Chapter 5. Disaster risk reduction in Colombia

In this chapter, Colombia’s efforts to reduce existing disaster risks and avoid the creation of new risks are reviewed. The chapter shows that with Law 1523/2012 disaster risk reduction has been placed at the heart of Colombia’s national policy agenda, and it reviews the key steps taken to put the formulated objectives into action. It reviews roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders involved in the disaster risk reduction process and discusses opportunities for reinforcing Colombia’s disaster risk reduction agenda.


Disaster risk reduction have become the focus of international, and a growing number of national, policy commitments in disaster risk management. In complement to disaster preparedness and response capacities, disaster risk reduction are indispensable for reducing disaster losses over time. The OECD Recommendation of the Council on the Governance of Critical Risks (OECD, 2014) suggests that countries raise awareness of critical risks to mobilise all of society’s actors to invest in disaster risk reduction. It furthermore calls for strengthening the mix of structural and non-structural disaster risk reduction measures. Finally, the Recommendation suggests that businesses, and especially infrastructure operators, take steps to ensure business continuity (OECD, 2014).

Disaster risk reduction at the heart of Colombia’s national policy agenda

The overview of institutional trends in chapter three shows that Colombia’s disaster risk management policy has shifted in favour of reducing disaster risks. While disaster risk reduction became part of the disaster risk management policy mix as early as the 1990s, Law 1523/2012 established them as priorities (World Bank, 2012; UNGRD, 2018).

Law 1523/2012 builds on the identification and assessment of risks as a basis for disaster risk communication and other disaster risk reduction activities. The law frames disaster risk reduction actions as a two-pronged objective: to avoid creating new risks and to reduce existing ones, in complement to developing a financial protection strategy through risk retention and risk transfer instruments. The law’s strategic disaster risk reduction objectives have been anchored in the National Development Plan (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo, PND), which underlines the need to prevent disaster risks in order to sustain the country’s growth, to improve the quality of life and to foster sustainable development.

Following Law 1523/2012, the National Plan for Disaster Risk Management (Plan Nacional de Gestión del Riesgo de Desastres, PNGRD) recognises the importance of disaster risk reduction to prevent disasters and reduce the resources needed to respond to and recover from disasters. The PNGRD distinguishes disaster risk reduction objectives by actions that avoid the creation of new risks and those that reduce existing ones. Although this distinction in itself is clear, the actions mentioned in each of the pillars do not clearly reflect this distinction (see below), with some of the actions falling into different disaster risk management categories altogether, such as disaster preparedness and response.

Avoiding the creation of new risks: Recognising the role of all stakeholders

To avoid the creation of new risks, the National Plan for Disaster Risk Management (PNGRD) mirrors the vision laid out in the PND. The PNGRD recommends that government across sectors and levels as well as businesses, incorporate disaster risk management into investment planning to make sure that the levels of existing risk are not increased by any new investments made.

The PNGRD formulates objectives and concrete actions for government actors across national sectors and for subnational levels of government. The actions include the formulation of disaster risk management objectives in sectoral development plans, as well as the inclusion of concrete risk reduction projects in the local development plans. The Disaster Risk Management Plan calls for the national government to ensure that land-use planning at the local level incorporates disaster risk management and recommends the local planning offices to monitor the incorporation of disaster risk in local construction projects.

Against the explicit recognition in the 2014 OECD Recommendation (OECD, 2014), the Disaster Risk Management Plan does not currently include a concrete role for businesses. Even though the role of businesses in increasing or containing disaster risks is recognised, Law 1523/2012 does not mention the concrete contribution they should make to avoid the creation of new risks through their activities. Businesses include infrastructure operators that could potentially generate larger and more systemic risks. The operator of the Hidroituango hydropower dam (see Box 2.4 in Chapter 2) demonstrates the urgency of the issue: private operators can generate significant new risks that impact the potential continuity and reliability of the service they provide, but also create risks to the communities, in this case downstream of the dam’s operation (Villamizar, 2018; National University of Colombia, 2018).

