Re-thinking index-based disaster risk assessments

By Mia Wannewitz, UNU-EHS Master’s Graduate

Over the course of the past two decades, indices for informing Disaster Risk Management (DRM) have become an increasingly popular tool for assessing vulnerability to disaster risk. Particularly, the development of global scale indices with nation-state resolution experienced a major boost and has facilitated the identification of risk hot spots and country comparisons. Despite their popularity, their actual utility for decision-makers in the field of DRM remains contested, as they provide relatively little information for national DRM. This gives rise to two basic questions: First, are scientists developing the right tools for informing decision-making in the field of DRM? And second, are the developed tools valuable and useful to end-users?

As part of my master thesis at UNU-EHS, I downscaled the global World Risk Index ( to sub-national scale using the example of the Philippines (Fig. 1). In a second step, I validated its utility for potential end-users through an expert-based, utilization-focused evaluation process in which I conducted several semi-structured interviews with different Philippine DRM stakeholders.

The results highlight the necessity to consider end-user needs, capacities and knowledge in the development of risk assessment tools in order to increase their utility and applicability in the context decision-making in DRM.