Achievements, Experiences and Lessons, Challenges and Opportunities for China’s 25-year Comprehensive Disaster Reduction 1

Reporting Author: SHI, Peijuna,b,c, WANG, Minga,c and YE, Qiana,c

a State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China,;
b Key Laboratory of Environmental Change and Natural Disaster of Ministry of Education, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China, e-mail:;
c Academy of Disaster Reduction and Emergency Management, Ministry of Civil Affairs & Ministry of Education, Beijing, China, e-mail:;

Abstract China has experienced some of the most destructive natural disasters in the world’s history. Together with climate change and China’s rapid economic growth and urbanization, there is significant pressure on China’s resources, environment, and ecology. The situation is further complicated by the need to address natural disaster prevention. China’s natural disasters display the following features:diverse range ,wide geographic distribution ,high frequency ,significant loss, high disaster risk.

1  Achievements in Disaster Prevention and Reduction in China

For the past 25 years, the Chinese government has focused on the concept of comprehensive disaster reduction, looking at the overall picture of disaster prevention and reduction. The key is to enhance the comprehensive capacity for disaster prevention and reduction and to promote coordination and cooperation among departments and regions. Coordination efforts have been made in defending against all natural disasters, planning disaster prevention and reduction, and utilizing all resources. Legal, administrative, market, and technical approaches have been integrated to minimize mortality rates and financial losses. China has continuously increased its capacity for disaster prevention and reduction, and has moved through three transition phases: from single disaster reduction to comprehensive disaster reduction, from rescue oriented to combined rescue and reduction, and disaster mitigation to disaster risk reduction. This progress has considerably enhanced the country’s comprehensive disaster prevention and reduction capacity, and has significantly reduced both the loss of life and financial loss. Since 2005, the Chinese government has actively promoted the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action. Furthermore, it has enhanced disaster reduction work in light of actual events, and improved organizational frameworks, working mechanisms and methodologies, which has been proven to be effective in disaster risk reduction.

1.1  Establishment of a disaster prevention and reduction regime, mechanisms and legal system

By establishing and improving its system for disaster prevention and reduction, the Chinese government has ensured that disaster prevention and reduction is now a priority to guarantee the sustainable development of China, creating a favorable policy environment for disaster prevention, reduction and relief.

  • The creation of national laws and a policy framework for disaster prevention and reduction and the clarification of central and local government responsibilities
  • Establishment of government-led disaster prevention, reduction, and relief system and mechanism

1.2  Improvements to China’s monitoring, early warning, and risk assessment system

Monitoring and early warning systems for earthquakes, meteorological, oceanic, hydrological, geological, agricultural, and forestry disasters have been improved. Early warning information regarding major natural disasters and disaster information release systems have also been upgraded. A disaster risk assessment system has been gradually established.

  • The establishment of monitoring and early warning systems for major natural disasters
  • Early warning system for major natural disasters provides cover and service to local communities
  • The risk assessment of different types of disasters in major industrial sectors has been strengthened

1.3  The establishment of a disaster information sharing service and a public campaign on disaster prevention and reduction

China’s capacity to further its community disaster prevention and reduction system and public information services have been strengthened. Furthermore, education on disaster prevention and reduction has been given top priority and the awareness of disaster prevention and reduction of people has been widely enhanced.

  • The creation of national disaster reduction-prepared communities
  • The promotion of disaster prevention and reduction via education and publicity
  • Promotion of inter-sectoral disaster information sharing and public services

1.4  Climate change response and disaster risk governance have been strengthened

The Chinese Government attaches great importance to the assessment of disasters and environmental risks induced by climate change. Climate change impact assessments have been incorporated into the national plan and in the environmental impact evaluation systems in construction projects. The responses to climate change and disaster risk prevention are becoming important components of ecological progress.

  • Disasters and environmental risks induced by climate change have been recognized
  • The incorporation of disaster risk evaluation into the environmental impact assessment of construction projects
  • Emphasizing disaster prevention and reduction projects in post-disaster reconstruction plans

1.5  Significant promotion of disaster preparedness

China has formulated emergency plans for governments at all levels, major sectors, and industries and established national and local reserves of disaster relief materials. Furthermore, it has established a disaster relief fund guarantee and an agricultural insurance subsidy mechanism. A disaster prevention and reduction plan has also been implemented.

