Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

Financing for Disaster Risk Management: a bleak history

Written by Jan Kellett

Yesterday at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, ODI, together with partners at the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, released the very latest figures on financing for disaster risk management. Overall, the figures are depressing enough and must warn us against complacency, especially if we believe that increased rhetoric about disaster risk is matched by increased funding – the evidence suggests otherwise.

Financing for disasters is not a priority for the international community. For a 20-year period up to 2010 it has committed just over US$3 trillion in international aid; during the same period it committed US$106.7 billion to natural disasters. This may sound a decent enough amount to spend on disaster-prone countries, but the breakdown into what we spend before and after, reveals questionable priorities at best. Over this same 20 years, only 12.7% (just US$13.5 billion), has actually been spent on disaster prevention and preparedness, compared to US$23.3 billion on reconstruction and a staggering US$69.9 billion on disaster-related emergency response. For every US$100 spent on disasters, only US$12 is spent on either preventing them in the first place, or preparing for them.

Despite all the attention to disasters and disaster risk in recent years, and some of the largest impacts ever seen (the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Asian-Indian Tsunami of 2004, Cyclone Nargis in 2008, to name just a few), the commitment of the international community to supporting developing countries in managing their disaster risk has barely increased.  Neither has the endorsement of the Hyogo Framework for Action in 2005 led to significant increase in financing. The 2005 figure for disaster prevention and preparedness (US$1.3 billion) is the highest on record but since then volumes have fallen, seesawing around US$800 million to US$900 million per year. The 2010 figure of US$1.1 billion is an increase on the previous year but we do not know as yet if this indicates a general year-on-year higher priority, or a momentary blip.

Meanwhile, global priorities need to be challenged at the very least. Compared to other international interventions, commitments to disaster prevention and preparedness are very low. Even in one of the best years on record (2010), the US$1.1 billion committed pales before the US$9.5 billion spent on peacekeeping missions. In this same year food aid was US$4.2 billion.

Questions also need to be asked about the choice of which countries receive financing. Commitments to disaster prevention and preparedness are heavily concentrated in just a few countries, with the top ten alone accounting for US$7.9 billion (60%) of the total (the remaining 155 countries sharing the remaining US$5.6 billion.) Most of the countries in the top ten are also middle-income countries with large economies, such as China, Indonesia and Mexico. Arguably these are not the countries that should be priorities for international financing of disaster risk management, at least not now. Shouldn’t the priority countries be Afghanistan, Pakistan and Haiti, which although have very high mortality risk from natural hazards, have received little financing for disaster prevention and preparedness from the international community (US$22, US$161 and US$91 million respectively over 20 years)?

Despite this overall miserable picture, there are a few bright spots:

·         Early data evidence from 2011 suggests a mild increase again for disaster prevention and preparedness, with some considerable commitments for drought resilience for the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

·         The financing of disaster risk management by climate change adaptation funds is increasing year on year.  Five years ago no climate adaptation project had a central goal of DRM; by 2011 it was close to 20 projects.

·         Some countries such as the Philippines and Bangladesh are receiving reasonably substantial and continual support for disaster prevention and preparedness.

In addition we believe investments in prevention and preparedness may be somewhat under-reported, especially those embedded in larger development programmes. (In fact the poor tracking and reporting of a range of disaster risk management investments within key international databases remains a key issue to address.)

Overall, however, these few positives should not cloud the fact that there is little cheer to find within the available figures. The slice of the evidence being released today strongly suggests the international community needs to do much more to justify where it finances disaster prevention and preparedness activities. Deeper analysis of the data indicates a need to tackle fragmentation of donor support at a country level. It also suggests that humanitarian financing channels are continuing to be the prime mechanism for financing disaster prevention and preparedness (especially once the large-scale flood prevention projects are removed from the equation).

Improvements in all of these areas will pale into insignificance however, if we fail to actually commit more to disaster prevention and preparedness. If making disaster risk central to the development agenda beyond 2015 is to have any meaningful success beyond the merely rhetorical, then the international community needs to invest, and invest now.


The four-page brief on disaster prevention and preparedness released yesterday is based upon the Disaster Aid Tracking (DAT) database prepared by Development Gateway and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, and previews findings from our longer report that is due to be published in the summer of 2013.

This post was originally posted on the GPDRR website