Red Cross plans to fight disasters with fast funding

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By Inna Lazareva

YAOUNDE, May 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A fund
launched by the Red Cross aims to deliver life-saving
humanitarian aid before rather than after floods, droughts and
other natural hazards hit, so as to reduce damage and trauma in
some of the world’s most disaster-prone areas.

The “Forecast-based Action Fund”, set up by the
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
(IFRC), uses weather predictions and historical data to trigger
the distribution of money when a natural disaster looms.

The German government has committed 3.6 million Swiss francs
($3.6 million) to the new forecast-based fund.

It will sit within another of the IFRC’s disaster relief
funds that is worth 25 million-30 million Swiss francs annually,
and can draw more from that pot of money.

“It means that life-saving action can now take place before
anyone is in immediate danger, which will save lives and reduce
the need for more costly emergency response and recovery
efforts,” said Pascale Meige, the IFRC’s director of disaster
and crisis prevention, response and recovery.

Fifteen Red Cross/Red Crescent societies in Africa, the
Americas and Asia-Pacific are readying to tap into the fund over
the next two years, if needed. Other branches may also use it.

The model has been tested in communities in Peru, Togo,
Uganda, Bangladesh, Mozambique and Mongolia since 2014.

“Waiting for disasters to happen should not be an option any
more,” Peter Felten, head of humanitarian assistance at the
German Federal Foreign Office, said in a statement.

Funding is triggered by pre-set thresholds such as rainfall
forecasts combined with rising river levels, Maarten van Aalst,
director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“As soon as the forecast reaches that level of severity, the
mechanism can release the funds for pre-specified early
actions,” he said in emailed comments.

For example, in a community-based scheme in Bangladesh,
predictions that the Brahmaputra river would overflow in 2017
sparked cash grants for local people who could then use the
money to support their families during the emergency, he said.

The mechanism could change the way agencies tackle
disasters, providing an incentive to act when the alarm bells
start ringing, rather than once a disaster has struck, he noted.

Governments and aid agencies have been calling for more
investment in disaster prevention for years, to cut the rising
bill for helping people hit by crises.

In 2016, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on
states to dedicate at least 1 percent of international
development assistance by 2020 to reducing the risks of
disasters and preparing for them.

This March, Zambian officials said the forecast-based
financing model could be used as part of a national strategy for
managing flood risk, and would strengthen preparedness.
($1 = 1.0020 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Inna Lazareva, Editing by Megan Rowling. Please
credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson
Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights,
trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit
www.trust.org)