By Margareta Wahlström, UN Secretary-General Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction
We all know that donors’ hearts are in the right place when it comes to disaster risk reduction (DRR), but the big question is how many of them can see their way through the fog of need to invest in long-term initiatives which save lives and precious assets while reducing the need for short-term humanitarian assistance?
Aid lore is littered with tales such as that of the Mozambique Government which sought a few million dollars some twenty years ago to invest in flood management, to no avail. A few years later the same donors were responding to the humanitarian needs of flood victims with over a $100 million.
Any thought that was given to DRR in Haiti before the January 2010 earthquake was focused on the ever-present Atlantic hurricane season. As the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) observed earlier this year “the focus of preparedness in Haiti was overwhelmingly on seasonal climatic events. Rare, but catastrophic events were not contemplated. The poorest countries are the least able and willing to invest in risk reduction, including in preparedness. Considering the urgency of everyday needs faced by these countries, the onus for risk reduction and disaster preparedness should be more on the international community”.
I saw myself last week in Haiti that much still needs to be done in terms of embedding disaster risk reduction in the recovery phase but there is certainly a greater awareness of the issues when it comes to reconstruction of health facilities and schools which tumbled into rubble during the earthquake.
These are just some of the reasons why UNISDR extends a wholehearted welcome to the new report from Development Initiatives – Disaster Risk Reduction: Spending Where It Should Count – which takes on the considerable challenge of shedding light on how much donors actually do invest in disaster risk reduction.
I am not too surprised at the outcome but it’s good to have the evidence based on solid investigation of official development assistance (ODA) contributions over a ten-year period (2000-2009). If anything, the report’s authors may have erred on the generous side in calculating that 1% of all development aid to the top 40 humanitarian/emergency aid recipients is for DRR i.e. $3.7 billion out of $363 billion received in total aid by these countries.
As though to add insult to injury, the report also finds that in 2009, 68% of DRR financing came from humanitarian funds, a disturbing signal that we are still all too good at locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
So what’s happening? Why is DRR still flying under the radar in the 40 neediest nations on the planet? After all, they accounted for 847.5 million of the 2.2 billion people affected worldwide during the decade under scrutiny and almost 600,000 of the 840,000 dead.
The only statistic where these countries fall short on the global scale of things is economic damages, mustering just $74 billion out of a worldwide total of $891 billion.
However, there can be little doubt that to consider the monetary value alone of these damages is to underestimate the impact on poor nations of the loss of key development assets such as roads, bridges, schools and health facilities. Many of these losses are recurring ones because of the lack of strong risk governance in many least developed and most exposed countries.
It is impossible to reflect in these numbers the excruciating setbacks which poor families can suffer as a result of a flood, a storm or an earthquake which destroys the family home. The loss is much more profound than simply the price of the flimsy materials used to construct it. The so-called shack or slum dwelling is often the workplace, a sanctuary for children, and the only defence against the environmental hazards which often dictate where the poor can afford to settle.
We should never forget the human impact which disaster statistics represent as this can play a significant part in convincing donors that disaster risk reduction has a major contribution to make towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and building the bulwarks against climate change.
There are many anomalies highlighted in this report. The large portion of development aid directed at countries affected in one way or another by the “War on Terror” stands out. So too does the fact that while the top 40 aid recipients regularly account for the highest proportion of deaths due to flooding, flood-related DRR funding in general goes to countries outside this top 40.
However, the stand-out fact is that less one dollar out of every hundred dollars of aid money to the top 40 humanitarian recipient countries is spent on disaster risk reduction. And significant sums of money included under DRR are actual large-scale reconstruction projects such as seismic-resistant housing in Pakistan and Gujarat.
Funding for DRR is not targeted at countries which need it most. This report has performed a valuable service by bringing this uncomfortable truth to the fore. UNISDR as the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction is ready to work with all and sundry to help correct this.
We should always bear in mind that the most significant investment in disaster risk reduction is that made by national and local governments themselves which is why one of the priorities of the Hyogo Framework for Action emphasizes the creation of national budget lines for DRR.
Clear international policy and coherence on DRR spending by aid donors will help in terms of setting the direction but ultimately ODA spending on DRR will have little sustainable impact unless beneficiary countries are convinced of the value of a risk management and risk reduction approach. The funding criteria of ODA donors are particularly important in countries where there is a high degree of state budgetary dependence on ODA.
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