Chapter 1. Assessment and recommendations

This chapter provides an overview of the key findings of the disaster risk governance of Colombia. It identifies good practices and success factors, as well as persisting bottlenecks towards a disaster risk governance system that supports policy outcomes for sustainable and inclusive development across the country. In addition, this chapter features a list of recommendations to further improve disaster risk governance in Colombia in the future from disaster risk identification and assessment to disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness and response and disaster recovery. The chapter also gives recommendations to further strengthen strategic leadership capacities and whole-of-society engagement in disaster risk governance.


Colombia’s exposure to natural hazards and its growing number of interconnected risks require strong disaster risk management capacities anchored in an effective risk governance framework. Colombia’s topography and climate have shaped the country’s exposure to a wide range of natural hazards, including earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, as well significant hydro-meteorological risks. Rapid urbanisation, climate change and years of armed conflict are some of the factors that have influenced the frequency, scale and complexity of disaster events. An increase in natural resource extraction, including hydropower and hydraulic fracturing, has brought about interconnected Natech (natural hazard triggering technological) risks. To manage this increasingly complex landscape of risks, Colombia needs an effective risk governance framework that revolves around a strong central leadership that steers and coordinates governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to contribute to a shared risk reduction agenda.

This OECD disaster risk governance scan evaluates Colombia’s progress in implementing the risk governance framework established through Law 1523/2012, which aimed at providing an overarching risk governance framework that anchors the country’s disaster risk management in the national policy agenda, embracing a culture of disaster risk reduction in addition to a strong disaster preparedness and response capacity. This chapter summarises the OECD’s assessment of Colombia’s risk governance framework and provides a set of policy recommendations that seek to inform Colombia’s disaster risk management work going forward.


The strategic value of Colombia’s national risk governance framework

The introduction of Law 1523/2012 established a comprehensive multi-hazard framework that is strongly anchored in the national policy agenda. The law considers natural hazards as well as Natech risks, and unintentional man-made hazards. Intentional man-made hazards, such as terrorism, do not fall under its provisions. Since the introduction of the law, disaster risk management has also been included in the National Development Plan as a cross-cutting priority to be embedded in national sectoral as well as territorial planning, to ensure sustainable development in Colombia.

Colombia has recognised the need for mainstreaming disaster risk management across government agencies at central and subnational level, as well as among non-governmental actors. Law 1523/2012 formally recognises the importance of a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach to disaster risk management. While detailed responsibilities for governmental actors can be found in the law, the national disaster risk management plan and the annual monitoring reports, the contributions expected from households and businesses have not been clearly spelled out. Nonetheless, there are a number of good practices in disaster risk management emerging from businesses, including critical infrastructure.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (Unidad Nacional para la Gestión del Riesgo de Desastres, UNGRD) holds the central government leadership function for disaster risk management in Colombia. Law 1523/2012 established the agency as part of the centre of government through the Administrative Department of the Presidency of the Republic. The UNGRD has carried out its leadership function through the formulation of the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management, the provision of technical assistance and an oversight function, as well as facilitating the collaboration of all key stakeholders to work together in the implementation of national priorities. Although technical assistance has helped to foster the implementation of the disaster risk management agenda, there remains a significant untapped potential for the UNGRD to mobilise central disaster risk funding instruments to encourage disaster risk management investments across government departments and levels of government.

Colombia has established inter-institutional platforms to foster cross-sectoral and cross-governmental coordination in implementing the disaster risk management agenda. The UNGRD organises the inter-agency coordination through a national Disaster Risk Management Council and three technical committees that convene all the relevant governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. Although the roles for each committee are clearly defined, actual activities have overlapped. In addition, linkages between the committees that could inform their work respectively have not yet been fully leveraged.

Colombia has established a number of channels for non-governmental stakeholders to participate in policy-making. Online consultation processes, town hall meetings and public hearings are used to give those stakeholders the opportunity to participate in the policy-making process. Some disaster risk management policies, such as land-use planning and building code development, are open to public consultation. In other areas, such as hazard assessments and decisions on structural disaster risk management measures, there is room to better engage non-governmental actors in the policy-making process.

