Definition of risk

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    Ruud Houdijk (ITINERIS)

    Dear DRM colleagues,

    As you know, there are many different definitions of risk or “disaster risk”. Some of them focus on the risk elements likelihood and impact (sometimes combinedas “potential loss”), while other definitions focus on the elements of hazard, exposure, vulnerability and (lack of) coping capacity.

    The most recent UNISDR definition more or less combines all elements: “The potential loss of life, injury, or destroyed or damaged assets which could occur to a system, society or a community in a specific period of time, determined probabilistically as a function of hazard, exposure, vulnerability and capacity.”
    See: UNISDR, 2016. Open-ended Intergovernmental Expert Working Group on Indicators and Terminology relating to Disaster Risk Reduction: Report of the Second Session (Informal and Formal), The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva, Switzerland.

    On the other hand, the very widely used ISO 31000 (2009) defines risk from a different angle, as “effect of uncertainty on objectives”.

    I have seen different countries using quite different definitions, sometimes due to translation issues from English to their own language. Moreover, even different sectors within the same country might use different definitions. I feel in the practice of cities working on DRM, there is no need to become involved in a very complicated and fundamental discussion on risk definitions. However, I do think it is important to have a practical shared understanding with stakeholders of the elements of risk that need to be considered in Disaster Risk Management.
    So, my questions would be:
    – What risk definitions are already in use in your country and city?
    – How do they relate to international definitions?
    – What are the potential issues and problems with your definition(s)?
    – Which definition of disaster risk would you propose to practically use as a basis for DRM in your city?

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