Why preparedness pays: The value of localized disaster resilience
By Ria Sen: ETC Preparedness Officer
A staggering 650 natural disasters struck the world between 2017 and 2018 and the consequences have been devastating. Around 163.6 million people were affected by these disasters, with a momentous USD 446.7 billion recorded in economic losses. There is a steady year-on-year rise in global natural disasters, including those induced by extreme weather. (see Figure 1).
Global climate risks are intensifying, and with them comes a rise in frequency, intensity, and impact of extreme weather events. A study concluded it is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature, in a span of just under 60 years, is caused by increases in CO2 and other emissions. Understanding the links between natural disasters and climate change is important: it highlights significant threats posed by climate change and provides basis for informed action.
Climate-induced shocks have impacts on countries, regardless of their level of development. People and infrastructure located in and around the “ground zero” of extreme weather events are, of course, more susceptible. Cataclysmic natural events in less developed countries have direct implications for achieving sustainable development. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific, Indian Ocean, and the Caribbean face an existential crisis due to rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding.
This is how the damage typically plays out: infrastructure, including transport and telecommunications, are affected, as are roads, railways and ports – directly affecting trade. Lost lives and damage to infrastructure are factors that erode hard-earned national development gains. As a stark example, Tropical Cyclone Pam wiped out 61% of Vanuatu’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), damaging the country’s growth prospects for years.
The clock is ticking for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Investing in preparedness for reducing national risk, building local capacity and thereby enhancing resilience should be a critical priority.
The first line of defense is local
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) is a 15-year international roadmap, aspiring to a world more resistant to natural and man-made hazards. While each country has the primary responsibility of preventing and reducing disaster risk, engagement and partnerships among the global community are still required to achieve commitments and aspirations, enshrined in the SDGs and the SFDRR.
It is no secret that disasters disproportionately impact the poor. This is because people living in poverty are more likely to live in hazard-prone areas, have less awareness of solutions to mitigate or manage risk, and would not be able to afford such measures in the first place. However, communities are critical first responders in the face of disasters, which makes building their awareness and capacity to prepare for and manage disaster risk more valuable.
Putting local government at the heart of disaster risk reduction – “localizing” preparedness – means more inclusive and sustainable approaches for achieving disaster-resilient development in the longer term. This is because when disasters strike, local governments are the first line of defence. They are in the most powerful position to implement local plans for minimizing loss of lives, limiting damage to economic assets, and launching a proactive and efficient recovery.
Making the case for preparedness
The cost-benefit analysis is clear: putting money and effort into preparedness brings more value than investing in disaster response. Research from a UNICEF-WFP study showed that the average financial return on investment for 49 humanitarian preparedness interventions in high-risk situations was above 200 per cent. This means every US dollar spent on preparing is worth more than two US dollars in an emergency event. First responders save more than a week of time in an operation when preparedness measures are in place. Investing in early warning systems – especially last-mile connectivity mechanisms with communities – is demonstrated to save three US dollars for every dollar invested.
The devastating Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique in March 2019, illustrating how critical preparedness is to a country’s resilience. The Cyclone, and subsequent flooding, resulted in the deaths of 843 people, and destroyed more than US$1 billion worth of infrastructure. Mozambique ranks third in Africa for exposure to multiple weather-related hazards. An estimated USD 100 million is lost because of disasters in Mozambique every year – about one per cent of the country’s GDP. Between 2003 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause economic damage of up to USD 7.4 billion in the country.
In 2017-18, the World Food Programme (WFP), as global lead agency of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), conducted capacity development for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – commonly known as drones – for Mozambique's National Institute of Disaster Management (INGC). Once Idai struck, large-scale INGC-led mapping helped the local government understand the level of exposure to risk, assess damage, and direct reconstruction efforts. Among other thing, drones helped draw detailed maps of the twelve towns in Sofala province most severely hit by Cyclone Idai.
The ETC is now actively supporting the Government of Mozambique’s efforts to build back better. During the early recovery phase, the ICT sector was deemed an important national need for which the Government required preparedness assistance. The National Communications Institute of Mozambique (INCM), with the support of the ETC, will have a consultation in the next few months to initiate the country’s ICT Preparedness Plan. This affirms the role of various partners – including the private sector, line ministries, and mobile network operators – for a more coordinated approach to complement Government support to the people of Mozambique. The consultation will cover topics such as coordination, regulation, training, and equipment. By drawing on lessons learned from experiences in other disaster-prone countries, the ETC will use a technical and holistic approach to guide stakeholders in inclusive multi-stakeholder preparedness planning.
Through careful localized planning, the ultimate vision is to give countries the tools they need to shift from disaster-prone to disaster-proof.
 EMDAT (2019). OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database. Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.
 IPCC (2014). Climate Change Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers.
 CRED & UNDRR (2017). Economic Losses, Poverty and Disasters.
 UNICEF & WFP (2015). UNICEF/WFP Return on Investment for Emergency Preparedness Study.
 World Bank (2017). Forecasting for Catastrophes: How Investment in Weather Services Can Save Lives and Grow Economies.