Then and now: 25 years of disasters, responses, and risk management
By Jessica Alexander
A stitch in time saves nine. When it comes to disaster management, this has been proven correct time and time again. Investing beforehand in risk reduction – think flood defences, early warning systems, evacuation plans – minimises the damage, the loss of life, and the financial cost of the response after disaster strikes.
1990, UN: A decade devoted to ‘natural disaster reduction’
At the start of the decade, disasters are regarded as extreme events that people can prepare for but not predict. As an early 1990s slogan from the Pan American Health Organization puts it: “Disasters don’t warn; be prepared.”
2009-2010: Low funding for disaster risk reduction
Among the 40 countries receiving the most humanitarian assistance in 2009, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) estimates that only 1.8 percent of humanitarian funding is directed towards disaster prevention and preparedness. Meanwhile, on the development side, ODI reports that disaster risk reduction (DRR) is a fraction of total international aid finance. Of the $3.3 trillion spent on development assistance between 1991 and 2010, only $13.65 billion went towards DRR, compared to nearly five times that amount spent on emergency response during the same period.
2020: Climate change and COVID-19 change everything
Overlapping and repeat disasters are becoming the norm as climate change drives unpredictable weather extremes. “Anticipatory action” – championed by the UN's humanitarian chief and some major donor countries as a “no brainer” – gets more traction and more funding. The approach links early warnings to pre-agreed finance and early action so humanitarians can act ahead of a hazardous event to protect people, assets, and livelihoods.