The Colombian disaster risk management framework recognises the importance of transparency and accountability, and several practices show progress in implementation. For example, the results of the annual monitoring of the implementation of the National Disaster Risk Management Plan are published online. Financial support for disaster recovery and reconstruction, as well as investments in disaster risk reduction are subject to the provisions of the Anticorruption Plan, which promotes transparency in the use of public resources.

Disaster risk identification and assessment

Significant progress has been made to identify and assess natural hazards in Colombia, while risk assessments are increasingly prioritised. While at the national level hazard assessments have become available for almost all types natural hazards, more granulated information that can inform local-level decision making is still missing. Tying in hazard information with data on exposures in order to obtain risk information has been recognised as a priority in national policies, but risk information is still scarce. There is scope to improve the sharing of hazard and risk knowledge between public and private stakeholders to improve, in particular, the understanding of interconnected and systemic risks. The National Disaster Risk Management Plan does not foresee a national risk assessment, an important tool to guide priority setting in disaster risk management.

Disaster risk reduction

Disaster risk reduction have become a core priority embraced in Colombia’s current disaster risk management legislation and national policy framework. Colombia has embraced a two-pronged approach to disaster risk reduction, which consists of avoiding the creation of new risks on the one hand, and the reduction of existing risks on the other. While a significant number of efforts have been put into the avoidance of the creation of new risks, a major issue, which is informal housing in disaster-prone areas, has not been addressed yet in a comprehensive strategy. Current disaster risk reduction policies also fall short of designing a role for households in avoiding the creation of new risks. To foster implementation of policy priorities in disaster risk reduction, the UNGRD has not yet made full use of the potential of using central funding mechanisms, such as the National Disaster Risk Management Fund or the National Adaptation Fund, to support national government agencies or subnational governments in implementing disaster risk reduction measures.

Disaster preparedness and response

A solid disaster preparedness and response management system has been established in Colombia, with clear roles and responsibilities for all relevant stakeholders. The National Disaster Risk Management Plan formulates concrete disaster preparedness objectives for public stakeholders in the National Disaster Risk Management System. With the National Strategy for Disaster Response, an emergency management plan accompanied by response protocols is in place at the national level, requiring service providers to have their own emergency management plans in place. Regular crisis management exercises and drills are organised by the UNGRD together with stakeholders and a National Crisis Room enables effective co-operation in case of a disaster.

Disaster recovery and reconstruction

Colombia’s national policies have focused on the avoidance of recreating existing risks in the rehabilitation and reconstruction process. However, it is not clear how post-disaster financial assistance in Colombia is designed to foster a risk-avoidance approach. Colombia has not established mechanisms that allow it to systematically draw lessons in the aftermath of a disaster to improve the response mechanisms over time.


Strategic governance framework of disaster risk management

  • Reinforce the effectiveness of cross-governmental co-ordination and co-operation. The role of inter-institutional platforms could be more clearly defined to avoid redundancies, while linkages and information exchanges between the different platforms could be reinforced to improve effectiveness.

  • Design sector-specific disaster risk management strategies, for those sectors most affected by disasters. The strategies should aim at fostering a risk culture, strengthening institutions, including regulatory frameworks, to carry out disaster risk management activities. Finally, sectoral strategies should establish clear plans to fund disaster risk management activities.

  • Make room for learning. The results of the annual monitoring report of the implementation of the National Plan for Disaster Risk Management provide an excellent opportunity to suggest changes in the course of action. Similarly, systematically assessing the lessons learnt in the aftermath of a disaster can help improve the performance of Colombia’s disaster risk management system over time. This function could be incorporated in the National Committee for Disaster Management.

  • Make stakeholder engagement tools meaningful in the policy-setting process. To make policy processes truly open and inclusive, a two-way communication process should be fostered that ensures that contributions of stakeholders are taken into account in the actions taken by disaster risk managers.

