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OPINION: The world needs better funding for disaster risk reduction

Jan Kellett, Senior Research Advisor at ODI, explains why disaster risk reduction efforts should be incorporated in core national policies, and considers progress made so far towards that goal

Much more work is needed to make international disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts long lasting and effective. This will require a shift in the balance from financing standalone projects towards the integration of risk at the heart of vulnerable countries’ development. This change in direction is clear in the mid-term review of the Hyogo Framework for Action, the global community’s blueprint for advancing DRR.

In little over 18 months, a grand gathering will meet in Japan to review countries’ ten years of implementing this blueprint, and to decide upon the future of global efforts to reduce disaster risk. Fittingly, this event – the World Conference on DRR – will be held in Sendai, the city in the northeast of the country that was so badly affected by the tsunami of 2011. It is also a suitable venue because Japan, one of the most high-risk countries in the world for natural hazards, has also been one of the largest donors of aid to DRR.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI), together with the World Bank Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, will launch a report in September that examines how the international community has contributed to financing DRR, how much has been spent, where, and crucially, for what reasons. A snapshot of this information was released at the Global Platform for DRR earlier this year, painting a rather bleak picture of DRR financing as a low priority. Funding is highly concentrated in a few countries and considerable scrutiny is required on the adequacy, sustainability and equity of the money spent.

The data suggests a reasonably sustained but modest volume of one billion dollars a year has gone to DRR in the last three or four years. Modest, because it is a fraction of what the international community commits to other issues; for example, it is one tenth of that spent on peacekeeping and about one fifth of food aid. It also highlights the very high volumes spent after a disaster, rather than investment before. One reason for such weak financing is that there are actually very few dedicated financing mechanisms for DRR.

The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery is probably the only source of pooled funding that focuses exclusively on reducing the risk of disaster. Managed by the World Bank, it has received US$322 million since 2006. This works out roughly to US$60 million each year. This leaves around US$900 million of DRR financing to come through a complicated range of channels.

Partly this is because of the nature of the aid system, which fragments financing into a myriad of delivery routes, a complex maze informed by mandate (DRR-specific, humanitarian, development, sector, to name just a few) and then through the vast range of very different actors (UN, international NGOs, national governments, the private sector, national civil society etc.) This often unhelpful complexity is, of course, nothing new.

The fragmentation is further complicated by the nature of the work itself, which has two broad components:

  • dedicated DRR work to be done, such as setting up of legislative frameworks and building of crisis-response institutions and systems; and
  • the lengthy process of integrating disaster risk into development work.

The 2013 Global Assessment Report tells us there has been some progress in the former. Much more needs to be done on the latter.

A further reason for fragmentation of DRR investment (rather than sustained commitment) is that donors have often seen it as a humanitarian issue, and confined it to emergency departments, were it is weighed down by short-term perspectives and revolving year-on-year financing, with little connection to the long-term development and its larger budget. It is a somewhat perverse state of affairs where the international aid system openly advocates for national governments to put risk at the heart of development, when many parts of it have often failed to do so themselves. There are some good signs, though, with quite a few governments and institutions, such as the UNDP, making strides to change this dynamic – this must be supported and encouraged.

Support national priorities

To overcome these challenges, we need to ask: Do we have the right tools available? Do we need to retain flexibility in the system? Or, do we need more structure in order to support change, and perhaps to better evaluate impact? And what will it take to make the necessary changes?

Of course, the international aid is limited. Traditional donor nations have been under pressure in recent years, and there is little likelihood of substantial additional expenditures in the near future. If more can be done to leverage funds from beyond DRR departments, this may not be as critical an issue as it might first suggest. Funding is not however constrained to these ‘traditional sources’.

There are considerable funds from outside of the system that could be better brought to bear in reducing disaster risk; other donor nations, the private sector and individual contributions to name three. However, it is national governments that are responsible for managing disaster risk, from reduction through to response and recovery, and it is here the ‘heavy lifting’ is expected.

Some countries have invested heavily in moving beyond preparedness to the reduction of risk; the Philippines is a perfect example. A soon-to-be released ODI case study considers the achievements the country has made in advancing the disaster risk agenda, the formulation of a comprehensive DRR legislation and responsible institutions, the US$1 billion spent annually from domestic resources to reduce risk, and the high consciousness of the impact of disasters across civil society.

Yet even here, in one of the most optimistic of contexts, there are still issues to address, in implementing the full range of activities under the new act, developing the necessary range of integrated early warning and information management resources needed, and ensuring change occurs at a local level.

This brings us back to international aid and to the role it should play, for if national governments are responsible for the bulk of expenditure, then what is the international community for? What should this system fund and implement, in comparison to national governments and other actors in developing countries?

A second consideration is about effectiveness. We’ve seen eight years of DRR work under the Hyogo framework, how effective has that investment from the international community been thus far, what are the lessons we have learnt, and what, if anything, needs to change?

A third question is about who should be doing this work. Who is best placed to implement? And finally, what is the required business case for once and for all making risk a core part of development, and ensuring sustainable international support for integrated DRR well into the future.

Opportunities for change

The opportunities for supporting a more robust financing of DRR, one that would support such an integrated’ agenda, are certainly there. On the one hand, the recent Global Platform for DRR suggested very strongly that we are now in the implementation phase. Delegates made it clear they are keen to move beyond rhetoric. National platforms have been set up, legislations have in large part been created, institutions developed – now results are needed.

Global policy is starting to shift towards risk. It looks as if the successor to the MDGs could make the reduction of disaster risk a goal or indicator of successful development; the most recent positive sign was the high level panel’s recommendations for including DRR within an overarching goal for reducing poverty. It may not have satisfied the ardent disaster risk activist, but it is already better than the MDGs, which didn’t mention disasters at all.

Finally, climate adaptation financing is increasingly likely to fund the reduction of disaster risk as a core target. Six years ago no adaptation project had DRR as a central goal. By 2011, 15% of all funding was dedicated solely to DRR. Given that the Green growth fund has been suggested to be managing a total of US$100 billion yearly, some of which will go towards adaptation activities, we can expect more money for DRR from this direction.

The final question might be: do we wait until the next great disaster or do we act on these opportunities now?

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