigation:

  • How many masks, radios, bandages, etc. are in stock?
  • Are shelters well located and ready to be used?
  • Have organizations prepared for climate impacts and have these plans been implemented?
  • Are early warning systems in place and functioning?

Response

When crises hit, systems created during the preparedness phase are activated. During the response phase, various actors must act fast to save lives and limit the damage.

The first responders to a disaster are usually nearby people. Then, firefighters, police forces, ambulances or humanitarians deploy to provide support and relief to the affected population.

Responders are often perceived as heroes, doing their best in the middle of difficult situations. Yet, there is a need for investigators to hold them, too, accountable. 

Ideas of investigation:

  • Is the response provided inefficient? Are some people or groups left out or given preferential treatment?
  • Is the response generating conditions for a new disaster?
  • How is it impacting long-term physical, environmental, economic or social vulnerabilities?

Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation starts after the end of the response phase, when the most urgent needs have been met. During this phase, people recover, houses are rebuilt, displaced populations return home and the humanitarian intervention phases out.

Rehabilitation presents an opportunity to “build back better” and to address ongoing vulnerabilities. At the same time, recovery is often unequal, benefiting some more than others. 

During this phase, power relationships are sometimes reshuffled, and some lessons learned. Often, rehabilitation also involves allocating finance and resources for reconstruction and new development sites. 

Investigators can help to collect evidence and reveal whether this process is transparent, fair and constructive.

Ideas of investigation:

  • Are climate change scenarios and emerging risks taken into account when rebuilding?
  • Are procurement and reconstruction contracts awarded in a fair and transparent way?
  • Are we learning from previous disaster and building back better?

A matter of scale and collaboration


While investigating climate change adaptation can be done in a number of ways, an investigation that does not account for hazard exposure, vulnerabilities and coping capacities is likely to miss significant elements of the story.

These three elements — which together determine the intensity or severity of climate disasters — can be investigated at different levels both locally and across borders, ranging from individuals and companies to states, groups of countries and international organizations.

Investigators can uncover the impacts of their city’s climate adaptation plans on different neighbourhoods’ flood risk. They can dig into disaster insurances at the national level, or the ways in which European policies impact the resources and budget of firefighters.

Climate change is likely to modify risk patterns for almost every parts of society, so the possibilities are almost endless.

Unlike stories about curbing greenhouse gases — which necessarily have a ‘global’ angle and can sometimes feel dis-empowering — climate adaptation is always a local story. A city or country adapts to local environmental risks, which may evolve over time due to climate change. Similarly, disasters tend to cover only a specific geographical area — even if this area may be large and span across borders.

The local nature of disasters and climate adaptation can be used by national or federal powers to evade their responsibility. In Spain, for example, the central and a local government blamed each other for the mismanagement of a lagoon where thousands of fish have been appearing dead. Investigators have a role to play in clarifying responsibilities in these types of case.

At the same time, climate change adaptation and disaster investigations, because they are by nature locales, have the potential to deeply connect with local contexts. People tend to care about changes to their close environment, such as local lakes, rivers or forests, as well as the potential risks they and their families face.

This means that climate adaptation stories can be highly relatable and manage to make people care. When journalists at the Norwegian public broadcaster set out to create an article depicting climate change’s current impact in the country, for example, they did not expect that the resulting piece — Chasing Climate Change — would be so successful. The project attracted one million page-views (in a country of five million people) and won several awards.

Image: “Chasing Climate Change” project. Source: NRK / https://www.nrk.no/chasing-climate-change-1.14859595 

In addition, climate adaptation stories have the potential to connect people across different contexts. Climate impacts threaten different states or regions of the world indiscriminately. Although each country may have different vulnerabilities and coping capacities, for example, forest fires similarly threaten Russia, Australia, Turkey or the USA.

This means that parts of the world’s climate adaptation strategies can inform that of others. What can German city planners learn from Bangladesh’s experience with floods? How can Swedish firefighters apply the methods developed by their Italian or French colleagues? How can Chilean or Japanese earthquake preparedness help Haitians cope with seismic risks? 

