Imagine you wake up tomorrow and read a news story that a cyclone has hit in Southern Africa. Millions of people are affected.

A week later you read that governments around the world are concerned about the disaster and will look into how they can support the response.

After several months, you see a news report that thousands of people have already died. Money is slowly reaching the country after several appeals but an aid worker says many people are still out of reach. More resources are needed. The situation is spiralling out of control.

Hundreds of thousands of people have had their homes destroyed, and now live in makeshift camps with limited access to safe water and healthcare – children are getting sick from diseases like cholera and typhoid.

With no jobs, and no certainty ahead, families are left vulnerable to abuse and exploitation in order to put food on the table. Schools are closed with no sign of return. Much more money is now needed to help people recover and rebuild their lives. You wonder what more could have been done to get help faster.

This is how disaster relief functions today: It is not until disasters strike that proper action is taken to find the money to pay for it. That takes weeks, months and sometimes even years. But in emergencies, time is not just money – delays cost lives.

The world already has the science to monitor risks and predict disasters like cyclones, famines and floods – and the financial expertise to prepare funds in advance. This approach helps get money to those in need fast, saving lives and reducing the cost of recovery.

The Crisis Lookout Coalition is working towards a radical shift in how the world responds to risk and reacts to disasters.

For both the G7 summit and the UN climate conference this year, the coalition will bring together expert organisations and individuals to promote a plan to protect the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable communities around the world. The coalition is calling for a new global agreement for crisis protection to identify priority risks, help people adapt and make sure they have the funds they need when it matters most.

By making the following critical choices, G7 countries could quickly transform how disasters are financed:

  • Predict crises better: Create a global entity to improve risk information and prioritise global, regional and national crises.

    The world has the scientific knowledge and technology to track and model many types of risks. But at this moment, a global system for predicting crises and acting on that information to protect people does not exist.

    G7 countries should help create a new entity or partnership – a global Crisis Lookout – to provide comprehensive risk assessments and calculate the funds needed to respond to a potential disaster.

    Before COVID-19, outbreak specialists said we should be worried about pandemics. But there was no organisation or entity tasked with helping us all understand how concerned we should be relative to other risks.

    The Crisis Lookout would bring together global experts in natural sciences, finance, economics, risk modelling, poverty analysis, conflict and epidemiology. This team would work across governments and international institutions, to synthesise existing information and model risks, analyse how they interact, and communicate to people about the risks they face and how we can work together to protect them. In a world of increasing disasters, this approach will be central to stability and prosperity.

  • Prepare response better: Pay for crises with pre-arranged finance, so that funding gets where it is needed faster.

    Right now, our crisis response funding is too slow, unpredictable and not linked to proven, pre-agreed plans. Most importantly, this costs people’s lives. But it also costs money. The longer you leave a crisis, the bigger it grows and more funds are needed to help people recover. Pre-arranged finance is a smarter way to spend as it allows money to reach those on the frontline faster, protecting more people with the same amount of money.

    Pre-arranged financing plays a role in breaking the downward spiral people experience from disasters. Assured that emergency relief funding will be there if it's needed, governments can invest more in protecting vulnerable communities in advance of a crisis, and focus on longer-term projects like building hospitals and schools.

    The Crisis Lookout Coalition believes G7 countries should make pre-arranged finance the primary method for funding disasters by 2030, with credible plans in place by COP 26 and annual monitoring of progress.

  • Protect people better: Support an initial group of countries to pilot better prediction of and coordinated protection from crises.

    Our first two goals – building a crisis lookout entity and shifting to pre-arranged financing – will take time. Meanwhile disasters are increasing in frequency and severity so quickly that we cannot wait five years to offer support and protect people.

    Working with experts and governments in crisis-prone regions, the G7 should support a small number of ‘Pathfinder’ countries willing to participate in a pilot initiative. This would include about ten highly-vulnerable countries with a wide range of risk contexts, especially those that are struggling to understand and proactively manage disasters.

Given the rising risks of climate change, a coordinated system to address crises around the world is long overdue. The good news is that, by harnessing progress in technology, improving collaboration from global to local and agreeing to finance disasters before they happen, we can predict disasters, prepare our response and protect lives.

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