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The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction — Day 3

June 17, 2009

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It seems that the second full day of a conference generates more substantive discussion and thought than the first day, and this was certainly the case at the Global Platform today. Armed with coffee and sunshine, I walked to the center to attend a session on measuring the impact of disaster risk reduction projects. The focus was on cost/benefit analysis — a topic of great personal interest to me and one that several Mercy Corps countries are keen on carrying out.

There were two presentations: the first from the Nepali Red Cross, and the second from a study called "From Risk to Resilience," a cost/benefit analysis conducted in Nepal, India and Pakistan.

The Nepali Red Cross presentation compared two similar communities and looked at a variety of factors — physical assets such as houses and infracture, social aspects such as communication and information dissemination, and land issues — to contrast the differences between disaster-affected communities that were given disaster risk recovery interventions and those that were not. They pointed to the social benefits of disaster risk recovery, but also came up with a cost/benefit ratio of 1:15, basically arguing that for every dollar spent in prevention, approximately $15 is saved in potential response efforts. This is much higher that the usual figure quoted, somewhere between 1:4 and 1:7.

However, the Nepali Red Cross was clear that the weakness of typical cost/benefit analyses is that they do not take into consideration most of the social benefits and behavioral change that are so important to our work. What became clear to the audience is that there's no standard cost/benefit methodology to measure social impacts. The panelists were advocating putting more qualitative information into cost/benefit studies, alongside quantitative information, in order to achieve that piece while also fulfilling the more traditional tasks of such a study.

It was particularly interesting to hear that the Red Cross/Red Crescent Society is trying to integrate some kind of cost/benefit tool into their existing vunerability and capacity assessments of communities. That way, the community can try to figure out ahead of time what interventions might be more cost effective before a project starts. I look forward to working with them to see how we might be able to learn from this tool, as well as share with them any of our own experiences with cost/benefit studies.

This second session was primarily a strong call from governments for the international community to link disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation through joint programming rather than standalone projects. It is clear that everyone in attendance felt that both are needed for sustainable development, and we would be doing a disservice to not look at these aspects in our programming. Mercy Corps has been doing this with projects like our urban flood risk reduction project in Jakarta, and will continue to find more opportunities to make this linkage.

During the second session, I was able to proudly hand the case study produced by the Nepal team to the representatives of the Nepali government. They were very grateful, and I invited them to visit our projects in Nepal.

With several sessions to go, I feel like things are beginning to get more and more interesting.