Similarly, an investigation uncovering abuse or mismanagement in climate change adaptation policies in one country can help another one holds its decision-makers accountable. Climate change adaptation investigations can be localized or scaled down to fit a specific context.

In addition, action or inaction from one country or region directly affects the safety of its neighbours. Since hazards rarely stop at the border and climate adaptation strategies can generate new geopolitical tensions, it is necessary to also investigate these issues across-borders. 

Cross-border investigations can ensure that better climate change adaptation measures are rolled-out across regions, that one country’s coping capacity does not increase its neighbour’s vulnerability, and that unnecessary deaths from climate disasters are prevented.

Climate adaptation investigations require investigators to collaborate with each other, as well as with other fields of knowledge. Journalists, for example, can collaborate with scientists, activists, citizen investigators or technologists to better understand unfolding processes of climate adaptation. Artists, photographs or filmmakers can bring this information closer to people and turn investigations and evidence into more accessible stories or events that can ‘touch’ and engage people.

This way, investigations can depict a clearer and more relevant image of current and future climate risks and adaptation measures and, ultimately, make a difference.



Related resources


Research, articles and guides:

Tools and Databases

Collaborative Networks and Organisations

Other


Glossary

  • Climate change — Change in the usual weather found in a place. (source: https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/nasa-knows/what-is-climate-change-k4.html)

  • Climate change adaptation — The process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. (source: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/glossary/)

  • Climate change mitigation — Human intervention to reduce emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases. (source: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/glossary/)

  • Coping capacity — The combination of all the strengths, attributes and resources available within an organization, community or society to manage and reduce disaster risks. (source: https://www.undrr.org/terminology/capacity)

  • Disaster — A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society due to hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability and capacity, leading human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts. (source: https://www.undrr.org/terminology/disaster)

  • Exposure — The situation of people, infrastructure, housing, production capacities and other tangible human assets located in hazard-prone areas. (source: https://www.undrr.org/terminology/exposure)

  • Greenhouse gas emissions — Emission of gases responsible for warming the atmosphere up, such as water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and ozone (O3). (source: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/glossary/)

  • Hazard — A process, phenomenon or human activity that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, social and economic disruption or environmental degradation. (source: https://www.undrr.org/terminology/hazard)

  • Mitigation — The lessening or minimizing of the adverse impacts of a hazardous event. (source: https://www.undrr.org/terminology/mitigation)

  • Preparedness — The knowledge and capacities developed by governments, response and recovery organizations, communities and individuals to effectively anticipate, respond to and recover from the impacts of likely, imminent or current disasters. (source: https://www.undrr.org/terminology/preparedness)

  • Recovery — The restoring or improving of livelihoods and health, as well as economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets, systems and activities, of a disaster-affected community or society […] to avoid or reduce future disaster risk. (source: https://www.undrr.org/terminology/recovery)

  • Response — Actions taken directly before, during or immediately after a disaster in order to save lives, reduce health impacts, ensure public safety and meet the basic subsistence needs of the people affected. (source: https://www.undrr.org/terminology/response)

  • Vulnerability — The conditions determined by physical, social, economic and environmental factors or processes which increase the susceptibility of an individual, a community, assets or systems to the impacts of hazards. (source: https://www.undrr.org/terminology/vulnerability)


About the author:

Léopold Salzenstein is a freelance investigative journalist focusing on climate change and societal safety. His work has been published in various online media, such as Mongabay, Carbon Tracker and The Local. He is currently working with The New Humanitarian. Leopold graduated from the University of Lund in 2021 with a Master’s degree in Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change Adaptation. He is also a fellow with the Solutions Journalism Network, where he is learning to use data in solution reporting.



This article is part of a series of resources and publications produced by Exposing the Invisible during a one-year project (September 2020 - August 2021) supported by the European Commission (DG CONNECT)

European Commission

This text reflects the author’s view and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.


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