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It pays to help before disaster strikes

With the help of DSV, Danish Red Cross is investing in and preparing aid for vulnerable communities before - and not after - they are hit by weather-related disasters. This saves both lives and money.

The climate is changing, creating more frequent, large-scale, and unpredictable disasters. Since the 1990s, the number of weather-related disasters such as floods and droughts has increased from 220 to 317 globally on a yearly average. Consequently, there is an increased need for disaster relief in the affected areas.

Predicting disasters with 90 percent certainty

To meet the challenges of more weather-related disasters and a greater need for help, the Red Cross has created a weather-based alerting program called Forecast-based Financing. With the warning systems, they are able to predict when a weather-related disaster will occur with 90 percent certainty.

Forecast-based Financing focuses on deploying funds and assistance to vulnerable communities before the disaster occurs. 


  By investing far more in preparedness before a disaster happens – rather than after - we can save both lives and money,

says Anne Mette Meyer, humanitarian adviser to the Danish Red Cross.

In the alert system, warnings, or triggers, are set up to match different scenarios that pose a risk to a community. These triggers are then matched with local hazard limits. For example, the alert system has a trigger for when water levels rise above a certain point in a river. The data of that trigger is then compared to weather forecasts to check the risk of incoming heavy rain. 

If a trigger is activated, the local authorities and Red Cross volunteers start preparing the affected communities for the potential disaster. These preparations are based on emergency response plans, which are prepared in advance for the specific scenario.

This work is only possible because the funding for the disaster response is secured in advance with the Forecast-based Financing program.

Gaining global support

In Denmark, the Red Cross is currently the only humanitarian organisation to use Forecast-based Financing to anticipate disasters and to raise funding for pre-disaster efforts. DSV is providing support to help them set up Forecast-based Financing programs in Mali, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Nepal – as first steps. 

But on a global scale, the efforts for Forecast-based Financing and working to prevent disasters is gaining support. For example, the German state supported Forecast-based Financing efforts with 10 million euros in both 2016 and 2018. 

The funding will have an effect

The UN estimates that for every dollar spent on preventing disasters, seven dollars would have been needed for disaster relief in the aftermath of the disaster. However, Anne Mette Meyer says it is a challenge to raise funding for something that has not yet happened: 

“You can't 'count corpses' or show violent pictures, so to speak. However, with a funding from partners such as DSV to secure a pre-disaster effort we will not only be able to reduce devastation and death but also spend less funding on rebuilding communities afterwards. Peoples’ livelihood has been secured in advance.”

There is a risk of 'false alarm' to Forecast-based Financing, but Anne Mette Meyer clearly believes the benefits outweigh this risk: 

“Of course, evacuating people for no reason is not good. Still, much of the preventive effort is about awareness of for example hygiene and waterborne illnesses. Therefore, whether the disaster happens or not, the effort and the funding will have an effect”, she concludes.

Forecast-based Financing increased resilience in Uganda 

The positive effect and benefits of Red Cross’ Forecast-based Financing efforts were tested in Northern Uganda in 2015: 

Weather forecasts predicted extensive rainfall and flooding. As a response, Red Cross volunteers distributed water purification tablets, clean water, and hand soap to the most vulnerable communities in the potential flooding area. The volunteers also taught communities about safe hygiene and how to prevent waterborne illnesses such as life-threatening diarrhea. When the rain began, the communities in the most vulnerable areas had already received help and were better equipped to resist the flooding.