Department for International Development
Printable version E-mail this to a friend

World ‘dangerously unprepared’ for future shocks

Some of the world’s richest countries are failing to help prepare for large-scale disasters, such as earthquakes, floods and wars, despite clear evidence that the number of catastrophes is likely to increase in the years ahead, International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell has warned.

Despite a year of unprecedented disasters – including famine in the Horn of Africa, the Japan tsunami, New Zealand earthquake, floods in Pakistan and most recently the Philippines – the United Nations’ international disaster response funding system is expected to be left severely underfunded.

The system – set up following the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami – is designed to bring different countries funding into one single pot that makes the international response faster and more effective.

Experts believe that a sufficiently supported, single approach, with a central fund and effective coordination by the UN will save many more lives in the hours and days after a shock hits. It will reduce the chaos, confusion and delays caused by dozens of countries and agencies responding to the same disaster independently.

Britain has announced £20 million support to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for 2012. But many countries continue to wait until a disaster strikes before responding – leaving a £45 million ($70m USD) shortfall in life-saving assistance for next year that could leave many emergencies without adequate funding, especially in the first and most critical phase.

In 2004, the year of the Boxing Day Tsunami, around 150 million people were affected by humanitarian emergencies. That rose to 263 million last year. Experts predict that the number of floods, famines or other climate related disasters will continue to increase, affecting 375 million people every year by 2015.

Andrew Mitchell said:
“This year the world has been rocked by devastating disasters and the evidence suggests this trend is likely to continue.  The past shows that international responses could have been more effective if they had been properly planned and coordinated as part of one single system instead of a patchquilt approach we see all too often.

“The system is in place but too many countries and agencies are failing to back it, leaving the world dangerously unprepared for the scale and number of shocks that lie ahead.

“In those first critical hours when, for example, survivors are still trapped in the rubble of an earthquake, delays and confusion can mean the difference between life and death. The international community must wake up to this challenge and unite its efforts under one umbrella.”

Mr Mitchell said that evidence showed a consolidated fund saved more lives and was more cost effective. It means plans, experts and supplies can be quickly put in place, rather than pushing money out in response to disaster appeals.

The number of people affected by disasters is expected to increase, with more people living in vulnerable areas, while levels of poverty mean many are unable to cope. Densely populated slums in coastal cities mean millions more people are living in poorly built shelters, while others are at risk of water-born disease caused by rising temperatures.



1. A DFID photo gallery of 2011 disaster response is available here:

2. In 2011 CERF has supported 29 million people in 45 countries.

3. The full list of emergencies to which CERF responded in 2011 can be seen by country:

4. Created in the wake of the Indian Ocean Tsunami by the UN General Assembly in 2005, the Central Emergency Response Fund was designed to ensure emergency funding is ready to respond instantly to humanitarian disasters.

5. The CERF has funded every major disaster this year and many that did not make headlines, such as food shortages in Burma, cholera in Chad, drought in Madagascar and severe flooding in Central America. Many of these emergencies remain severely underfunded.

6. Mr Mitchell has called for the CERF to improve its performance, making clear that future funding would depend on the CERF further strengthening it performance to make it an even better life-saving facility.

7. This year the Coalition Government began updating its own humanitarian emergency response system following a review by Lord Ashdown. The following changes will be made:

* Increased support to prepare for disasters: Despite the increasing number of disasters, donors have left a £45 million shortfall in the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund annual budget for next year (2012).

* Boost the speed and efficiency: by cutting red tape and speeding up the process of responding to emergencies. Despite large pledges of money to the famine in the Horn of Africa, the international system was slow to respond to the emerging situation, putting many lives at risk.

* Replenish emergency response system: by revising the central emergency stock pile, such as plastic sheets, tents and sanitation kits to ensure rapid, cost effective replenishment of depleted stocks.

* More use of innovative technology to tackle the impact of disasters, such as detailed mapping technology to assess where the need is greatest and where future disasters may occur.

DFID - the Department for International Development

Leading the British Government’s fight against world poverty. Find out more at

Contact our Press Office: 020 7023 0600 (Overseas +44 20 7023 0600)

Tame the Content Sprawl: Discover, Organise and Manage Enterprise Information from One Place