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International Recovery Platform


List of terms in recovery.



A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.

Disasters are often described as a result of the combination of: the exposure to a hazard; the conditions of vulnerability that are present; and insufficient capacity or measures to reduce or cope with the potential negative consequences. Disaster impacts may include loss of life, injury, disease and other negative effects on human physical, mental and social well-being, together with damage to property, destruction of assets, loss of services, social and economic disruption and environmental degradation.

Disaster risk

The potential disaster losses, in lives, health status, livelihoods, assets and services, which could occur to a particular community or a society over some specified future time period.

The definition of disaster risk reflects the concept of disasters as the outcome of continuously present conditions of risk. Disaster risk comprises different types of potential losses which are often difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, with knowledge of the prevailing hazards and the patterns of population and socio-economic development, disaster risks can be assessed and mapped, in broad terms at least.

Disaster risk management

The systematic process of using administrative directives, organizations, and operational skills and capacities to implement strategies, policies and improved coping capacities in order to lessen the adverse impacts of hazards and the possibility of disaster.

This term is an extension of the more general term “risk management” to address the specific issue of disaster risks. Disaster risk management aims to avoid, lessen or transfer the adverse effects of hazards through activities and measures for prevention, mitigation and preparedness.

Disaster risk reduction

The concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyse and manage the causal factors of disasters, including through reduced exposure to hazards, lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events.

A comprehensive approach to reduce disaster risks is set out in the United Nations-endorsed Hyogo Framework for Action, adopted in 2005, whose expected outcome is “The substantial reduction of disaster losses, in lives and the social, economic and environmental assets of communities and countries.” The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) system provides a vehicle for cooperation among Governments, organisations and civil society actors to assist in the implementation of the Framework. Note that while the term “disaster reduction” is sometimes used, the term “disaster risk reduction” provides a better recognition of the ongoing nature of disaster risks and the ongoing potential to reduce these risks.

Disaster risk reduction plan *

A document prepared by an authority, sector, organization or enterprise that sets out goals and specific objectives for reducing disaster risks together with related actions to accomplish these objectives.

Disaster risk reduction plans should be guided by the Hyogo Framework and considered and coordinated within relevant development plans, resource allocations and programme activities. National level plans needs to be specific to each level of administrative responsibility and adapted to the different social and geographical circumstances that are present. The time frame and responsibilities for implementation and the sources of funding should be specified in the plan. Linkages to climate change adaptation plans should be made where possible.

* 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.


Early warning system

The set of capacities needed to generate and disseminate timely and meaningful warning information to enable individuals, communities and organizations threatened by a hazard to prepare and to act appropriately and in sufficient time to reduce the possibility of harm or loss.

This definition encompasses the range of factors necessary to achieve effective responses to warnings. A people-centred early warning system necessarily comprises four key elements: knowledge of the risks; monitoring, analysis and forecasting of the hazards; communication or dissemination of alerts and warnings; and local capabilities to respond to the warnings received. The expression “end-to-end warning system” is also used to emphasize that warning systems need to span all steps from hazard detection through to community response.

Ecosystem services

The benefits that people and communities obtain from ecosystems.

This definition is drawn from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The benefits that ecosystems can provide include “regulating services” such as regulation of floods, drought, land degradation and disease, along with “provisioning services” such as food and water, “supporting services” such as soil formation and nutrient cycling, and “cultural services” such as recreational, spiritual, religious and other non-material benefits. Integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use provide the basis for maintaining ecosystem services, including those that contribute to reduced disaster risks.

El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon (ENSO)

A complex interaction of the tropical Pacific Ocean and the global atmosphere that results in irregularly occurring episodes of changed ocean and weather patterns in many parts of the world, often with significant impacts over many months, such as altered marine habitats, rainfall changes, floods, droughts, and changes in storm patterns.

The El Niño part of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon refers to the well-above-average ocean temperatures that occur along the coasts of Ecuador, Peru and northern Chile and across the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, while La Niña part refers to the opposite circumstances when well-below-average ocean temperatures occur. The Southern Oscillation refers to the accompanying changes in the global air pressure patterns that are associated with the changed weather patterns experienced in different parts of the world.

Emergency management

The organization and management of resources and responsibilities for addressing all aspects of emergencies, in particular preparedness, response and initial recovery steps.

A crisis or emergency is a threatening condition that requires urgent action. Effective emergency action can avoid the escalation of an event into a disaster. Emergency management involves plans and institutional arrangements to engage and guide the efforts of government, non-government, voluntary and private agencies in comprehensive and coordinated ways to respond to the entire spectrum of emergency needs. The expression “disaster management” is sometimes used instead of emergency management.

Emergency services

The set of specialized agencies that have specific responsibilities and objectives in serving and protecting people and property in emergency situations.

Emergency services include agencies such as civil protection authorities, police, fire, ambulance, paramedic and emergency medicine services, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, and specialized emergency units of electricity, transportation, communications and other related services organizations.

Environmental degradation

The reduction of the capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives and needs.

Degradation of the environment can alter the frequency and intensity of natural hazards and increase the vulnerability of communities. The types of human-induced degradation are varied and include land misuse, soil erosion and loss, desertification, wildland fires, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, mangrove destruction, land, water and air pollution, climate change, sea level rise and ozone depletion.

Environmental impact assessment (EIA)

Process by which the environmental consequences of a proposed project or programme are evaluated, undertaken as an integral part of planning and decision-making processes with a view to limiting or reducing the adverse impacts of the project or programme.

Environmental impact assessment is a policy tool that provides evidence and analysis of environmental impacts of activities from conception to decision-making. It is utilized extensively in national programming and project approval processes and for international development assistance projects. Environmental impact assessments should include detailed risk assessments and provide alternatives, solutions or options to deal with identified problems.


People, property, systems, or other elements present in hazard zones that are thereby subject to potential losses.

Measures of exposure can include the number of people or types of assets in an area. These can be combined with the specific vulnerability of the exposed elements to any particular hazard to estimate the quantitative risks associated with that hazard in the area of interest.

Extensive risk *

The widespread risk associated with the exposure of dispersed populations to repeated or persistent hazard conditions of low or moderate intensity, often of a highly localized nature, which can lead to debilitating cumulative disaster impacts.

Extensive risk is mainly a characteristic of rural areas and urban margins where communities are exposed to, and vulnerable to, recurring localised floods, landslides storms or drought. Extensive risk is often associated with poverty, urbanization and environmental degradation. See also “Intensive risk”.

* 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.



Definite statement or statistical estimate of the likely occurrence of a future event or conditions for a specific area.

In meteorology a forecast refers to a future condition, whereas a warning refers to a potentially dangerous future condition.