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Why building resilience saves money – as well as lives

The basic idea that resilience boils down to is a familiar one: prevention is better than the cure. It is not, of course, possible to prevent disasters entirely. But by helping people prepare for them and acting early to reduce their impacts, we can stop the worst of the possible damage taking place.But this raises more complicated questions. Just how much better is it?  And what does this mean in financial terms?

Fodder Field School-trained farmer standing in front of surplus fodder, produced ahead of the hard dry season to feed to his milk animals.

If we’re asking donors to invest in resilience to prepare for disasters that haven’t happened yet – and we at Concern do ask for these things – we need to be as sure as possible that this approach really does make sense. 

A new research report, commissioned by USAID to look at the impact of recent programming in Somalia and drawing in part from the learning of Concern’s DFID-funded resilience work has found answers to some of these questions.

Yielding benefits 

It finds that investing in early response and resilience yields average benefits of $2.8 for every $1 invested - or for those of us in the UK, approximately £2 for every 70p.

The study also argues that the actual savings may be much higher, as resilience programmes designed to help people cope when in crisis, can also bring benefits when the situation is less critical.  

Beneficiaries collecting water from the newly rehabilitated shallow well under BRCiS.

So the work of projects  such as the Building Resilient Communities in Somalia programme, which Concern implements together with partners NRC, IRC, SCI and CESVI and includes activities such as helping people build reserves of seed and pasture, allows disaster-affected communities to flourish during the good times while also setting something aside for the bad.

Of course, with or without resilience-building, there will always be some emergencies and cases of humanitarian need. So, in addition to resilience, the study also assesses the benefits of rapid response to the early signs of droughts and food shortages.

Here it also has some striking conclusions: over a 15 year period, an early humanitarian response would save an estimated US$220 million (158 million pounds) compared to the cost of humanitarian response when a food crisis has fully developed.

The longer it takes, the more expensive it is

This supports what aid agencies including Concern have long been arguing: the longer donors delay in releasing funds for slow onset crises, such as droughts, the greater the impact on affected people and the more expensive the eventual humanitarian bill.  

What is needed is a rapid and effective approach to Early Warning Early Action, monitoring signs of vulnerability in communities and acting fast to deliver a pre-emptive response which can prevent the crisis escalating.  

A BRCiS field coordinator facilitating FFS on job training.

So the findings of the Somalia research, as well as companion studies in Kenya and Ethiopia, make a strong financial case for resilience and early action. Now more needs to be done to ensure that community-centred resilience programmes are scaled-up and supported in the long-term.

If we are to see the financial savings projected in the research - savings desperately needed by a humanitarian system which is overstretched and underfunded, as well as by disaster-affected people themselves -  donors must commit to delivering  resilience funding more flexibly and over longer  periods of time so that programmes can adapt to changing circumstances and do what’s required to tackle the longterm causes of risk .

And people working on resilience must ensure they put the perspectives and needs of disaster-affected people at the centre of their work. These are the people who have the biggest role to play in building resilience; ultimately, they have the most to gain, and the most to lose too.