Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Resilience Strategies

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and disaster resilience strategies aim to prevent and reduce disaster risks by strengthening the resilience of infrastructure, systems, communities or societies. Resilient sanitation service chains can resist, absorb, manage and adapt to hazards and recover from their impact quickly and efficiently. To maintain sanitation service chains in the event of a disaster, resilience strategies need to be developed as an integral part of the implementation and operation of the systems. DRR and resilience strategies are more effectively mainstreamed when risk management tools are used early in the project planning phase. 

Key Actions
  • Consider risk assessments and the mainstreaming of potential disaster risks and resilience measures along the entire project cycle of sanitation service chains
  • Ensure that the design of sanitation service chains addresses earlier vulnerabilities (building back better)
  • Ensure that sanitation service chains have a minimal negative impact on society and the environment (‘do no harm’)
  • Provide sanitation-related capacity development and targeted training on risk reduction to local volunteers and emergency personnel
  • Strengthen local structures through community-level planning and training (see also Capacity Development)
  • Consider preparedness measures such as stockpiling relevant sanitation equipment and materials (e.g. prefabricated latrine slabs, construction materials, or hygiene items) before potentially hazardous events (see also Contingency Planning)
  • Identify sanitation service providers that may be able to provide relevant services in crisis situations (e.g. local desludging companies, mobile toilet providers, treatment plant operators). Consider establishing support networks across organisations, institutions and regions. See also Support Networks and Stand-By Arrangements.
  • Develop an Emergency Preparedness Plan and keep it up-to-date. Emergency Preparedness Plans help to detail out the potential risks and hazards for the target area and the likely actions, decisions, roles and responsibilities required in the event of a crisis.
  • Take measures to save water and use it efficiently (including recycling greywater) in water-scarce areas. Water scarcity can also lead to reduced biological and chemical water quality. For this reason, use water of a higher quality for human consumption and water of lower quality for other purposes e.g. flushing toilets with greywater.
  • Address the potential impact of the destructive force of flood waters in the structural design of sanitation systems and when selecting a location for a sanitation superstructure in areas where flooding is a common risk. Flooded sanitation systems and latrines increase the risk of pathogens being released into the environment and, especially, into drinking water resources (e.g. wells or groundwater). To avoid this, toilets (and subsequent technologies of the sanitation service chain) should be located at a distance of at least 30 metres from a water source, or at a higher altitude that is less prone to flooding. Where this is not possible, latrines can also be sealed to avoid contact with groundwater.

Disasters can cause damage and dysfunction to sanitation service chains resulting in increased public health risks; the risks are disproportionally high for vulnerable populations.  In recent decades the frequency, intensity and impact of disaster hazards have increased due to climate change, conflicts and biological events such as COVID-19. Disasters happen and, in general, cannot be avoided. DRR helps to reduce existing disaster risks and prevent new risks. Resilience strategies help to build more resilient sanitation service chains by strengthening preparedness and coping capacities.


Different disaster risks impact sanitation systems differently.

The physical destruction of sanitation infrastructure is the most likely impact. It may be the result of geophysical events such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions or of conflicts. It can also be caused by climatic or weather-related events such as floods, mudslides, hurricanes or heavy precipitation. Such events also have the potential to negatively affect sanitation systems through, for example, increased stormwater run-off that can lead to overflowing latrine pits or septic tanks or a negative impact on the subsequent treatment processes. This in turn increases the pathogenic contamination of the environment and the risk of water-related diseases with consequences such as diarrhoea and malnutrition. In larger sewered systems, where stormwater is collected together with wastewater, it may also exceed the capacity of the overall system and treatment plant resulting in excess water being released into the environment untreated. Droughts can also contribute to an increased pollutant load and increased water temperature. The latter tends to increase the number of pathogens and thus the risk of water-related diseases. In addition, water shortages may have an impact on water-based sanitation systems due to the limited availability of water for flushing, anal cleansing and, potentially, proper hand hygiene and personal hygiene practices. (GWP, UNICEF 2017)

As well as physical destruction, sanitation service chains are affected by the general disorder following a disaster event. For instance, pit-emptying services may no longer be available or operators (of, e.g., faecal sludge management treatment plants) are injured or can’t come to work because the public transport system is no longer running. Therefore, DRR and resilience strategies focus not only on physical infrastructure but also consider aspects related to the supply chain or community organisation. DRR involves activities for the prevention and mitigation of disaster risks. Resilience strategies build up preparedness against risks in order to respond in a targeted and effective manner in the event of a disaster:

  • Prevention includes measures taken to avoid and mitigate existing and new disaster risks. Avoidance can be achieved by, for example, relocating exposed infrastructure away from a hazardous area. Mitigation aims to limit the adverse impacts of disaster hazards. This can be done by, for example, constructing flood defences, more resilient infrastructure and dams to reduce floods or land/ mudslides (see also Challenging Climate Contexts short chapter overview).
  • Preparedness is the capacity to anticipate, respond to or recover from hazard events. It can include early warning systems, the development of human capacities (see also Capacity Development), preparing emergency supplies (see also Contingency Planning or developing Standard Operational Procedures for different types of disasters (see Management and Operational Plans.

To develop appropriate preparedness and response strategies, it is essential to understand which current and future hazards and risks will occur. For example, predicting droughts, their extent and their impacts enable sanitation interventions to be planned more specifically, respond better and, as a result, increase the resilience of the communities (BMI 2022).

Disaster-preventive reconstruction (‘build back better’) is a form of DRR. It aims to restore the livelihoods of affected people in the region after a disaster while minimising future risks. One example is the construction of sanitation systems in less flood-exposed locations or elevated toilet facilities. Appropriate DRR and resilience measures must be considered at the beginning of project planning. Typical steps are (1) risk analyses, (2) identification, assessment and prioritisation of measures, (3) integration of risk measures into project planning and (4) monitoring and evaluation of measures.

Risk mainstreaming tools are a great option for integrating DRR and resilience measures into programme and project planning. These tools usually follow the four steps mentioned above and are often universally applicable to different sectors such as WASH, livelihood or urban development. In addition to the disaster risks that threaten water and sanitation systems, these mainstreaming tools also consider the risks that the project or the sanitation infrastructure itself may pose to people and the environment. Available tools, recommended by ECHO (European Community Humanitarian Office), are NEAT+ and CEDRIG.

Author(s) (1)
Thorsten Reckerzügl
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s) (2)
Rob Gensch
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Dorothee Spuhler
Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag)

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