Credit: (photo: Tafadzwa Ufumeli/Zuma/Newscom)

When Disaster Strikes: Preparing for Climate Change

Seán Nolan, Krishna Srinivasan

June 26, 2019

Earlier this year, Cyclone Idai devastated Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe by leaving more than 1,000 people dead, thousands more missing, and damages in the billions. These storms were among the recent reminders of how natural disasters can cause severe and catastrophic damage. Natural disasters destroy lives and property and have large and lasting effects on economies by reducing production and increasing debt burdens. They also tend to disproportionately affect the poor, who have a limited ability to cope with the impact.

Although not alone, the small island countries in the Caribbean and Pacific are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. They have suffered, on average, disaster-related losses of 2 to 3 percent of GDP per year over the past 30 years. Some countries have been hit far harder: when Hurricane Maria ravaged Dominica in 2017, it caused damages estimated at some 220 percent of GDP—more than twice the island’s entire annual production.

As climate change continues to affect both the frequency and severity of natural disasters, how can vulnerable countries do more to prepare and cope with their consequences?

In a new IMF paper, we outline how vulnerable countries can develop comprehensive strategies to build their resilience to disasters, based on a diagnosis of risks and cost-effective responses. Having such a strategy can also help countries attract much-needed support from the international community.

Disaster resilience strategies can draw on existing disaster response plans, supplemented by specialist expertise from development partners, and need to be based on three complementary pillars of building resilience:

Formulating a disaster resilience strategy would help a country identify the areas where it’s most vulnerable and provide a road map to build resilience. The strategy needs to be grounded in strong diagnostics—including risk assessments, project identification, prioritization, and costing—and build on, rather than displace, existing response plans. Once in place, the strategy can help the country catalyze support from the international community.

Countries can develop comprehensive strategies to build their resilience to disasters.

Support crucial for success

Many small and low-income countries need external support—both expertise and financial assistance—to flesh out and implement a strategy. For this, all stakeholders need to chip in.

Countries themselves should raise additional domestic revenues by re-prioritizing spending and strengthening financial management. This would give incentives to external donors to provide more grants and concessional financing. Climate funds and other climate finance initiatives are also a promising avenue to obtain support, but many countries will need technical support to engage effectively with these funds.

The IMF can help countries by analyzing financing options and recommending ways to build disaster-resilience into medium-term fiscal and macroeconomic frameworks to ensure that public finances remain sustainable.

The IMF also has emergency lending facilities designed to provide speedy assistance to low-income countries hit by disasters—we disbursed more than $100 million to Mozambique less than a month after Cyclone Idai hit. And we also help build capacity within governments through training and technical assistance to help them better manage disaster risks and responses. We can, and will, do more to support countries—who face rising disaster risks as climate change intensifies.

Related Links:
Getting Real on Meeting Paris Climate Change Commitments
5 Things You Need to Know About the IMF and Climate Change

Recent Blogs