London — The world takes disaster risk reduction (DRR) seriously these days; it has been nearly 10 years since the Hyogo Framework for Action put the issue on the map. The World Bank, which used to have only 20 people working on DRR, now has more than a hundred.
But even now, money spent on DRR is just a small fraction of aid funding. For every US$9 dollars spent responding to disasters, only $1 is spent on preventing and preparing for them. And, says a new report, for every $100 spent on development aid, just 40 cents is invested in protecting that aid from the impact of disasters.
The report, Financing Disaster Risk Reduction, is the outcome of some serious number-crunching by the World Bank's Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which tracked DRR financing over the past 20 years - where the money came from and where it went. The money came from relatively few donors, they found, and went overwhelmingly to just a small group of countries, and often unexpected ones.
The World Bank itself is the source of much of the money, along with the Asian Development Bank and just one national donor, Japan, whose own geographical position has given it direct experience of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. (Japan also hosted the Hyogo meeting in 2005.)
The main aid recipients, the report found, are middle-income countries. China and Indonesia are far ahead, and Bangladesh is the only poorer country in the top ten.
Protecting assets, not people
"There is some correlation between mortality risk levels and volumes of financing, but only at the high-risk level," the report says.
The mortality risk index (MRI), developed by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, gauges countries' vulnerability to a variety of hazards, including tropical storms, floods, earthquakes and landslides.
Bangladesh, China and Indonesia rank high on the MRI, and they receive a great deal of DRR assistance. But much lower-risk countries like Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey have received a lot of DRR assistance, as well, while the much more risk-prone Afghanistan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Sierra Leone have received hardly any.
Jan Kellett of ODI, one of the lead authors of the report, points out that effort has mostly gone into protecting economic assets rather than people.
"Low economy at risk and high population at risk: very little money," he says. "Nepal, Malawi, Niger, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Afghanistan all get less than two dollars per capita. So high population at risk does not seem to drive financing for DRR."
The authors admit this has been a hard report to compile, especially because it is difficult to pin down exactly what qualifies as DRR spending and how it is often recorded.
Dom Hunt, Concern's disaster risk reduction advisor, has looked at this issue in Pakistan, and he told IRIN: "After the floods there, for example, we were reconstructing houses, so the budget line might have been on 'shelter and reconstruction'.
But actually, a lot of the shelter was being built on raised platforms; the bottom third of the building was waterproofed, and it was designed to withstand low- and medium-intensity floods in the future. The same with water and sanitation. If you are raising up a latrine, that just goes down as the cost of the latrine, so how do you know how much money has been spent on DRR? The answer is: you don't."
There were many large flood-prevention projects in the early part of the 20-year period under review, which may have skewed the figures. In the last five years, the amount of aid for DRR has risen slowly, but the spending has evened out, with more relatively small projects, more DRR measures incorporated into reconstruction and development projects, and a wider geographical spread.
The advent of climate adaptation funding has helped; a great deal of this financing goes to small island developing states. Francois Ghesquiere, the head of the World Bank's GFDRR Secretariat, says the challenge now is to integrate climate change adaptation programmes with DRR.
"One area where I think we certainly can make progress to align much better the finance going to climate adaptation with that going to DRR," he said. "If you go to the Solomon Islands, the government is really not big, but you have one department that deals with climate adaptation and one department that deals with disaster risk management.
And because they get funding from two different sources and they certainly don't want to start pooling these resources, they don't talk to each other and have developed completely different language to talk about the same issues."
The other change over the past 20 years has been in how much countries are allocating their own money to disaster planning and risk reduction. Ghesquiere says he has seen a real change of attitude among finance ministers.
The work that finance companies and the insurance industry have done on assessing risk has been influential, and ministers are now beginning to realize what it means for their economies if, for instance, their country sits on a seismic fault, Ghesquiere said. Middle-income countries are now funding most of their own DRR work.
Poorest and most vulnerable
But many of the poorest and most vulnerable countries are still doing little to prepare for disaster.
Joel Hafvenstein, previously Tear Fund's programme director for Afghanistan, says he can attest to the challenges of doing DRR work in Afghanistan, and the difficulty of getting donor funding for work there. But he says there is public willingness to take on these projects.
"At [a] community level, it's possible to do some powerful risk reduction work, even in environments like Afghanistan. We've seen communities mobilizing to talk about the reasons why disasters affect them the way that they do. It's getting past the idea that this is just an act of God or an act of nature that they can't do anything about. They come up with things like, 'If we did come together and build this protection wall here, it would actually protect the most important bits of our land - so why don't we do it?'" Hafvenstein explained.
"Community level is where you are most likely to see gains, even in areas of poor governance. It is higher risk to experiment with building local government and national government policies in places where the governance is very fragmented, but I think we have got to invest in some of those higher-risk things, because there are local governments in Afghanistan who mean well, and their main obstacle is lack of knowledge and lack of resources."
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]