  • The establishment of an emergency response plan system
  • The improvement of disaster relief funding and agricultural insurance subsidies
  • Establishment of reserves of disaster relief materials
  • Implementation of mid- and long-term plans to develop human resources on disaster prevention and reduction

2  Experiences and Lessons from Disaster Prevention and Reduction in China

2.1  Experiences

The achievements outlined above are closely related to the fact that the Chinese government has always regarded disaster prevention and reduction as a top priority to realize sustainable development. Furthermore, the Chinese government has ensured that it strives for coordinated development in its strategy, planning, and actions. Coordinated development is also seen as essential for comprehensive disaster prevention and reduction efforts as a whole.

  • Identification of the concept of comprehensive disaster prevention and reduction in strategies
  • Inclusion of goals for comprehensive disaster prevention and reduction in national plans
  • Actions to strengthen the technological support of comprehensive disaster prevention and reduction

2.2  Lessons learned

Although China has made clear progress and gained many achievements in comprehensive disaster prevention and reduction, China also learned valuable lessons via the challenges of various natural disasters over the past 25 years. There are some areas that require strengthening and improvement to further reduce the risk of disasters.

  • The synergy between central and local governments requires further improvement
  • The synergy between urban and rural areas should be further strengthened
  • The synergy between the government and public still lacks an institutional guarantee

3  Challenges and Opportunities for China’s Disaster Prevention and Reduction System

In the last 25 years, China has actively responded to the action initiatives of the Hyogo Framework for Action. While strengthening the development of its national comprehensive disaster prevention and reduction system, mechanisms, and legal systems, China has given full play to the role of communities, enterprises, and various civil societies. Furthermore, China has provided support and promoted innovation in the field of disaster prevention and reduction by relying on science and technology and has gradually established a comprehensive disaster reduction model suitable for China’s development and realistic requirements. Currently, the development trend of China’s disaster reduction exhibits the following three prominent features.

  • The comprehensive strategy for disaster prevention and reduction has become an important part of the national security strategy
  • Comprehensive disaster prevention and reduction planning pays greater attention to structural and functional integration
  • Comprehensive disaster prevention and reduction actions emphasize the partnership between the government and market

3.1  Challenges

Climate change uncertainties lead to greater environmental risks

The National Assessment Report on the Extreme Climate Events and Disaster Risk Management and Adaptation in China, which is near completion, mainly assesses extreme climate events and disasters in China and their related impacts. It focuses on extreme climate events and the characteristics of climate-related natural disasters.

  • Global warming
  • Increase of extreme events
  • Environmental risks will increase
  • Degree of exposure and/or vulnerability are likely to increase
  • Uncertainties regarding climate change and its impact
  • Sustainable development is facing challenges from emerging risks

According to Policies and Action of China in Tackling Climate Changes (2008 White Paper), China’s sustainable development faces many emerging risks, mainly in the areas of energy security, water resource security, food security, resource protection, ecology treatment, and coastal area protection.

  • Energy security
  • Water resource security
  • Food security
  • Forest resource protection and ecological treatment
  • Protection of coastal zone
  • Challenges from globally networked disasters

3.2  New Opportunities via the Post-2015 Disaster Reduction Framework

In May 2013, the fourth conference of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction held in Geneva included discussions on the Post-2015 Disaster Reduction Framework (HFA2). Twelve key points were raised with which to formulate the HFA2 based on the earlier Hyogo Framework for Action. These 12 points brought about new opportunities for China and the other nations in reducing the risk of disasters(Fig. 1.).

Figure 1: The Post-2015 Disaster Reduction Framework: 12 key points
  • Coping with climate change and disaster prevention and reduction
  • Social construction and disaster prevention and reduction
  • Government’s commitments in disaster prevention and reduction
  • Performance evaluation and accountability for disaster prevention and reduction

3.3  Recommendations

Promoting the integration of coping with climate change and disaster prevention and reduction As mentioned by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) during the fourth conference of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, “adaptation to climate change” calls for the overall consideration of “development” and “disaster reduction”. It requires 1) proactive support and participation of the whole society, especially at community level and the private sector, 2) paying special attention to the most vulnerable groups, and 3) full application of science and technology in disaster prevention and reduction. Clearly, it is crucial to fully respond and implement all these key points in the process to address climate change and disaster prevention and reduction.