The PND recognises the significant guidance that has been issued on how the creation of new risks can be avoided, but points to persisting gaps in implementation. The latest annual monitoring report of the implementation of the PNGRD (UNGRD, 2018) reveals that concrete actions three years after the issuance of the PNGRD are limited. Notable actions that have been carried out include the development of guidelines on the incorporation of disaster risk reduction in territorial planning as well as a roadmap document that guides the integration of disaster risk reduction in national sectoral planning. Aside from these efforts, the monitoring report shows that there are a number of stakeholders that have not engaged in any of their assigned activity at all, including the Ministry of Housing, City and Territory and the Ministry of Transport. The list of suggested actions to avoid the creation of new risks is exhaustive, but some important strategic objectives seem to be missing. For example, as was shown in Chapter 2, one of the core drivers of disaster risk in Colombia has been informal housing and unplanned urban development, which is not sufficiently covered in the list of suggested actions under the PNGRD. A comprehensive strategy that aims at avoiding the creation of new risks is still missing.

Reducing existing risks

To reduce existing disaster risks, the PNGRD calls on all entities, public or private, to assess the disaster risks to which their assets and activities may be exposed (see Chapter 4). The PNGRD also recommends formulating disaster risk reduction actions on the basis of the available risk information. For agencies in charge of housing development, this includes resettlement of people out of high-risk areas as well as the retrofitting of the existing housing stock with disaster-resistant materials. For entities in charge of the environment, the PNGRD recommends measures that manage soil in a way that helps protect from disaster risks. Other objectives are less clearly focused on reducing existing risks and may pertain to other policy objectives as well. For example, the health-related actions include the articulation of a health emergency management system or an emergency evacuation plan for all buildings located in risk-prone areas, which would typically fall under emergency preparedness and disaster response functions.

The PNGRD monitoring reports show some progress in terms of reducing existing risks. For some projects under the PNGRD, no information is available on their current status in any of the monitoring reports (Lacambra et al., 2014; UNGRD, 2018).

Reinforcing the disaster risk reduction agenda

To reap the full benefits of the National Plan for Disaster Risk Management’s disaster risk reduction agenda, institutions should motivate and support actors and leverage investments. In formulating disaster risk reduction goals and actions for each actor, the PNGRD offers a clear road map for disaster risk reduction projects. In doing so however, there is a large untapped potential that a more co-ordinated and collaborative approach could bring. Even though local governments are in the driver’s seat for implementing disaster risk reduction measures through local planning instruments and investments, not all have the technical or financial capacities to implement these objectives alone.

At central government level, funding from the National Fund for Disaster Risk Management (Fondo Nacional de Gestión de Riesgo de Desastres, FNGRD) may be used in support of disaster risk reduction measures. In addition, the National Adaptation Fund (Fondo Adaptación, AF), put in place to finance projects for reconstruction following the 2011-12 La Niña events, may be used towards disaster risk reduction (Law 1753/20151). Neither fund is fully leveraged to support subnational governments in carrying out disaster risk reduction measures (e.g. with clear rules for co-financing, and pre-determined cost-sharing rates). Limited resources, in part linked to the circumstance that sectoral contributions to the National Fund for Disaster Risk Management are required by Law 1523/2012, but the required size of the contributions is not prescribed, inhibit the potential for co-financing disaster risk reduction measures. In the National Plan for Disaster Risk Management, the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (Unidad Nacional para la Gestión del Riesgo de Desastres, UNGRD) appears to have a very limited role in steering or contributing to the disaster risk reduction agenda. The UNGRD’s responsibility is limited to actions such as support to subnational governments in the integration of disaster risk considerations in their local development plans. As such, the UNGRD has not tapped into central funding mechanisms to foster implementation of disaster risk reduction measures.

In recognition of the heterogeneity of local capacities as well as the different levels of protection needed, most OECD countries have implemented some form of a co-operative and cost-sharing approach between central and subnational governments. The national government, in the form of technical assistance and co-financing capacity, supports the local level efforts in a way that allows all communities to attain an acceptable level of risk (Box 5.1 provides a country example from Austria).

Box 5.1. Austria’s cross-governmental co-operation mechanisms in disaster risk reduction

As many other policies in Austria’s federal government set-up disaster risk reduction is a task that is shared by all levels of government. The need for structural disaster risk reduction measures, for example, is evaluated at the local level by municipalities or local interest groups, who in turn make a request for funding and technical implementation to the regional office of the national agency in charge of structural protection measures.

