10 August 2020

UNDRR/ISC Sendai Hazard Definition and Classification Review Technical Report

Risk and Resilience Senior Scientific Adviser John Handmer was part of a working group on the redefinition of hazards in line with the Sendai global disaster risk reduction agreement for the International Science Council (ISC) and UNDRR.

© Servickuz | Dreamstime.com

© Servickuz | Dreamstime.com

Global agreements on disaster risk reduction (Sendai), climate change (Paris) and the SDGs (Agenda 2030), signed in 2015, together set out an ambitious agenda for global change and improvement. They highlight the interconnectivity and complexity of the new global risk landscape, where risk is systemic and impacts cascade through communities, economies, politics and environments – vividly demonstrated by Covid-19.

The Sendai agreement promotes this integration through its broad scope encompassing “natural or man-made hazards, as well as related environmental, technological and biological hazards and risks” (§15). However, there has been no overall agreed list or set of definitions to support the practice and reporting of disaster risk reduction across the global agreements.

This important gap was addressed by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the International Science Council (ISC) with the support of the Integrated Research for Disaster Risk (IRDR) programme of the ISC. The effort was coordinated by Public Health England and supported by a technical working group of specialists and UN agencies. A small sub-group (including the IRDR Chair and Risk and Resilience Senior Scientific Adviser John Handmer) worked on incorporating the extensive feedback to produce the final report.

A “hazard” is defined following agreement by the UN General Assembly, as a “process, phenomenon or human activity that may cause loss of life, injury, or other health impacts, property damage, social and economic disruption or environmental degradation” – broadened to include substances. Defining specific hazards was often not straightforward, even for “traditional” hazards like wildfire.

The list of hazards and accompanying definitions supports the major global agreements by providing a common set of definitions for risk informed development, review and monitoring – and by contributing to science and policy debates on risk. In recognition of the complexity of hazards and their constantly evolving nature, the list is a living document. Recommendations are directed at continuing to develop the science and to expand the list to include complex and systemic hazards and risks.

Links to the report and other relevant documents and events are here:

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Last edited: 10 August 2020


John Handmer

Senior Research Scholar

Equity and Justice Research Group|Population and Just Societies Program

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