Disaster Risk Reduction

While disasters strike all countries, developing countries still bear the brunt of human and economic costs because of their underlying vulnerabilities and the limited capacity of their governments to respond. Disaster risk reduction (DRR) is a proven, effective mechanism to reduce vulnerability to disaster—and therefore the costs of recovering from disaster—through analysis and management of risks. In 2015, USAID/OFDA spent approximately $90 million in direct DRR funding and $66 million supporting DRR in other programs. Yet, this only accounts for a very small percentage of the overall need.

Waiting until after a disaster strikes to invest in DRR as part of relief and reconstruction is not sustainable and undermines U.S. humanitarian, development, and stability goals. Economic disaster losses in developing nations over the last 20 years have amounted to an estimated $862 billion, equivalent in value to one-third of all international development aid during that same timespan. Over the past eight years, an average of 25 million people were displaced each year by sudden-onset disasters. Furthermore, other high-frequency, low-intensity disasters affect even more people yet often go unnoticed both by media and policymakers. Unfortunately, these trends are only anticipated to increase in the coming decades, compounded by more extreme weather events brought on by climate change. For the first time in history, a majority of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, and by 2050 this figure will reach 70%, amplifying the threat to lives and economic impacts.

InterAction Recognizes

  • DRR is proactive and cost effective. Research shows that strategic investments that support the most vulnerable countries and communities to prepare, reduce, and manage disaster risks save lives, mitigate displacement, and reduce losses. A World Bank report notes that in developing countries where the quality of existing infrastructure—such as housing, schools, hospitals, bridges, and roads­—is likely to be poor, the net economic benefits of DRR activities can be substantial.

  • DRR could be more effective if it is strategically integrated into development assistance and other interventions. Since many disaster-prone areas are subject to repeated, low-intensity events which erode livelihoods and entrench poverty, funding should be long-term, flexible, and accessible at the local level to better reduce the impacts. However, under current budget arrangements, DRR financing tends to come from humanitarian funds, which are necessary but are also stretched across existing emergency humanitarian needs. Resolving this will require the availability of development resources to substantially enhance risk reduction efforts. DRR considerations must be mainstreamed into development project components such as design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation standards.

  • Understanding local context and working with civil society organizations will make risk reduction measures more sustainable. Recognizing the underlying causes of vulnerability and incorporating local knowledge, local expertise, and coping mechanisms, augmented by scientific research data, are crucial to reduce disaster impacts and strengthen resilience. At-risk communities are able to self-organize, prioritize decision making, and manage risks. These local partners should be equals in the development of policies and implementation of programs supported by the U.S. government. National and local governments should be enabled to better prepare for and respond to disasters.

  • Frequent, small-scale disasters cause a greater cumulative effect than large-scale crises. While mega-disasters like the earthquakes in Haiti, Japan, and Nepal and Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines capture global attention and emotions, the cumulative impact of everyday, small-scale disasters affect more people and are major impediments to long-term development. 

Upcoming Opportunities

  • Support coherent implementation of global development frameworks, such as the Sendai Framework for DRR, the Sustainable Development Goals, Financing for Development, and Habitat 3 [Ongoing]: All of these globally accepted frameworks highlight the importance of preparedness and proactive risk reduction. Accordant policies should be developed with broad consultation and mainstreamed within relevant U.S. institutions. A clear, financial commitment should be made with adequate transparency and accountability.

  • USAID should develop and institutionalize a comprehensive strategy to integrate DRR into ongoing development initiatives and resource it appropriately [2017]: The traditional siloing of DRR and development programming has deterred more integrated approaches to building resilience and has resulted in missed opportunities to safeguard development investments, leverage funding sources, and capitalize on complimentary benefits. A comprehensive DRR and resilience strategy should designate DRR focal points at USAID, including other bureaus within USAID (such as the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance) and USAID country missions, and other relevant institutions to better liaise with donors, national governments, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders. The strategy should incorporate a culture of resilience building as one of the requirements for overseas development aid to ensure all new development investments are risk informed, reduce risks, and are acceptable to those who bear the risks. This approach would also ensure that funding is allocated to the most at-risk countries.

  • U.S. overseas assistance programs should support risk reduction prior to, during, and after disasters [Ongoing]: Opportunities exist through: strengthening risk mapping, risk awareness, early warning, and early action in local communities; ensuring that recovery and reconstruction programs link with humanitarian assistance; promoting multisectoral, disaster-resistant shelters, and safer settlements during pre- and post-disaster contexts; and incorporating a culture of resilience for children and youth through school curricula.

Additional Materials

  • Building Resilience: Integrating Climate and Disaster Risk into Development, 2013, bit.ly/2cyibvQ

  • Economic and Financial Impacts of Natural Disasters: an Assessment of Their Effects and Options for Mitigation: Synthesis Report, 2003, bit.ly/2dmhJ0y

  • Global Damage from Extreme Weather and Other Disasters Set to Break $200 Billion a Year, 2013, bit.ly/2dlho2g

  • How Climate Change Threatens the Ability of Global Populations to Rise Out of Poverty, 2013, bit.ly/2d3UIQE

  • Impact of Extensive Disasters, 2013, bit.ly/2cwsRX6

  • Recurring Low-Intensity Disasters Test Disaster Preparedness Systems, 2013, bit.ly/2cXaoWq

  • Revealing Risk, Redefining Development, bit.ly/2db36hv

  • Weather-Related and Low Intensity Risk on the Rise, bit.ly/2cyhfrh

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