PQMD Forum 2019 Update: Challenge Panel 1: Disaster Response vs. Resilience: Mind the Gap

Moderated by Erica Tavares, Senior Director Institutional Advancement International Medical Corps, the Disaster Response vs Resilience Panel included:

  • Ivonne Rodriguez-Wiewall, Senior Advisor, Direct Relief Puerto Rico
  • Valerie Nkamgang Bemo, Senior Program Officer, Gates Foundation
  • Brennan Banks, Director of Disaster Recovery Funds, Center for Disaster Philanthropy
  • Zaher Sahloul, President, MedGlobal, SAMS

There have been substantial changes in the global thinking regarding disaster response, recovery and resilience building. While every disaster brings a new set of challenges, existing frameworks provide opportunities to enhance coordination among donors and respective development partners. This panel illuminated how each of these frameworks can help catalyze response more effectively.

Disaster Response vs. Resilience Panelists (L to R): Brennan Banks, Center for Disaster Philanthropy; Valerie Nkamgang Bemo, Gates Foundation; moderator Erica Tavares, International Medical Corps; Zaher Sahloul, MedGlobal; Ivonne Rodriguez-Wiewall, Direct Relief

It’s estimated that 132 million people will require humanitarian aid in 2019. This is an increase of 100 million people devastated by disaster and complex humanitarian crises over the last ten years. While estimates vary considerably, across the board, the data shows that investments in resilience and preparedness are investments better spent than on response. But the Center for Disaster Philanthropy reports that 70% of the money and resources donated after a disaster go to immediate response efforts, with just 5% going toward extended recovery and rebuilding. As the increase in disasters becomes the new normal, how do we coordinate and collaborate to support emergency response and look at long-term recovery and resiliency.

We can, and must, do more to invest in long-term recovery. The big issue is that we’ve separated our humanitarian response from long-term recovery to begin with—we actually make it more complex that way. We need to come in from day one thinking about the long-term. That means bringing in people who can focus on immediate needs and who can focus on long-term needs, because we can’t ask people to do both. And we also need to integrate the local communities from the beginning. Just because people have lost everything doesn’t mean they don’t know how to think and what their community needs. And we need the government to take ownership. In a case like Puerto Rico, input from the communities has been key – they may not know how to respond to emergencies, but they understand the local context and culture. As an example, Direct Relief is working on long-term resiliency systems right now, and they are not there with an agenda. Rather they are trustees of the funds, working to rebuild the local health system based on the current needs on the ground.

Complex humanitarian crises require a similar effort to engage local communities, considering the average length of stay for a refugee. But unlike natural disasters, with humanitarian crises the political will (or lack thereof) is a huge problem. And political will is directly connected to how the public cares about a crisis. The public tends to respond to natural disasters, which are easier to understand. Within the context of humanitarian crises, the medical needs in particular are very different. Syria is a good example where medical professionals and health facilities have been targeted. People will stay in the community and deal with the situation if they can access health care. But if we’re not protecting aid workers and medical professionals then how we talk about resilience and medical donations doesn’t matter. Health care services will lead to resilience but only if they continue to exist.

A key partner in any response effort is the donor, and we still have a significant amount of work to educate donors on the need for long-term thinking. The definition of resilience is an ability to return to a previous state, and in disaster response that includes the government, the private sector, the general public, etc. When any one of those threads is broken, the fabric of resilience isn’t there. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the Gates Foundation and a few others are currently working on a toolkit around resiliency with resources to shift power and resources to people on the ground, define the role of INGOs, etc. We also need to increase the visibility of the results and innovation from local actors, which is too often overlooked. Finance is also key. Do we have to wait for a disaster or can we plan for it?