Why disaster risk reduction should be a priority in our development agenda | Jo Scheuer

23 Sep 2013

Peasants in Bangladesh In Bangladesh peasants now have the resources and capacities to build back better their homes after a tropical storm and become resilient in the face of environment threats. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

A new report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction (GFDRR) says what many of us already knew or long suspected—that disaster risk reduction is typically underfunded, misdirected and, as a result, inadequate.

The numbers speak for themselves. Over the last two decades more than $3 trillion has been spent on development aid, an astronomical number by any comparison. Yet, of this staggering amount only a fraction, $13.5 billion or 0.4 percent, has been dedicated to reducing the risk of disasters.

This may sound like a significant amount of money, but when you consider that this is spread over a 20-year time period and across numerous countries, you realize that the actual per-capita annual investment is very little.

To add to this, UNISDR’s Global Assessment Report 2013 states that since the turn of the millennium disasters have cost nearly $2.5 trillion in terms of damage, lost productivity and reconstruction efforts. Given the sheer size of the impact, it is shocking that we are investing so little in safeguarding development. The authors of the ODI report ask: “How much could have been saved if funding had been doubled, or tripled, or more?” This is a pertinent, if frustrating question.

At UNDP, we know that disaster risk reduction works and we have committed to doubling our DRR portfolio over five years, as well as including resilience in all aspects of development. Whether using local reforestation programmes to protect villages from flooding in Nepal or expanding early warning to mobile phones in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the countries that have received sustained and coordinated support from partners are those that have made huge leaps in identifying and reducing the impact of crises.

The report also highlights another worrisome problem— that the international community is not targeting support where it is needed most, with little rhyme or reason as to where funds end up or what the long-term goals are. As it is, what little support is given to disaster risk reduction is often concentrated in only a handful of countries, mostly middle-income and not necessarily the most at-risk. These issues must be rectified if we are to protect lives and secure our development gains.

It is obvious that there is a chronic problem in how we finance disaster risk reduction and we are, as a consequence, throwing good money after bad. This has to change— financing for disaster risk reduction must be visible, deliberate and significant if it is to be effective.

Talk to us: Do you agree that there can be no sustainable development without comprehensive disaster risk reduction?

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