Money matters: will global aid spending ever be enough?

Shortly before the recent World Humanitarian Summit, UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon called for the percentage of global aid spent annually on disaster risk reduction to be doubled to 1%, bringing the figure to USD $1 billion.

Following this, British charity Christian Aid called for the percentage to be raised to 5%, publishing a report warning that more than a billion people worldwide will live in cities at risk of catastrophic flooding by 2060.

Currently, we face a future in which disasters, shocks and chronic stresses are coming faster and lasting longer – the number of reported disasters has nearly tripled since 1980, while the cost of those disasters is up 300 percent to USD $200 billion every year. On the surface then, it makes sense to petition for more aid dollars.

But ultimately, it’s not about the “how much” – it’s about the “how”.

While the Global Resilience Partnership is pleased by the calls for greater funding, we are focused on using the dollars we do have in the most effective way possible. In short, we can no longer afford business as usual and we believe a resilience approach will make the difference.

As we’ve seen with 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) – pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation – starting with a small injection of cash can lead to big outcomes. 100RC is committed to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges of the 21st century.

For every city that has made it onto the final network of 100 cities (over 1,000 applied to join), it all starts with one person: a “chief resilience officer” (CRO) whose salary is typically funded by the program for two years.

The city of Vejle in Denmark, with a population of just over 100,000 people, leveraged this initial investment to take on its biggest threat: sea-levels expected to rise by 25cm in the nearby fjord by 2050, presenting a serious risk of flooding due to the city’s low-level topography.

Since then, Vejle has launched Europe’s first urban resilience strategy, which will see more than 100 city-wide initiatives – from cycle highways to flood-adapted neighborhoods – rolled out over the next four years, to develop the city’s adaptability to future challenges.

The Global Resilience Partnership employs a similar strategy, channeling funding to help local communities develop their own solutions, ensuring maximum return on investment for a more resilient future. Our Water Window Challenge, supported by Zurich Insurance, is currently evaluating more than 240 proposals sent in as part of a USD $10 million challenge to build flood resilience in the world’s most vulnerable communities.

This mechanism will surface small ideas that can be scaled to wider success across the world – proving that a modest injection of capital, if targeted, can have a truly significant impact.