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International Recovery Platform

Glossary

List of terms in recovery.

A

Acceptable risk

The level of loss a society or community considers acceptable given existing social, economic, political, cultural, technical and environmental conditions.

In engineering terms, acceptable risk is also used to assess and define the structural and non-structural measures that are needed in order to reduce possible harm to people, property, services and systems to a chosen tolerated level, according to codes or “accepted practice” which are based on known probabilities of hazards and other factors.

Adaptation

The adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.

This definition addresses the concerns of climate change and is sourced from the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The broader concept of adaptation also applies to non-climatic factors such as soil erosion or surface subsidence. Adaptation can occur in autonomous fashion, for example through market changes, or as a result of intentional adaptation policies and plans. Many disaster risk reduction measures can directly contribute to better adaptation.

B

Biological hazard

Process or phenomenon of organic origin or conveyed by biological vectors, including exposure to pathogenic micro-organisms, toxins and bioactive substances that may cause loss of life, injury, illness or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage.

Examples of biological hazards include outbreaks of epidemic diseases, plant or animal contagion, insect or other animal plagues and infestations.

Building code

A set of ordinances or regulations and associated standards intended to control aspects of the design, construction, materials, alteration and occupancy of structures that are necessary to ensure human safety and welfare, including resistance to collapse and damage.

Building codes can include both technical and functional standards. They should incorporate the lessons of international experience and should be tailored to national and local circumstances. A systematic regime of enforcement is a critical supporting requirement for effective implementation of building codes.

C

Capacity

The combination of all the strengths, attributes and resources available within a community, society or organization that can be used to achieve agreed goals.

Capacity may include infrastructure and physical means, institutions, societal coping abilities, as well as human knowledge, skills and collective attributes such as social relationships, leadership and management. Capacity also may be described as capability. Capacity assessment is a term for the process by which the capacity of a group is reviewed against desired goals, and the capacity gaps are identified for further action.

 

Capacity development

The process by which people, organizations and society systematically stimulate and develop their capacities over time to achieve social and economic goals, including through improvement of knowledge, skills, systems, and institutions.

Capacity development is a concept that extends the term of capacity building to encompass all aspects of creating and sustaining capacity growth over time. It involves learning and various types of training, but also continuous efforts to develop institutions, political awareness, financial resources, technology systems, and the wider social and cultural enabling environment.

Climate change

(a) The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines climate change as: “a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use”.
(b) The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods”.

For disaster risk reduction purposes, either of these definitions may be suitable, depending on the particular context. The UNFCCC definition is the more restricted one as it excludes climate changes attributable to natural causes. The IPCC definition can be paraphrased for popular communications as “A change in the climate that persists for decades or longer, arising from either natural causes or human activity.”

Contingency planning

A management process that analyses specific potential events or emerging situations that might threaten society or the environment and establishes arrangements in advance to enable timely, effective and appropriate responses to such events and situations.

Contingency planning results in organized and coordinated courses of action with clearly-identified institutional roles and resources, information processes, and operational arrangements for specific actors at times of need. Based on scenarios of possible emergency conditions or disaster events, it allows key actors to envision, anticipate and solve problems that can arise during crises. Contingency planning is an important part of overall preparedness. Contingency plans need to be regularly updated and exercised.

Coping capacity

The ability of people, organizations and systems, using available skills and resources, to face and manage adverse conditions, emergencies or disasters.

The capacity to cope requires continuing awareness, resources and good management, both in normal times as well as during crises or adverse conditions. Coping capacities contribute to the reduction of disaster risks.

Corrective disaster risk management *

Management activities that address and seek to correct or reduce disaster risks which are already present.

This concept aims to distinguish between the risks that are already present, and which need to be managed and reduced now, and the prospective risks that may develop in future if risk reduction policies are not put in place. See also Prospective risk management.

* Emerging new concepts that are not in widespread use but are of growing professional relevance; the definition of these terms remain to be widely consulted upon and may change in future.

Critical facilities

The primary physical structures, technical facilities and systems which are socially, economically or operationally essential to the functioning of a society or community, both in routine circumstances and in the extreme circumstances of an emergency.

Critical facilities are elements of the infrastructure that support essential services in a society. They include such things as transport systems, air and sea ports, electricity, water and communications systems, hospitals and health clinics, and centres for fire, police and public administration services.