Whole-of-society engagement in disaster risk management

  • Determine clear roles and responsibilities for households and businesses in disaster risk management. Responsibilities for households and businesses could be more clearly formulated. This could include the introduction of specific resilience requirements, such as business continuity plans or structural reinforcement measures that go beyond the existing requirement to develop emergency management plans. Technical support by government agencies can help reinforce capacities.

  • Strengthen the engagement of critical infrastructure owners and operators in resilience management. This can include a requirement to conduct regular risk assessments on an infrastructure asset or operator level. Government agencies can support this by sharing the results of public risk identification and assessment exercises. Supporting the development of insurance markets for critical infrastructure could increase the uptake of risk transfer measures.

  • Explore public private partnerships in the process of strengthening resilience of non-governmental actors. Public-private partnerships could be useful vehicles to strengthen resilience of all actors, for example for working together on conducting and sharing information on the results of risk assessments, or for exploring the options for developing risk transfer markets.

Disaster risk identification and assessment

  • Encourage an all-hazards approach to disaster risk identification and assessment. This involves closing gaps in covering all areas of socio-economic activity with all-hazard maps. Based on an identification of prevalent hazards, interconnected risks, including Natech risks, should be evaluated to improve the effectiveness of resilience measures.

  • Consider conducting a national risk assessment. A national risk assessment brings all stakeholders together to assess risks in an integrated way to build consensus across government concerning strategic investments and policy priorities throughout the disaster risk management cycle.

  • Scale-up disaster risk assessment efforts. To prioritise disaster risk management measures, hazard assessments should increasingly be complemented by risk assessments that take account of the exposure and vulnerability of people and economic assets to prevailing hazards. To that end, an assessment of the capacities to generate and use risk knowledge by the different responsible entities might be useful, to devise areas that need technical reinforcement.

  • Promote the use hazard and disaster risk information in policy making and implementation. Consistently use hazard and disaster risk information in determining and prioritising disaster risk management measures. Harness hazard and disaster risk information in land-use planning as well as in building code development and application.

Disaster risk reduction

  • Strengthen disaster risk reduction efforts by technical units and key sectoral institutions through capacity building activities and training programs.

  • Set incentives for all government agencies to encourage disaster risk reduction investments. This could include using central funding mechanisms, such as the National Disaster Risk Management Fund, to co-finance disaster risk reduction actions by all government agencies, as well as by subnational governments.

  • Take targeted action to avoid the creation of new risks through unplanned urbanisation. Such action could include strengthening enforcement capacities for land-use regulations and building codes or the use of financial incentives to discourage informal settlements in hazard-prone areas.

  • Address the specific vulnerabilities of the poor to disaster risks. This could include disaster risk communication tailored to low-income households and specifically designed training in emergency preparedness and response. Furthermore, technical assistance could be made available for building resilience into affordable housing programs. Finally, social protection mechanisms could be used more systematically to integrate support for low-income households affected by disasters.

Emergency preparedness and response

  • Continue to strengthen early warning systems throughout the country. Available warning systems, such as seismic warning systems, should be upgraded to real-time early warning systems that converge in a national response coordination centre to activate disaster response at the appropriate scale.

  • Ensure consistent emergency management capacities at all levels of government for effective disaster response at appropriate level. This includes ensuring national coverage with crisis rooms, co-ordinated by the National Crisis Room. Standardised training modules and civil protection exercises could contribute to further strengthening disaster management capacities.

Disaster recovery and reconstruction

  • Maximise the disaster risk reduction potential with the available funding for recovery and reconstruction. Post-disaster assistance should be provided in a way that clearly incentivises betterment (i.e. build back better), by requiring resilience measures as part of the supported reconstruction efforts or by aligning the size of assistance with the implementation of disaster risk reduction measures.

  • Ensure transparency in the use of disaster recovery and reconstruction funding to increase efficiency in resource use. This could include publishing how the funds for public disaster recovery and reconstruction were allocated to recipients.

  • Establish clear cost-sharing mechanisms for disaster recovery and reconstruction across levels of government. Predetermined cost-sharing mechanisms help reduce the level of unplanned expenses in the aftermath of disasters and encourage disaster risk reduction investments by subnational levels of government.

  • Evaluating 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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