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UN Report: Investing in Disaster Risk Reduction Saves Lives, Money

FILE - People search through the rubble of what used to be the Manguier Hotel after the earthquake hit on August 14, 2021 in Les Cayes, southwest Haiti.

A report marking the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction finds many deaths and economic losses from natural disasters could be averted by investing in preventive risk reduction measures.

Climate-related disasters have nearly doubled over the past 20 years, with developing countries bearing the brunt of the damage. Though extreme weather events and other emergencies are growing, the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction says little money is being allocated to help countries prevent or reduce risks.

The report finds $133 billion of official development assistance was allocated for disaster-related aid between 2010 and 2019, but only $5.5 billion was invested in measures to reduce the risks and lessen the impact of disasters.

For every $100 spent on disaster-related development aid, only 50 cents goes toward protecting development from the impact of disasters, according to the report.

Ricardo Mena, director of the Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said even that low-level funding should be better targeted to address the needs of poorer, more vulnerable countries.

"One would think that countries that are more prone to disasters and that experience higher mortality rates would be the ones where DRR, disaster risk reduction, financing would be allocated the most. But that is unfortunately not the case," he said. "Insufficient investment is being provided to prevent future disasters in areas where high mortality is likely."

Mena said failure to invest in DRR is like buying a nice car that has no brakes.

"Investing in DRR, we know it makes sense and, in terms of cost-benefit, it is tremendously positive," he said. "So, yes, we are saying it is better to attack the underlying factors of risk, then having to spend more money at a time when disasters actually happen."

Academic studies find every dollar invested in disaster risk reduction prevention can result in savings of $3 to $15 in disaster losses.

Mena is calling for an increase in funding to help poor countries adapt to climate change and implement national strategies for disaster risk reduction.