What Covid-19 tells us about risk – and how we reduce it

Covid-19 will challenge our ability to come together to prevent disasters – and that’s a concern for everyone, not just DRR practitioners

By Bijay Kumar, Executive Director

11 May 2020

Today GNDR launches its new five-year member-led strategy, Local Leadership for Global Impact. Our vision is a world where everyone works together to strengthen the resilience of people most at risk and prevent hazards from becoming disasters. But now the impact of Covid-19 and the global response to it may threaten our vision - unless we act now.

The work of civil society organisations on the frontline has never been so important. And it has never been so difficult. The pandemic is not simply another threat amongst many existing drivers of risk. It challenges us to think of new ways to come together - at local, national and global levels - to ensure no one is left behind.

The challenge isn’t just a practical one that can be solved with digital technologies, though these will be increasingly important. The speed at which the virus has spread reminds us that we live in a global village. We can’t solve the problem of Covid-19 in one country without solving it everywhere through a well-coordinated effort informed by local realities and global knowledge.

Responding to Covid-19 requires multi-level collaboration

In many respects we’re ‘all in this together’. All actors and stakeholders have to work collaboratively and in solidarity across countries and continents. That’s why the first goal of our new strategy aims to strengthen the collective action of our global network. Responders, in every country, including GNDR members, are already learning lessons and they must have the space and the power to share experiences and best practice. This is how we design better systems for now and the future.

Of course in many respects we’re not ‘all in this together’. Covid-19, like all threats, discriminates. The communities and people that are already most at risk will be hit hardest: people who don’t have enough food to eat, people forcefully displaced by conflict, and people living in flood-prone regions, to name a few. The number of people at risk will grow.

COVID 19 Man with mask washing hands

Covid-19 is a unique risk driver - but preventable

Across our three goals our network will prioritise six interrelated risk drivers: rapid climate change, food and water insecurity, forced displacement, unplanned urbanisation, gender inequality, and conflict. These are the contexts in which reducing disaster risk has become more challenging as the world changes.

Members’ efforts to reduce the risk of communities during this current pandemic has demonstrated the particular challenges these contexts present for the communities most at risk. For example, members have been trying to support people with disabilities where they have no permanent homes in which to isolate; focusing on the safety of people in informal urban slums where there’s no running water for hand washing; giving refuge to women experiencing violence and threats during lockdown; and giving support to those with increased care responsibilities.

The impacts of this pandemic could have been prevented if lessons learnt from prior disease outbreaks as well as scientific and community-led research, had been taken into account in health services, global supply chains, transport systems, curriculum, and the tourism sector. That's why risk-informed development is crucial right now - and why it is one of our goals.

We must build back better and make sure the full range of threats that people face become the concern of everyone, not just disaster risk reduction practitioners.

The pandemic is global but risk is local

Covid-19 responses that ignore local realities will exacerbate risk. Millions of people living in poverty can’t access handwashing facilities and social distancing is nearly impossible in slums. These challenges and gaps are currently being met by frontline responders, including civil society organisations. Governments, both national and local, must listen to and partner with those communities who are most at risk.

Civil society organisations can facilitate the systematic sharing of real-life community experience of all disasters, including Covid-19, with national and international decision-makers. This will allow for collective decision-making, at all levels.

COVID-19 Woman wearing mask

Structural changes required to give power to local actors

National and local risk reduction strategies must be owned by governments - but support local actors. GNDR members are responding to the pandemic right now: providing emergency food, establishing sanitation facilities, delivering awareness-raising campaigns on local radio stations, supporting healthcare systems and giving cash grants.

Structural changes at the local, national and international level, are needed to ensure local actors have the capacity, information, linkages, resources and power they need to decide how to strengthen their own resilience. That’s why championing a localisation movement is central to GNDR’s new strategy.

In order to respond to, adapt and overcome this pandemic - and the broadening risk people face from multiple hazards and vulnerabilities - we must all work together. That’s how we will strengthen the resilience of the communities most at risk - and prevent hazards from becoming disasters.


Visit our dedicated Strategy 2020-25 website.


Join GNDR as a member


Phones: +44 208 977 7726 | 1833 

Email: info@gndr.org

Social Media

Our Supporters

European Commission words under blue flag with yellow stars    
usaidhorizontal small
UK Government logos 2012 UK AID    australian aid blue and red
2020.02.21 SDC Logo

GIZ on behalfof BMZ
Sverige Sweden SIDA Logo


London Office

Global Network of Civil Society Organisations
for Disaster Reduction
8 Waldegrave Road, Teddington,
TW11 8HT
United Kingdom

Regional hubs »

Member of