Article Information

Per Becker1
Marcus Abrahamsson1
Magnus Hagelsteen1

1Training Regions Research Centre, Lund University Centre for Risk Assessment and Management, Sweden

Correspondence to:
Per Becker

Postal address:
LUCRAM, Lund University, Box 118, 22100 LUND, Sweden

Received: 17 June 2012
Accepted: 12 Oct. 2012
Published: 23 Jan. 2013

1st Biennial Conference, Southern African Society for Disaster Reduction (SASDiR), 09 to 11 October 2012, Potchefstroom, South Africa

How to cite this article:
Becker, P., Abrahamsson, M. & Hagelsteen, M., 2013, ‘Parallel structures for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in Southern Africa’, Jàmbá: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies 5(2), Art. #68, 5 pages.

Copyright Notice:
© 2013. The Authors. Licensee: AOSIS OpenJournals.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Parallel structures for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in Southern Africa
In This Original Research...
Open Access
Theoretical framework
Discussing the empirical findings
   • Competing interests
   • Authors’ contributions

During the last decade, the interest of the international community in the concepts of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation has been growing immensely. Even though an increasing number of scholars seem to view these concepts as two sides of the same coin (at least when not considering the potentially positive effects of climate change), in practice the two concepts have developed in parallel rather than in an integrated manner when it comes to policy, rhetoric and funding opportunities amongst international organisations and donors. This study investigates the extent of the creation of parallel structures for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. The chosen methodology for the study is a comparative case study and the data are collected through focus groups and content analysis of documentary sources, as well as interviews with key informants. The results indicate that parallel structures for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation have been established in all but one of the studied countries. The qualitative interviews performed in some of the countries indicate that stakeholders in disaster risk reduction view this duplication of structures as unfortunate, inefficient and a fertile setup for conflict over resources for the implementation of similar activities. Additional research is called for in order to study the concrete effects of having these parallel structures as a foundation for advocacy for more efficient future disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.


The last decade has seen a sharp increase in the international community’s interest in disaster risk reduction (DRR). During the same period, climate change adaptation (CCA) has also risen on the agenda (Schipper 2009:17–18), spurring an academic debate over the extent to which the two concepts overlap (Kelman & Gaillard 2008; Mercer 2010; Mitchell & Van Aalst 2008; Schipper 2009; Shea 2003). Although some definitions of CCA also include the potential benefits of climate change (e.g. IPCC 2007), adapting to the potential negative impacts of climate change is by far the main focus (Satterthwaite et al. 2009), making it more or less a part of DRR in practice (Mitchell & van Aalst 2008:4; Mercer 2010). However, the practice of separating the two with regard to policy, rhetoric and funding opportunities among international organisations and donors may encourage the establishment of parallel structures for DRR and CCA in developing countries.

The purpose of this study is to investigate the extent of the creation of parallel structures for DRR and CCA in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. In order to meet that purpose, the study intends to answer the following research question: To what extent have parallel structures been established for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe?

Theoretical framework

Proactive activities to reduce disaster risk are nothing new, and they have been called a number of different things over the years. Prevention and or mitigation and preparedness were already part of early definitions of emergency or disaster management, together with response and recovery. However, it has been noted that the most common strategy for disaster management over the years has been to respond in a reactive manner when disaster has already struck (Jeggle 2001). As an attempt to increase the focus on proactive activities, the ideas of disaster reduction (IDNDR 1994; Jeggle 2001) and then disaster risk reduction (Vermaak & Van Niekerk 2004; White et al. 2004; Twigg 2004) were invented.

Although these new concepts initially attracted limited attention amongst most stakeholders in the international community, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami provided significant political momentum at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction held in Kobe just a month later. The final product of this conference was the Hyogo Framework for Action, a framework with the purpose to facilitate the ’substantial reduction of disaster losses, in lives and in the social, economic and environmental assets of communities and countries‘ (ISDR 2005).

