Where’s the cash for disaster risk reduction? Are our stories not convincing enough?

young woman wearing a red and gold sari on an orange background Lucy Pearson is GNDR Advocacy Coordinator

Lucy Pearson discusses why we need to demonstrate the benefits of DRR with more than just impacting stories.

Today is the International Day for Disaster Reduction. The one day of the year where attention is put on disasters and the need for investment in not the relief after them, but the efforts to try and reduce them before they even happen.

On this day, UNISDR has invited submissions of stories which demonstrate best practice in reducing mortality from natural and man-made hazards. Our members have hundreds of these stories. For example, the Apachita Foundation and the Candelaria Centre for Women worked together in Bolivia to build women’s capacities to construct deep wells that provide water for entire families to cope during droughts. With the new wells, there has been enough water to look after subsistence crops, reducing the risk of deaths from malnutrition during the next drought.

We share these stories regularly. And yet NGOs struggle to get funding to scale up these approaches. Our members are in constant search for money to continue this good work and GNDR as a network has also struggled to find funds to support them. But why? Are our stories not convincing enough?

The task posed by UNISDR reflects a challenge in the sector as a whole: It is extremely difficult to demonstrate the significant added value of DRR. It is hard to calculate how many lives haven’t been lost, or the extent to which livelihoods haven’t been destroyed. And for donors that work under value-for-money principles, cost-benefit analyses and impact assessment reports, it’s no wonder they are more comfortable to divert increasing amounts of money from DRR and preparedness, to instead go to provide food aid to a defined number of people after a disaster.

If we are to implement the activities outlined in the Sendai Framework for DRR, and to achieve the targets that countries have set themselves within this, then financial and technological resources are needed. This is even recognised in the UN framework. So what do we need to do to finally get the means of implementation required for us to successfully reduce disaster risk?

More and more I think that the answer is thorough quantitative research that will demonstrate the financial savings of DRR. I’m not saying donors don’t care about number of lives saved, but they work in money: this is the language they speak and the literal currency they work in. For a long time NGOs have clung on to the statistic that $1 spent on DRR saves $4 or even $7 in response. But it has emerged that many of those statistics are unfounded and almost impossible to trace back to an original source. Further, the existing studies tend to focus exclusively on the value of structural mitigation, such as dykes and flood walls.

If we are to persuade donors that DRR is worth investing in, we in turn are going to have to invest in more concrete research on the financial savings of both structural and non-structural DRR measures. How much money, which would otherwise be spent on food aid after a flood, will be saved if we create welfare systems? How much money, which would otherwise be spent on temporary housing after an earthquake, will be saved if we integrate risk awareness into school curriculums? And perhaps most difficult: How much money will be saved by implementing these different DRR approaches, which would otherwise be lost from individuals’ foregone earning and spending capacity when they die? Germany’s Relief Coalition has just released an interesting study that attempts to look into some of these questions, looking at the overall benefit of different DRR approaches calculated in terms of money, based on 117 examples. But this sort of research needs to be conducted in further contexts around the world and shared widely.

I am inspired by the stories we collect, and think they are critical to demonstrate how lives are saved as a result of DRR initiatives. But different audiences need different types of evidence, and so we must complement these incredible stories with financial figures.
I hope, like I do every International Day for Disaster Reduction, that the spotlight on the need for investment in DRR will not fade after today. But instead will continue throughout the rest of the year. Because communities face disasters every day, and GNDR members spend every day of the year working on DRR 

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