Finding cost-effective strategies to prepare for and combat natural hazards

October 13, 2010

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Today is the International Day for Disaster Reduction, a day especially designated to promote a global culture of natural disaster risk reduction. Disaster risk reduction (DRR) is the the systematic development and application of policies, strategies and practices that minimize vulnerabilities and disaster risks throughout a society.

As we look at the tremendous disasters that Mercy Corps has responded to this year — including the earthquakes and flooding in Haiti and Pakistan — it is evident that natural disasters pose a huge threat to development gains. This is why Mercy Corps is trying to incorporate disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategies in all of its programs. Mercy Corps believes that DRR is an essential part of our mission to help people build secure, productive and just communities.

Mercy Corps also believes that most DRR strategies are extremely cost effective, saving money in response efforts. Therefore, as we learn more about best practices in risk reduction, we are paying attention to the most cost effective strategies to protect development investments made by communities and those who support them. For this reason, Mercy Corps is proud to announce the results of the first Cost-Benefit Analysis undertaken on one of our DRR programs in Nepal.

This Cost-Benefit Analysis was undertaken to provide Mercy Corps with a quantitative analysis to complement the qualitative benefits that we have observed throughout the life of our DRR project, which is being implemented in Nepal. The Kailali Disaster Risk Reduction Initiatives (KDRR) project, at the heart of this study, assists riverside communities in the far western Kailali District of Nepal where we are working in cooperation with the Nepali Red Cross Society (NRCS) Kailali District Chapter. The project is funded by European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) —under its DIPECHO Fourth and Fifth Action Plans for South Asia — and includes local capacity building and training for community disaster management committees, the development of early warning systems, small scale mitigation works, and support to young rescuers clubs.

Using a rigorous and conservative estimate, the study conducted by two students from Yale University indicated that the Kailali project yielded a Benefit to Cost ratio of 3.49 to 1 Euros. This means that for every Euro spent, there are 3.49 Euros in economic benefits. These benefits represent the prevention of economic losses or the avoidance of otherwise necessary humanitarian assistance. This Benefit to Cost ratio does not include the important qualitative benefits of the DRR programming to the community, some of which are highlighted in this report and others in a recent Mercy Corps case study of how the project has contributed to the Hyogo Framework for Action.

It is clear that disasters not only produce emergencies, they also threaten long-term development and weaken possibilities of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Without preparedness and mitigation strategies in place, disasters will continue to produce severe damage to housing, infrastructure, productive assets, health systems, and water sanitation facilities. They also produce loss of human life, and an increase in orphaned, abandoned or homeless children.

Negative impacts of this sort make it increasingly difficult to eradicate extreme poverty (MDG 1), to reduce child mortality (MDG 4), or to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (MDG 6).

In Padang, Indonesia the city officials are in step with the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction theme for 2010-2011, Making Cities Resilient: "My city is getting ready", as they plan to celebrate the day. The city has asked all district leaders to participate in the celebration of the day by working to clean up their neighborhoods in advance of the start of the rainy season with its risk of dengue and problems cause by floods. Mercy Corps is offering key support to this event through our three on going DRR programs (funded by UKaid, USAID and DIPECHO) in Padang.

The DRR Working Group in Padang — which represents over ten non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including Mercy Corps — will also participate in this event as well as a number of student groups, outdoor enthusiasts, volunteers from University Red Cross teams, and the civil police.

On this day of International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction, Mercy Corps continues its commitment to incorporate cost effective DRR strategies in its work throughout the world.