Protected areas as tools for disaster risk reduction: a handbook for practitioners

Advice for disaster risk reduction specialists and protected area managers on how best to use protected area systems as effective buffers, to prevent natural hazards from developing into unnatural disasters

Nigel Dudley, Camille Buyck, Naoya Furuta, Claire Pedrot, Fabrice Renaud and Karen Sudmeier-Rieux


Globally, disasters due to natural hazards such as storms, flooding, drought, earthquakes and ocean surge extract an enormous toll in terms of human lives, destruction to crops and livelihoods, and economic losses. The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that between 2000 and 2012, some 1.2 million people died as a result of disasters; 2.9 billion people were affected and disaster-related damage cost around US$1.7 trillion. Even in a world where wars seem to affect almost every continent, more people are affected by disasters than by conflict. The complicated and hard to predict implications of climate change are adding a further layer of problems facing those attempting to protect human communities against the impacts of natural hazards.

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) has therefore become a critical part of sustainable development strategies. The acronym DRR embraces a complex mixture of policies and actions, from education of civil society, through disaster preparedness strategies to engineering solutions ranging from construction of sea walls to building regulations that aim to protect cities against earthquakes.

Over the past few decades, the role of healthy ecosystems in providing cheap, reliable protection against natural hazards has been increasingly recognized. Forests and other vegetation help to stabilize slopes, prevent floods and slow or stop soil erosion and desertification. A range of coastal habitats, from corals to mangroves, protect people living near the sea from the worst of storms and tidal waves. Sustainable management policies in the drylands can halt and even reverse the spread of deserts.

But DRR strategies based on ecosystem services are failing in many places because natural ecosystems are being degraded and destroyed. In these circumstances, places that maintain functioning natural ecosystems become increasingly important. The world’s protected area system, of national parks, nature reserves and wilderness areas, currently covers 15.4 per cent of land and freshwater and 3.4 per cent of coastal and marine areas1 . Although primarily designated for their nature conservation and recreational values, protected areas are increasingly being recognized as potential tools for their role in facilitating DRR.

The following handbook provides practical guidance on the effective use of protected areas as tools to reduce the likelihood and impacts of disasters. The main text is supplemented by case studies drawing on the experience of the Ministry of Environment in Japan, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and partners. It is aimed in particular at:

• DRR specialists, so that they understand and can integrate protected areas into DRR strategies

• Protected area system administrators and managers, so that they recognize the value of their protected areas for DRR, and understand how best to plan and manage protected area systems to contribute to DRR strategies within protected areas and surrounding communities.

The handbook will be one of a series detailing how protected areas can maximize the ecosystem services that they provide, without undermining their fundamental nature conservation function.