The world faces increasing threats of damage, injury and loss due to hazards and climate change, and Indigenous peoples are at heightened vulnerability. However, while Indigenous persons may face greater vulnerability than other communities and groups in a region, they also harbor a host of relevant knowledge that can be applied broadly to disaster risk reduction strategies, programs and policies. Below we define key terminology that is to the work of the network. It is important to recognize the inherent variation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives, and state that the definitions presented below regarding disaster risk reduction may not always reflect both pillars of knowledge. Disaster risk reduction related concepts stated below follow the internationally agreed-upon definitions developed through UNISDR.
One widely accepted practice of improving measures for disaster risk reduction among Indigenous communities is to promote the exchange and incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge into emergency planning. The Indigenous Knowledge and Disaster Risk Reduction Network chooses to recognize Indigenous Knowledge by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) definition:
Local and Indigenous knowledge refers to the understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings. This knowledge is integral to a cultural complex that also encompasses language, systems of classification, resource use practices, social interactions, ritual and spirituality. These unique ways of knowing are important facets of the world’s cultural diversity and provide a foundation for locally appropriate sustainable development.
For many centuries, Indigenous peoples have implemented and utilized their local knowledge to prepare for, cope with and respond to disasters that impact their communities. Much of this knowledge has arisen from their close relationship with the environment, and both cultural beliefs and community practices have allowed their knowledge to be maintained and passed down over many generations. Recently, governments, organizations and experts have begun to acknowledge the importance of Indigenous Knowledge in reducing the impact of disasters on indigenous communities around the world.
At the Hemispheric Consultation on Engaging Indigenous Peoples in Disaster Risk Reduction, in Vancouver, Canada in 2014, indigenous delegates discussed the value of Indigenous Knowledge in reducing disaster risk. Indigenous Knowledge, values and culture are important tools to be used for risk reduction and should be widely disseminated and incorporated in the discussion around disaster risk reduction strategies.
Based on the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) terminology surrounding disaster risk reduction, a disaster can be defined as a disruption to normal or regular community functions, or society at any scale, due to a hazard interacting with existing vulnerabilities and capacities and leading to human, material, economic or environmental impacts or losses. Disasters vary in their scope and severity and can either be immediate or extended over a longer period. The scope of a disaster will often depend on vulnerabilities of the community, and the capacity and preparedness to respond using their own resources.
The hazardous events that can lead to disasters and significant societal disruption can vary both in scope and origin. The classification of hazards can vary greatly by Indigenous and non-Indigenous definitions. Below, we organize the various types of hazards based on the World Health Organization (WHO) classifications:
WHO Classification of hazards
Mass movement (geophysical trigger)
Mass movement (hydro-meteorological trigger)
Antimicrobial resistant micro-organisms
Hazardous materials in air, soil, water
|Societal||Acts of violence
|Environmental Degradation|| Erosion
Sea level rise
The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) has developed and disseminated widely accepted international terminology for disaster risk reduction. These definitions were initially developed to have a common understanding among disaster risk reduction practitioners, authorities and the public. They have been revised over the years since their formation to reflect the current and ever-evolving practice of disaster risk management. Below are a few key definitions from UNISDR, but the full indicators and terminology can be found in the resource database.
While these are widely accepted definitions used in the field of disaster risk management, Indigenous delegates at the Hemispheric Consultation on Engaging Indigenous Peoples in Disaster Risk Reduction, in Vancouver, Canada in 2014, called for definitions, concepts and standards related to disaster risk reduction and response to reflect both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives. It is our hope that by creating a space for knowledge sharing and communication, that definitions that are cognizant of both Indigenous knowledge and existing disaster risk management terminology will begin to emerge.