Incorporating economic development, life style, and ecosystem services to better adapt to the changing environment Tackling climate change should be regarded as just one aspect of the more extensive goal of social economic development and global justice. Efficient adaptation and mitigation measures based on concordant efforts could generate massive benefits, including the reduction of health costs and economic and environmental costs, as well as the recovery of the ecosystem and rejuvenation of the ecosystem service industry. There is a need to establish a regional development mode for adaptation to climate change and comprehensive risk reduction. Furthermore, industrial restructuring needs to occur, and we must conserve resources, promote coordinated development between domestic and international markets and resources, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness in natural resource use. It is also necessary to incorporate economic development, life style, and ecosystem services to better adapt to our changing environment. By implementing these approaches, concrete measures should be combined with the strategy for disaster risk reduction, economic development and poverty alleviation, and regional, local, and sectoral development plans, so as to achieve effective concordance among all stakeholders.

Promote a green economy strategy by balancing efforts to mitigate disaster loss and enhance benefits Extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, and heavy precipitation brought about by climate change are at the root of many disaster risks. A green economy is one characterized as being sustainable with low risk and high yields. It is an effective way towards sustainable development because it considers economic development, responses to climate change, and the prevention of disaster risk. If we act to increase the earth’s vegetation coverage and greatly improve the capabilities of CO2 absorption through the transformation of existing technologies and innovation, this will slow down the trend of global temperature change and reduce the instability of the climate system. Such measures can also improve the level of disaster risk prevention. If we combine the concept of a green economy with disaster risk governance, we need to create a new global strategy that can balance efforts on disaster loss mitigation and benefit enhancement (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Interrelations between climate change, green economy, and disaster risk

Promoting the establishment of a global paradigm and an alliance for large-scale disaster risk governance The purpose of establishing a Global Alliance of Large-scale Disaster Risk Governance is to strengthen political will, to better use the power of leadership, and to improve and promote governance, accountability, transparency, and inclusiveness in disaster prevention and reduction. A further important aim is to intensify knowledge sharing and education in disaster prevention and reduction.

Development of a global paradigm for large-scale disaster risk governance Based on the consilience model for large-scale disaster risk governance, the Global Paradigm for Large-scale Disaster Governance is proposed (Fig. 3). In this paradigm, a comprehensive system can be formed for integrated large-scale disaster risk governance by “condensing” the political, social, economic, and cultural functions of governments, institutions, enterprises, and individuals. The next step is to “synthesize” the coordination, cooperation, construction, and communication functions of governments, institutions, enterprises, and individuals.

Figure 3: Conceptual model of consilience for integrated large-scale disaster risk governance

Based on the consilience model, the following countermeasures are proposed.

Government At a global scale, the role of the United Nations must be emphasized. It is strongly recommended that a global alliance for large-scale disaster risk governance, based on the ongoing UNISDR strategy, should be established.

Enterprises Enterprises should (and multinational corporations especially) continuously improve their disaster prevention capacity, be actively involved in disaster insurance, and scientifically assess the ratios of acceptable, controllable, and transferable disaster risk. Furthermore, to comprehensively improve their risk prevention capability, the cost for preventing disaster risk should be considered as a production cost and seen as being as important as improving their own innovation capabilities.

Institutions Especially regarding those research institutions and universities specializing in disaster prevention and reduction, they need to enhance research on disasters, strive for major breakthroughs in forecasting and early warning capabilities, complete the information service system, and develop various disaster prevention engineering and non-engineering technologies.

Individuals Through education, information dissemination, and training exercises, every citizen should strengthen their awareness of disaster prevention and reduction, obtain relevant disaster knowledge, ensure that they are security conscious, and systematically improve their ability for self and mutual rescue.

Based on the abovementioned conceptual model of consilience, a comprehensive disaster risk prevention paradigm under the strategy of “co-existence and co-development” from a global perspective (Fig.4) should be developed. Key points of this paradigm are described in the figure below.

Figure 4: Comprehensive disaster risk prevention paradigm under the strategy of “common world, common existence, common development”

Coupling in spatial and temporal scales Full consideration must be given to spatial and temporal distributions and different aspects of the adaptation to global climate diversity. In terms of spatial scale, global, regional, and local dimensions should be integrated; in terms of temporal scale, millennial, centennial, and decennial dimensions should be coordinated.

Synergizing of action dimensions Attention must be given to multiple measures to enable coexistence with global climate diversity, namely, integrating measures to reduce vulnerability, increase resilience, and strengthen adaptability, and integrating economic, political, cultural, social and ecological construction in action dimensions.

Integrating functions and structures A further key point is the need to integrate various actions for disaster risk reduction. The optimization of the system’s structure (consisting of safety construction, disaster relief, emergency management and risk transfer, and the perfection of a functional system consisting of disaster preparation, emergency response, recovery, and reconstruction) needs to be integrated in terms of action. To do so would improve the consilience between disaster prevention and reduction and disaster risk reduction, and result in high levels of efficiency and significant benefits in the use of disaster reduction resources.

