Why Companies Need To Make A Climate Pivot To Disaster Risk Reduction

With so many disasters, risk reduction is more necessary than ever. Here’s how funders can help with an outsized impact on our communities facing climate change.


In my role supporting GlobalGiving’s corporate partnerships, I field a lot of emails and calls from companies desperate to take action in the days after a disaster. After a storm swept through, their employees’ children no longer have a school to attend. Their factory is suddenly surrounded by homes with blue tarps for roofs. I help them make a generous gift to a responding nonprofit, and we stay in touch, knowing that another calamity could be on its way.

The climate crisis ensures no shortage of disasters demanding attention. And it often feels like the best we can do is pass out supplies, reopen the schools, repair the roofs, and hope. But this broken system is doing little to limit the wave of future possible impacts. That’s why the United Nations recognizes Oct. 13 as International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction to promote attention to life-saving measures we can take before a crisis strikes.

Disasters can’t always be prevented. But some of the worst effects can be avoided, and funding risk reduction and preparedness efforts can have an outsized impact:

  • Preparedness increases efficiency and decreases costs, giving you a higher philanthropic return on investment.
  • When dollars are donated to disaster proactively, they are more likely to strengthen local groups, which enables community leaders to take the lead.
  • Having responders already within the community can minimize the carbon footprint of future humanitarian operations.
  • Planning speeds up aid delivery, so you can rest easy knowing your dollars are deployed quickly and you’ve optimized to save lives.

In many regions, investing in more resilient infrastructure can return $4 in benefit for every $1 invested. Yet as little as 47 cents were allocated to disaster risk reduction for every $100 spent on total development aid between 2010-2018.

So what does it look like for companies to move the needle?

1. Save lives with early warning.

When communities know 24 hours in advance that a hazard is on its way, it cuts the damage by as much as 30%. And the more people can avoid the path of a storm or get to safer shelter, the more lives can be saved. Companies can donate to efforts to improve monitoring and communicating hazards in countries without adequate systems. Companies like the UPS Foundation have donated to the United Nations’ disaster risk reduction efforts supporting this work. And recently, Google announced the expansion of its Flood Hub program to 80 countries, providing forecasting up to seven days before a flood to 460 million people. These efforts help address the disparity in early warning systems, in a world where nine in 10 deaths from disasters take place in developing countries.

2. Shore up coastal areas.

Millions of people are at risk of coastal flooding, and mangrove forests and other nature-based solutions can help. In fact, more than $80 billion per year of economic losses can be avoided by protecting these ecosystems. A popular way companies are taking action is by funding the replanting of trees where deforestation has occurred. The Island Spirit Fund, backed by Cruzan Rum, last year enabled the planting of 6,812 trees by nonprofit partner Protectores de Cuencas in Puerto Rico, where hurricanes had swept out many native species. The nonprofit was also able to grow 12,000 native seedlings to reforest parts of the island vulnerable to erosion.

3. Support resilient communities.

The United Nations has declared, “We can no longer afford a hazard-by-hazard risk reduction approach.” Instead, communities need to come together to rebuild for resilience to protect citizens. Last year, in just one example of a company addressing this need, JPMorgan Chase announced a grant supporting work to advise and assist in developing community solutions to address climate risks in eight US cities. But we can’t stop with cities because rural areas, home to critical supportive industries like agriculture, are too often left out of the equation.

4. Think big—and collaborate with your competitors.

Reducing disaster risk at scale requires cooperation. When the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER), representing companies like ABInBev and Beam Suntory, realized they were all using natural resources in common in a drought-prone area near Guadalajara, Mexico, they forged partnerships. With BIER’s Charco Bendito Project, the brands are collaborating to conserve 355 hectares of land with the goal of increasing equitable community water access, staving off the worst impacts of future drought. By funding risk reduction and preparedness in areas most prone to disasters and the effects of the climate crisis, companies can support people, schools, and communities before the next hazard strikes.

GlobalGiving is investing in our nonprofit partners’ disaster risk reduction work around the world. Join us to be part of the climate resilience solutions.


Featured Photo: Protect the Bravest: Oregon Food Bank COVID-19 Response by Oregon Food Bank, Inc.

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