Donors can have a significant long-term impact by taking the opportunity to dedicate part of their donations to preventing and preparing for future disasters. Although just 11% of disaster assistance giving in North America in 2016 went towards resilience, risk reduction, mitigation, and preparedness, research shows that every dollar spent on disaster preparedness results in at least six dollars of savings. Consider supporting efforts promoting innovation, coordination, accountability, and prevention.
What follows are examples of initiatives working to address both immediate disaster relief and long-term preparation and mitigation with a focus on innovation, coordination, accountability, and prevention.
Fund innovative approaches. After a disaster hits, one of the most effective ways of improving the lives of survivors is direct cash transfers. For example, in 2017, the World Food Programme assisted 19.2 million people at risk of starvation with cash transfers, amounting to 30% of WFP’s food assistance portfolio. Dispensing cash instead of food where possible is a relatively new approach, and has reduced the cost of assistance, maximizing the number of people that can be reached, and allowing for more flexible and responsive help. Studies have shown that every $1 given to a refugee or vulnerable citizen results in another $2 in the local economy.
Other innovative approaches address climate change. More than 150 million people live on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by the end of the century. Mitigating the damage of rising sea levels requires considerable innovation and creativity. The Rockefeller Foundation established 100 Resilient Cities in 2013 in order to help cities build resilience to 21st century challenges, like increasing natural disasters. 100 cities were selected to join the 100RC network, representing more than one-fifth of the world’s urban population, and were provided with the resources to develop a plan to become more economically and physically resilient. Although the existing 100 Resilient Cities organization concluded on July 31, 2019, The Rockefeller Foundation announced that same month that it would dedicate $8 million to continue supporting member cities within the network.
Coordinate for more efficient distribution of aid. When a disaster strikes, the sheer volume of organizations on the ground trying to help can make providing effective and efficient aid to those who need it most difficult. Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid nonprofit, coordinates with local, national, and international responders to avoid duplications of efforts, logistical bottlenecks, and to ensure resources are used efficiently.
Coordination and information sharing between disaster relief organizations can lead to more effective organizations and targeted aid. The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) is an association of organizations involved in the mitigation and alleviation of disasters that works to improve the delivery of services to disaster affected communities by providing a forum promoting cooperation, communication, coordination, and collaboration. National members include the American Red Cross, Americares, Direct Relief, Feeding America, among others.
Improve accountability. Keeping track of organizations and their effectiveness is challenging, especially since the chaos of disasters can invite corruption or misuse of donor funds. The Disaster Accountability Project (DAP) has various reports investigating the effectiveness of agencies operating in a range of locations, including Haiti, Nepal, and New York after Superstorm Sandy. DAP also offers resources such as the Disaster Policy Wiki, which has more than 1,000 post-disaster relief policy recommendations to improve management systems. In 2017, DAP launched SmartResponse.org, a platform designed to help donors make more informed decisions about their disaster relief aid while simultaneously increasing organization transparency by requiring organizations to share data in order to be included on the “how to help” lists SmartResponse provides donors.
Immediately following disasters, it can be difficult for those affected to directly engage with the government and other aid organizations attempting to help them. To address this problem, Accountability Lab partners with local NGOs around the world to promote greater accountability and responsiveness of government and other institutions. After the Nepal earthquake, for example, Accountability Lab partners set up citizen “help desks” to coordinate relief efforts and serve as a conduit for on the-ground information about what was and was not working.
Include prevention efforts and long-term support. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, some areas of Puerto Rico went without power for months. In order to prepare for next hurricane season, The Solar Foundation is installing solar and battery storage at health clinics, community centers, and other critical locations in Puerto Rico through their Solar Saves Lives initiative, funded in part by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and the Clinton Foundation. Because solar energy can be stored in batteries, solar energy and battery storage will ensure that these critical locations don’t lose power next time a storm hits.
Organizations with pre-existing networks on the ground before a disaster strikes are uniquely positioned to prepare for and provide aid immediately after disasters. Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs in the United States, positions emergency food supplies throughout the country to distribute in the event of a disaster. After most disaster organizations have moved on, Feeding America remains in communities providing aid to the low-income and at-risk populations who are disproportionately impacted by natural disasters.
For those living in constant conflict and recurring cycles of natural disasters, linkages to comprehensive, quality healthcare services are needed to ensure health and build community resilience. As part of a community-based approach to prevention, International Medical Corps(IMC) provided immediate medical services following the devastation of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, through mobile medical teams and house-to-house visits to ensure access to health and clean water. IMC trained more than 130 local community members, including health staff, social service specialists and police officers, on Grand Bahama with topics spanning health and hygiene awareness, self-care, and positive coping strategies, or Psychological First Aid.