Executive Summary

Colombia is exposed to major disaster risks. Its topography and climate make it prone to geological hazards, such as earthquakes and landslides, as well as significant hydro-meteorological risks, including floods and droughts. A majority of the country’s population is prone to one or more natural hazards.

Several socio-economic factors contribute to the growing complexity of disaster risks. First, forced displacements caused by decades of armed conflict and the recent influx of migrants from the bordering Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela have contributed to the trend of rapid urbanisation. The pressure to expand urban areas to accommodate citizens has forced construction to take place in unsuitable areas. Especially vulnerable people, such as the poor, end up living in informal, hazard-prone housing. Second, changes in Colombia’s climate in the long run and in climate variability in the short run add to the uncertainty of future disaster events. Finally, the exploration of unconventional oil and gas resources and the significant expansion of hydropower plants could increase the occurrence of natural hazard triggering technological disasters (so-called natech risks).

With Law 1523/2012 Colombia initiated an ambitious reform process to establish an effective disaster risk governance framework that anchors resilience in the national policy agenda. This OECD Risk Governance Scan evaluates the progress made in implementing major parts of Law 1523/2012 and provides recommendations to strengthen Colombia’s efforts in the future.

Key findings

The strategic value of Colombia’s disaster risk governance framework: Law1523/2012 paved the way to establish a comprehensive, multi-hazard approach embedded across national sectors and levels of government. The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD) steers and co-ordinates stakeholder engagement, through inter-institutional platforms, towards a shared culture of risk. Several channels for whole-of-society participation in policy-making and a commitment to transparency strengthen inclusiveness and accountability in Colombia’s disaster risk governance.

Disaster risk identification and assessment: Hazard assessments are available for almost all types of natural hazards at a broad geographic scale, but the level of granularity needed to inform local-level decision making is still missing. The need for more information on actual risks has been recognised as a policy priority. There is scope to improve the sharing of hazard and risk knowledge between public and private stakeholders, to increase the understanding of interconnected and systemic risks.

Disaster risk reduction: Colombia embraces a two-pronged approach consisting in avoidance of the creation of new risks and the reduction of existing risks. Many efforts are made to reduce disaster risks, but informal housing in disaster-prone areas remains a major challenge that has not been addressed yet in a comprehensive strategy. Current disaster risk reduction policies also fall short when it comes to avoiding the creation of new risks to households and businesses. UNGRD has not yet made full use of central funding mechanisms, such as the National Disaster Risk Management Fund or the National Adaptation Fund, to support national government agencies and subnational governments in implementing priority measures for disaster risk reduction.

Disaster preparedness and response: The National Strategy for Disaster Response sets forth clear roles and responsibilities in emergency preparedness and response and identifies policy priorities. Regular crisis management exercises and drills are organised by the UNGRD together with stakeholders and a National Crisis Room, which enables effective co-operation in case of a disaster.

Disaster recovery and reconstruction: Risk avoidance is a policy priority in the reconstruction process, but financial assistance in the aftermath of a disaster is not yet designed accordingly. There are few systematic mechanisms for learning lessons in place to foster the improvement of disaster response over time.

Key recommendations

  • Reinforce the strategic governance framework of disaster risk management. The role of stakeholders in inter-institutional coordination platforms could be more clearly formulated and information-exchange mechanisms scaled up. To strengthen stakeholder engagement, establishing a two-way communication process is needed.

  • Strengthen the disaster risk management capacities of relevant government sectors. The resilience of sectors, such as agriculture, housing or tourism, make a crucial contribution to Colombia’s overall resilience to disasters. Sectoral risk management strategies could orientate disaster risk management responsibilities across sectors. They should include the assessment of disaster risks to sectoral activities, the reinforcement of capacities in preparing for and managing the response to disasters.

  • Focus on learning: systematic lessons learning processes and the annual monitoring of the National Plan for Disaster Risk Management’s implementation present an opportunity to identify changes in the course of action to improve performance over time.

  • Reinforce framework conditions for ensuring business continuity: the contribution of households and businesses could be increased through formulating clear responsibilities. The responsibility of owners and operators of critical infrastructure could be defined through a dedicated strategy, regulations, and through technical advice to support their role. Public private partnerships should be developed as a useful vehicle for engaging the private sector in disaster risk management.

  • Promote the use of hazard and disaster risk information in policy making and implementation. Available hazard and disaster risk information could be more fully harnessed in prioritising disaster risk management decisions, as well as in land-use planning and building code development and application.

  • Conduct a national risk assessment. A national risk assessment brings a broad range of government stakeholders together to assess risks in an integrated way. This helps build consensus across government concerning strategic investments and policy priorities throughout the disaster risk management cycle.

  • Take targeted action to reduce disaster risks. Financial incentives, such as central funding mechanisms to co-finance disaster risk reduction, could be further leveraged to scale up risk reduction investments. Strengthening enforcement capacities for land-use regulations and application of building codes could further reduce disaster risks. To that end, it would be useful to focus on continuously communicating building codes and the way they should be implemented in housing constructions. Addressing the specific vulnerabilities of low-income households with tailored disaster risk communication or by building resilience into affordable housing programs will be important going forward.

  • Reinforce disaster management capacities at all levels of government for effective disaster response at appropriate level. Early warning systems could be systematically updated to provide real-time warnings that activate disaster response at the appropriate scale. Ensuring national coverage with crisis rooms and standardised training modules and civil protection exercises could contribute to further strengthening response capacities.

  • Maximise the potential for disaster risk reduction with the funding available for recovery and reconstruction. Post-disaster assistance should be provided in a way that clearly incentivises investments in resilience measures as part of the reconstruction efforts. Clear cost-sharing mechanisms for disaster recovery and reconstruction across levels of government can help reduce the level of unplanned expenses and encourage disaster risk reduction investments.

  • Evaluate options for disaster risk insurance to boost the financial resilience of households and businesses. Disaster risk insurance can be an effective mechanism to encourage investments in disaster risk reduction and nurturing a culture of risk among households and businesses. Such insurance mechanisms also reduce the eventual liability for the central government in case of a disaster.

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