World Bank and UK government fund innovations to cope with natural disasters

March 20, 2015

Innovation Factory

Field experiences from Nepal to New Orleans have proven that technological innovation can ‘empower communities to build their own solutions to the risk of disasters’, says Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group’s (WBG) vice president. To spread these initiatives further and reduce the impact of disasters on developing countries, the WBG, the UK government and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) have recently established the Challenge Fund.

This fund will help spur the creation of groundbreaking approaches and partnerships between developing countries, technological companies and non-governmental organisations, to tackle the natural threats to which developing regions are particularly vulnerable – such as floods, droughts, cyclones and earthquakes.

Innovation saving lives
Collaborative practices are central in this process, says Francis Ghesquiere of the GFDRR. ‘We have seen the potential for crowdsourcing and participatory mapping skyrocket, with governments around the world embracing the power of the crowd to collect data on schools, roads, refugee camps and so on. Datasets that would otherwise take years and millions of dollars to collect.’

Innovation also has a major role to play. According to UK Minister of International Development Desmond Swayne, technology to help countries prepare for disasters exists, and it is getting better every day. ‘Early warning systems saved thousands of lives when Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh in 2007, aid workers in Haiti used crowdsourcing software to find people after the 2010 earthquake and weather forecasting expertise is helping the Philippines predict and prepare for catastrophes like Typhoon Haiyan.’

World-class data tools and innovations can indeed ‘save lives’, explains Swayne. Yet, ‘global investment in these new technologies remains far too low and is not keeping pace with the growing risk countries face.’ The number of natural disasters has doubled in the past 30 years, with annual costs to economies growing from $50 billion to almost $200 billion, WBG reports.

The Challenge Fund will offer grants of between $20,000 and $150,000 to up to 20 projects, in the fund’s first phase. Find out more about the initiative here.

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