Coping at a global scale Focus should also be placed on the adjustment of major disaster reduction strategies at a global level and a global mechanism for coping with climate risks. Thus, the coping capacity of large-scale disasters must be improved and the mechanism for risk transfer must be finalized. Furthermore, improvements must be made to ensure a greater adaptive capacity for climate change and to coordinate countermeasures to cope with and adapt to the tendencies and fluctuations stemming from global climate change.

The above-mentioned four points are interdependent and together they provide the basis for the Global Integrated Disaster Risk Governance Paradigm. From a global perspective, this paradigm coordinates present actions by the United Nations to improve sustainable development so as to facilitate the realization of the UN’s MDG. From the perspective of comprehensively reducing global disaster risks, this paradigm completes the global mechanism for coping with large-scale disaster risks.

Establishment of a global foundation for large-scale disaster risk In light of the proposed consilience model of large-scale disaster risk governance, the establishment of the Global Foundation for Large-scale Disaster Risk (GFLDR) has been suggested. The GFLDR will represent the response strategy of “one for all, all for one”, similar to the support given by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to world economic development. It would be appropriate for this foundation to be managed by the UN (and presently by UNISDR), and funds could be raised through multiple channels. The aims of the foundation include providing support to all countries to disseminate and apply diverse technologies to cope with disasters and to promote the voluntary transfer of these achievements to all UN member countries. Further aims include to support the UN in establishing a disaster insurance program and to see the global transfer mechanism for disaster risks to its completion. In doing so, the disaster reduction strategy mechanism of the UN will be improved via the GFLDR. Thus, the third decennial plan of the UN disaster reduction actions can be initiated, and the disaster reduction coordination network of the UN will be complete.

Establishment of the global network for large-scale disaster response The guide function of the UNISDR and its “Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction” should be fully used. To ensure cooperation with relevant data information platforms from the global insurance sector (including transnational insurance companies, reinsurance companies, and intermediary companies) and the databases of governments, research institutions, colleges, universities, and social organizations, a unified, standardized, and normative “Global Network for Disaster Information” should be established. Based on the shared network, an enhanced global education and scientific platform can be developed. This platform can also be used to organize and foster a university consortium of integrated risk governance for education and training on disaster prevention and reduction, a scientific research consortium of integrated risk governance for research and development, a community consortium for disaster awareness, information dissimilation, and to strengthen global volunteer resources.

Holistically improve national and regional risk governance capacity for large-scale disasters There are significant differences among various countries in terms of political systems, social–economic development levels, and capability for disaster prevention. Thus, there is the urgent need for nations to improve their capacity in large-scale disaster risk governance. By way of the UN’s MDG, the creation of resilient societies has become a common international dream.

Accelerate the transition of economic growth patterns It has been recognized by most countries that fast economic development creates various risks. New economic development models have been studied to varying degrees by nations. It is important to encourage these countries to accelerate this transition process with a focus on structure adjustment supported by innovation and development in science and technology.

Establish a diversified energy security and supply chain system By increasing the use of renewable energy and other non-fossil fuels, new energy structures should be developed. Furthermore, a new clean energy partnership between developing and developed countries must be established under new international mechanisms. To prevent disruptions in production and supply chains, the World Trade Organization should develop global cooperative regulations to efficiently reduce the negative impacts of large-scale disaster risks.

Comprehensively improve national and local disaster risk sharing capabilities Extensive international exchange and cooperation are needed to address the common challenges of large-scale disasters and unresolved scientific problems. A sharing mechanism for large-scale disaster risk transfer within nations and among regions needs to be expedited by implementing the sharing of large-scale disaster information, knowledge, and technology. By giving full consideration to national and regional capacities for risk, a “global large-scale disaster risk financial management system” can be established, gradually developing a risk transfer mechanism amongst nations and regions, and realizing the risk diversification and sharing in the global context.


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Shi, Peijun, Wang, Ming and Ye, Qian. (2014): Achievements, Experiences and Lessons, Challenges and Opportunities for China’s 25-year Comprehensive Disaster Reduction. In: Planet@Risk, 2(5), Special Issue for the Post-2015 Framework for DRR: p. 353-358, Global Risk Forum GRF Davos, Davos.

This article is a summary of the above mentioned conference with a special focus on proposed elements for consideration in the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.