The national agency, in co-operation with its regional office, assesses the value of the public interest of the investment, and subsequently prioritises it among other requests for funding received. If approved, local authorities develop a proposal for their financial contribution to the measure. The provincial government is approached for co-financing and the central government agency concludes an agreement of the formal cost-sharing mechanism. The usual co-financing rate from the central level amounts to 50%, 20% is contributed by the province and some 30% are assumed by the local level authorities. This approach fosters solidarity to ensure that those communities most exposed to natural hazards can afford the investments needed to protect the lives and assets of their community.

Source: OECD (2017).

Examples from across the OECD also offer insights on how additional resources for disaster risk reduction can be unlocked. In France, the national disaster risk reduction fund, the Fonds Barnier, is sourced from a mandatory insurance contribution from holders of business and motor vehicle insurance, as well as from the compulsory public-private CATNAT hazard insurance scheme. In Austria, the Austrian Catastrophe Fund (KatFonds), initially set-up for disaster recovery and reconstruction, has been reformed to serve a double function in that the annual remaining balance that has not been used to respond to emergencies is transferred to a disaster risk reduction account at the end of the year. Each year, the KatFonds is sourced with 1.1 percent of Austria’s total federal tax income (OECD, 2017). In Costa Rica, the National Emergency Fund also serves a double-function as a disaster risk reduction and recovery and reconstruction fund, and is sourced from a fixed percentage of budget surplus. Similarly, Mexico’s FONDEN benefits from a regular contribution of at least 0.4% of programmable federal spending (OECD, 2013; Colombian Ministry of Finance and Public Credit, 2011; Kellet, Jan; Caravani, Alice; Pichon, Florence, 2014; OECD/ World Bank, Forthcoming). Mexico’s FONDEN is also a good example for how post-disaster assistance can be used to reduce disaster risks, by incentivising reconstruction that does not replicate pre-existing disaster risk conditions (Box 5.2).

Box 5.2. Reducing existing risks: Mexico’s Fund for Natural Disasters disaster assistance scheme

A large share of Mexico’s disaster risk management spending by the central government comes from the Fund for Natural Disasters (Fondo de Desastres Naturales, FONDEN). The law mandates FONDEN to be spent to finance emergency assistance, recovery and reconstruction of public infrastructure, as well as for the reconstruction of low-income housing. Specifically, FONDEN provides disaster assistance for the following items:

  • 100% of the costs for recovery and reconstruction of federal public infrastructure damage

  • Up to 50% of the costs for recovery and reconstruction of subnational public infrastructure damage.

Support can be requested for the replacement costs of damaged infrastructure, as well as for their improvement to strengthen resilience against future disasters. Central government post-disaster assistance is only available if a disaster declaration is officially issued, and if a damage assessment has been carried out (usually done by the central and subnational governments together), based on which an official request for FONDEN support can be submitted.

To avoid repeated requests for damage compensation and hence an overreliance on public disaster assistance, rules have been established that limit the repeated eligibility for FONDEN funding for uninsured public infrastructure. Damaged uninsured federal infrastructure for which reconstruction is requested a second time will only be compensated at 50% instead of 100%. For subnationally owned infrastructure, this percentage is 25% for a third request. For any subsequent reconstruction requests, FONDEN will not provide any disaster recovery assistance at all. For insured public infrastructure, eligibility for FONDEN funding remains the same even after repeated reconstruction requests.

Source: OECD/ World Bank (2019).

The National Plan for Disaster Risk Management does not include any specific disaster risk reduction objectives for households and businesses. Households and businesses, like other societal actors, can add to the creation of new risks as much as they can undermine the public disaster risk reduction efforts with their behaviour. They can also take important steps to reduce the disaster risks they are exposed to.

The government has several levers to encourage disaster risk reduction among households and businesses, such as building codes and provisions to incentivise disaster risk reduction, such as through subsidies or tax deductions for private resilience measures. Public-private partnerships offer an additional pathway for encouraging households and businesses to engage in disaster risk reduction. Austria’s water boards are a public-private partnership between any number of individuals, municipalities or businesses along a shared body of water. All members contribute to a shared fund that finances the development and maintenance of disaster risk reduction measures (Box 5.3). For all these measures, it helps if risks are communicated to exposed stakeholders and the broader public alike in a way that is easy to understand and act upon.