The Hyogo Framework for Action focuses on disaster risk reduction and specifies five priority areas for action (ISDR 2005:5–13). When analysing the framework, including the lessons learnt from the preceding Yokohama Strategy, two dimensions emerge. Firstly, it specifies that DRR in general comprises risk assessment (priority area 2/lesson b), prevention and or mitigation (priority area 4/lesson d) and preparedness for response and recovery (priority area 5/lesson e). Secondly, it emphasises that effective implementation of DRR requires sound legal and institutional frameworks (priority area 1/lesson a), close collaboration between organisations (priority area 1/lesson a), well-functioning organisations (priority areas 1 and 3/lessons a and c) and sufficient human and material resources (priority areas 1 and 3/lessons a and c).

There are many definitions of DRR to be found in literature. However, one of the more influential definitions states that disaster risk reduction is:

‘[the] conceptual framework of elements considered with the possibilities to minimize vulnerabilities and disaster risks throughout a society, to avoid (prevention) or to limit (mitigation and preparedness) the adverse impacts of hazards, within the broad context of sustainable development’. (ISDR 2004:17)

This definition was initially endorsed and advocated by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), which for some reason later changed it to:

‘[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’. (UNISDR 2009:10–11)

Although the greenhouse effect was discovered more than a century ago (Arrhenius 1896), it was not until the first Conference of the Parties (COP 1) in 1995 that the concept of climate change adaptation gained momentum. Time-wise, this is much in line with the history of DRR. As the interest for climate change adaptation grew, a range of definitions appeared, some of which included both the potentially positive and negative effects of climate change (e.g. IPCC 2007) whilst others restricted their definitions to include only the negative effects (e.g. Satterthwaite et al. 2009).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptation as ‘[a]djustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities‘ (IPCC 2007:869). This is one of the most influential definitions of climate change adaptation and includes some interesting aspects. Firstly, it highlights the importance of acting today to adapt our society to anticipated future change. Secondly, it states that the purpose of such adjustments is to either reduce the adverse impacts or take advantage of the potential benefits of a changing climate.

Looking at policy, rhetoric, funding opportunities, etcetera, it is clear that the interest of the world is firmly set on adapting to the potential negative impacts of climate change, which serves to explain the proliferation of definitions that focus entirely on that subject. One influential example of this defines climate change adaptation as the ‘[a]ctions to reduce the vulnerability of a system (e.g. a city), population (e.g. a vulnerable population in a city) or individual to the adverse impacts of anticipated climate change due to emission of greenhouse gases’ (Satterthwaite et al. 2009:9). This definition is particularly interesting as it is linked to descriptions of categories of actual adaptation activities. These categories are protection (disaster avoidance), preparedness, response and rebuilding (Satterthwaite et al. 2009:36) and are described in an identical manner to the prevention and or mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery of traditional definitions of disaster management.

Today CCA is on everybody’s lips, but considering the current focus on adapting to the potential negative impacts of climate change, it has been suggested that it be linked to DRR (Mercer 2010; Mitchell & Van Aalst 2008; Schipper 2009). This becomes particularly pertinent in developing countries that cannot afford parallel structures, but are attempting to achieve similar objectives. Such structures may not only compete for the same resources, but may even impede each other’s work if they end up sending mixed messages to the policy-makers and budget-holders.


The outline and contemporary context of the research question makes comparative case study research a particularly suitable methodology (Yin 1994:4–9). Case studies are often criticised for allowing bias to influence their conclusions (Yin 1994:9–10). This is not a weakness of case study research as such, as bias must be properly treated, regardless of methodology. Another frequent critique is that case studies offer little basis for generalisation (Flyvbjerg 2001:66; Yin 1994:10). This holds for statistical generalisations, but not for analytical generalisations, for which case studies have proven useful (Flyvbjerg 2001:73–77). Knowledge developed in one case can however not be generalised ‘through abstraction and loss of history and context’, but may be transferred to other situations through ’conscious reflection on similarities and differences between contextual features and historical factors’ (Greenwood & Levin 2007:70).

A combination of opportunity and the level of active involvement in SADC of the individual member states determined the selection of the cases for this study. The authors’ involvement in capacity assessments for DRR and CCA in Botswana and Tanzania, as well as fact-finding journeys to Zambia and Zimbabwe, provided detailed data. Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Seychelles and Swaziland were selected as they participated in a SADC workshop during which the authors collected data. The study includes, in other words, nine of the fifteen member states of SADC (Figure 1).

