John Handmer: DRR as a fundamental human right

By John Handmer, Senior Science Adviser at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Covid-19 and what were at the time dramatic climate-related events of heat and fire established a new global risk landscape. The risks were dynamic, complex, systemic, and cascading across society, economies, and environments. Long-established approaches to disaster risk reduction could not deal effectively with this new complexity. Needed was a strong emphasis on how these risks are connected to, and their solutions synergistic with, climate change issues and the Sustainable Development Goals, among other global agreements on the major challenges facing humanity. These issues were to be well on the way to being solved by 2030, but national politics and the pandemic severely disrupted progress.

As a result of the stalled progress and widespread public demands for action on global threats, disaster risk reduction was declared a fundamental human right in 2025.

This declaration did not by itself alter the risks – which if not already existential were heading that way – and they were left for you to deal with. It did however, focus minds across the sector and related areas like climate change, and helped drive people out of their silos to collaborate. Working across disciplines and sectors is probably the only way that the complex risks of today can be usefully tackled. Collaboration of this sort, including between end-users and researchers, takes effort, but can be key to building mutual trust and respect, gaining insights, as well as providing useful reality checks.

In the field of disaster risk reduction, people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake and ethics and integrity are therefore critically important. We need to be honest about the assumptions and limitations of our work whether in research or practice, and keep in mind the imperative of universal inclusion – now given the force of law through the rights declaration.


John Handmer is a Senior Science Adviser at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Vienna, Austria; Emeritus Professor, School of Science, RMIT University, Melbourne; and Chair, Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) Scientific Committee. IRDR is an interdisciplinary research programme sponsored by the International Council of Science and UNDRR. It seeks to address the challenges brought by natural hazards. Read John’s HazNet article on Emergency Service Volunteering in Australia.

Recent policy brief:

Note from the Editor: This article was produced as part of the Time Capsule: A message to future emergency managers, resilience practitioners, and disaster risk reduction scholars series by HazNet. Read other time capsules here.