Helping communities in advance of disasters

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Jennifer Bagon, a single mother who owns a small store in the Philippines, says the digital cash available through B-READY helps her prepare for storms.

As increasing numbers of people become vulnerable to climate-induced weather shocks, Oxfam America and Visa will explore expanding a program that enables the delivery of more financial support to vulnerable communities in advance of disasters.

As Typhoon Ursula barreled toward the Philippine's Eastern Samar province on Christmas Eve 2019, Cristina and her family were scared but ready.

The 50-year-old mother and grandmother had secured cash in advance of the storm, using it to buy what she knew her family would need to weather what came next. “The cash support was a big help to us,” Cristina said after the storm. “We immediately bought food. We also bought medicines because one of us had a fever and a cough.”

When the storm hit, they waited out three days of rain and flooding in an emergency shelter, where they were able to feed themselves instead of waiting for humanitarian aid.

This "anticipatory cash" was possible through an innovative disaster preparedness project called Building Resilient, Adaptive and Disaster-Ready Communities (B-READY), founded in the Philippines in 2019.

During Typhoon Ursula, each of the project's participating families received 1,700 Philippine pesos (about $31) they could use for whatever they needed to weather the storm.

B-READY has swung into action eight times in the Philippines since 2019. By using scientific forecasting data and community knowledge about disasters to anticipate when they’ll happen, B-READY’s cash transfers—in the form of digital accounts and prepaid Visa cards—provide help in that crucial window before a disaster strikes, allowing thousands of people to address their essential needs—such as food and medicine—but also to strengthen their homes against strong winds, harvest crops, and protect their livelihoods, which can facilitate their long-term recovery.

“If there is a coming storm and I have to leave, I need help to gather all my children and get important items from the store. If I leave, my store—my only source of income—will be left to itself,” said Jennifer Bagon, a shop owner in Salcedo, in Eastern Samar. “Giving cash assistance before any disaster strikes helps a lot for a solo parents like me. It helps me to be ready, mentally and financially, to evacuate to a safer place.… I can buy food, medicine, and plastic containers for my store items. Most of all, I have money (for) the needs of my children.”

B-READY Plans to Expand

In an effort to make B-READY available to more individuals and communities, Oxfam America and Visa plan to explore expanding B-READY in the Philippines, as well as three new locations in Kenya, Colombia, and the U.S. territory Puerto Rico.

The plan to collaborate was announced on December 3rd at COP-28, the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Dubai, in a fireside chat between Oxfam America CEO Abby Maxman, Rajiv Garodia, SVP and Global Head of Visa Government Solutions, and Dr. Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Health Access Initiative.

By 2030, an estimated 37.6 million people will be living in conditions of extreme poverty due to climate change and disasters. The impact of shifting weather patterns, droughts, flooding, and storms hits poor and marginalized communities first and worst, causing unpredictable growing seasons, crop failures, and sharp increases in food prices.

B-READY has shown it can reduce the cost of responding to disasters. According to studies by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, every dollar of anticipatory cash provided to a farming family helps that family avoid seven dollars in losses.

“We know that climate change, poverty, and inequality are linked,” said Abby Maxman, president of Oxfam America. “Disasters disproportionately impact the poorest and most marginalized people, thus worsening inequality and heightening the need to provide financial assistance to those who need it the most. We look forward to scaling B-READY with Visa to improve disaster preparedness and recovery for at-risk communities worldwide.”

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