Box 5.3. Austria’s water boards: a public-private partnership to reduce flood risk

In Austria, any number individuals, municipalities or businesses along a shared body of water, can form a public-private partnership in the form of a ‘water board’ to finance and maintain disaster risk reduction measures. The level of contribution to the water board fund set up for this purpose is determined by a point system derived from the exposure of a member’s property or dwelling. The initial determination of membership fees is automatically transferred to new property owners.

Water boards are statutory corporations under Austrian law (Water Act of 1959) and can take three organisational forms: a voluntary board with voluntary membership; a board with obligatory membership (determined by the majority of interested members and considering the number of opposing members in a given hazard area); or an obligatory board enforced by the provincial governor.

Water boards, just like municipalities, can initiate and request the construction of protective infrastructure, and thereby oblige its members to finance the suggested measures. As water boards become the formal owners of the protective infrastructure they build, they are responsible for maintaining protective infrastructure. This has led to significantly better results in the quality of protective infrastructure over time, compared to infrastructure for which maintenance is the responsibility of other interest groups, such as municipalities, which have faced financial constraints to cover the costs.

Source: OECD (2017).

The government can continue exploring or supporting the availability of risk transfer instruments, such as disaster risk insurance for households, as much as for businesses to secure their assets as well as their operations. The current ambitions under the PNGRD, including a project that seeks to inform the design of disaster risk insurance instruments for central and subnational public assets, critical infrastructure, as well as for businesses and households are a useful step in this direction (UNGRD, 2018). To encourage disaster risk reduction and a culture of risks, premiums should reflect disaster risk exposure, as well as disaster risk reduction measures carried out by insurance holders (OECD, 2017; OECD/ World Bank, Forthcoming).

Finally, the UNGRD’s function in the monitoring process of implementing the National Plan’s goals should not be limited to a task-by-task reporting exercise. Instead, the UNGRD could use the reporting intervals as an opportunity to reassess the feasibility of the set targets, to identify the barriers to implementation as well as to present solutions that help actors better accomplish their objectives.


Colombian Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (2011), Obligaciones Contingentes: La Experiencia Colombiana [Contingent Liabilities: The Colombian Experience],

Kellet, Jan; Caravani, Alice; Pichon, Florence (2014), Financing Disaster Risk Reduction: Towards a coherent and comprehensive approach,

Lacambra, S. et al. (2014), iGOPP: Índice de Vulnerabilidad y de Politicas Públicas en Gestión del Riesgo de Desastre [iGOPP Governance and and Public Policy Index in Disaster Risk Management],

National University of Colombia (2018), Hidroituango: Crisis social, ambiental y económica en el proyecto energético más grande del país [Hidroituango: social, environmental and economic crisis of the biggest energy project of the country],

OECD (2017), Boosting Disaster Prevention through Innovative Risk Governance: Insights from Austria, France and Switzerland, OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2014), OECD Recommendation on the Governance of Critical Risks,

OECD (2013), Review of the Mexican National Civil Protection System, OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD/ World Bank (2019), Fiscal Resilience to Natural Disasters: Lessons from country experiences, OECD Publishing.

UNGRD (2018), National System for Disaster Risk Management, Presentation at the OECD-UNGRD Colombia Risk Governance Scan Kick-off event, Unidad Nacional de Gestión del Riesgo de Desastres.

UNGRD (2018), Plan Nacional de Gestión del Riesgo de Desastres - Una estrategia de desarrollo 2015 - 2025. Cuarto Informe de Seguimiento y Evaluación. [National Plan for Disaster Risk Management -A 2015-2025 development strategy.Fourth Monitoring and Assessment Report],

Villamizar, E. (2018), EPM informa la evolución de la situación en el Proyecto Hidroeléctrico Ituango [EPM informs on the evolution of the Ituango’s Hydroelectric Project situation],

World Bank (2012), Analysis of disaster risk management in Colombia a contribution to the creation of public policies (Vol. 2): Main report, Wordl Bank Group,


← 1. Law 1753/2015, Congress of Colombia, (in Spanish, consulted on 10 September 2018).

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