Data are collected through focus groups and content analysis of documentary sources, as well as through interviews with key informants in Botswana and Tanzania, as a part of broader studies, and in Zambia and Zimbabwe. This combination of methods was chosen to attempt to cancel out the weaknesses of each method with the strengths of the others. Considering the research question, documentary sources are suitable as they most often have fast and cheap access to data (Hakim 1987:24; Kiecolt & Nathan 1985:11–12), as well as having stable, unobtrusive and broad coverage (Yin 1994:80–82). However, blocked access (Yin 1994:80–82), as well as inherent constraints, errors and bias (Hakim 1987:24; Kiecolt & Nathan 1985:56–71; Yin 1994:80–82), may reduce their usefulness. To reduce these potential problems when studying documentary sources, focus groups may be conducted. Focus groups are considered to be a fast way to collect data from multiple respondents and may create a ‘synergy’ between the participants that makes the focus groups more productive (Belzile & Öberg 2012:4). However, the group setting may create bias in the responses from each individual participant (Belzile & Öberg 2012:4). Although the combination of the two is assumed to be a viable way to answer the research question, qualitative interviews are also conducted, in a few cases, to attain in-depth information that allows us to increase our understanding of the phenomenon under study (Trost 2005).

The documentary sources include a mix of legislation, policies, position papers and descriptions of the current systems within the selected countries, which were collected on site or over the Internet. The study includes one regional focus group (18 participants), with participants from all selected countries except Tanzania, and one national focus group each in Zimbabwe (3 participants), Botswana (21 participants) and Tanzania (20 participants). The participants in the focus groups represent governmental ministries and departments, NGOs and international organisations. The study also includes qualitative interviews with key stakeholders (5 in Botswana, 5 in Tanzania and 1 in Zambia).

FIGURE 1: The selected cases in the Southern African Development Community region.

Discussing the empirical findings

In this section, the main results of the study are presented in terms of brief descriptions of the institutional setup regarding DRR as well as CCA in each of the studied countries (Table 1). The presentation is followed by discussions on the potential effects the current setup may have on efficiency when it comes to resource allocation for DRR and CCA, as well as an indication of areas in need of further research.

TABLE 1: Brief descriptions of institutional setups for disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) in the selected countries.

The collected data indicate that the responsibility for coordinating DRR and CCA activities resides with different stakeholders and coordination mechanisms in all studied countries except Mozambique, where the Instituto Nacional de Gestão de Calamidades (INGC, the National Disaster Management Institute), in addition to being the main body responsible for DRR, also has a shared responsibility for CCA with the Ministry for the Coordination of the Environment.

One could argue that the mere organisational setup for dealing with DRR and CCA respectively may not tell the whole story with regard to actual or potential coordination between these entities in a real life scenario. While this is a valid point, several of the interviewees representing stakeholders in DRR in Botswana and Tanzania (where more in-depth interviews were performed) indicated that not only were the parallel structures for dealing with DRR and CCA not reflected in the operational management of these concepts (i.e. little coordination took place between them), but that this situation is also perceived as problematic from a resource allocation perspective. In addition, when studying the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) on climate change available in most of the studied countries, we find very little evidence suggesting explicit coordination of DRR and CCA.

The purpose of this study is a purely descriptive one in terms of establishing to what extent parallel structures have in fact been established for DDR and CCA in the studied countries. More research is needed into the actual effects of these parallel structures on the overall efficiency of DRR and CCA in the SADC region, as well as of the situation in other parts of the world. In addition, future research with a critical and normative focus is needed in order to investigate the rationale for the creation of the different structures, their organisations, mandates and efficiency, as well as to explore potential ways in which to redesign these structures for more efficient DRR and CCA in the future.


The study shows that parallel structures for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation have been established in all but one of the studied countries. The qualitative interviews in Botswana and Tanzania indicated that stakeholders in disaster risk reduction view this duplication of structures as unfortunate, inefficient and a fertile setup for conflict over resources to implement similar activities. Additional research is needed to allow for the study of the rationale for and concrete effects of having these parallel structures as a foundation for advocacy and action for more efficient future disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the SADC region.


Competing interests
The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationship(s) which may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this paper.

Authors’ contributions
P.B. (Lund University) was responsible for project design. P.B. and M.A. (Lund University) performed the data collection. M.H. (Lund University) made conceptual contributions.


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