What We Do

Emergency Response

Strategy Overview

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Two workers remove debris as a part of Typhoon Haiyan recovery efforts in the Philippines’ Lao Barangay, Ormoc City. (©Lutheran World Relief/Loren Hyatt)

our goal:

to reduce suffering and save lives in regions affected by natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and complex emergencies.

The Challenge

At A Glance

More than 300 natural disasters have occurred each year over the past decade. In 2013 alone, natural disasters killed more than 21,000 people, affected more than 96 million others, and resulted in estimated economic damage of US$118.6 billion.

Our investments support relief efforts in response to rapid-onset natural disasters such as cyclones, earthquakes, and disease outbreaks (including the Ebola epidemic); slow-onset crises such as famine and drought; and acute complex emergencies related to political unrest and violence.

The relief agencies we support deliver food and clean water, improve sanitation, provide medical attention and shelter, prevent or minimize outbreaks of disease, administer cash-for-work programs, and provide other services in response to urgent needs.

Our strategy also includes investments to strengthen our partners’ response capacity and equip them with innovative approaches and tools.

Our Emergency Response program is part of the foundation’s Global Development Division.

Emergencies occur nearly every day and affect thousands of communities around the world, leaving people in urgent need of help to survive and recover. While some emergencies, such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Cyclone Phailin in India in 2013, gain widespread media coverage, many others are poorly publicized and receive little public attention. The circumstances can range from catastrophic rapid-onset natural disasters and disease outbreaks to slow-onset crises such as food shortages, drought, and gender-based violence and displacement of populations due to war and civil unrest.

Both rapid and slow-onset emergencies can erase hard-won development gains and hinder progress, significantly reducing community resilience. After decades of natural and man-made disasters, often exacerbated by climate change and chronic conflict, many countries are facing emergencies as the “new normal.”

The Opportunity

Rapid assistance can save lives during an emergency. With immediate and flexible financial support, relief agencies and local organizations that are first responders can deliver help within days—when the needs are most significant and immediate response is critical. Slow-onset emergencies, such as food crises due to drought, require targeted support to help people recover and build community resilience to cope with future shocks.

Our support ensures that our partners are better prepared to respond to, and recover from, emergency situations and help communities “build back better” with innovative tools and approaches.

Our Strategy

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Emergency Response program aims to reduce suffering, disease, and death in countries affected by natural disasters and complex emergencies. In addition to responding directly to emergencies, we work to help improve the speed and performance of first responders in the first critical hours of an emergency. We also invest in strengthening the ability of first responders, their organizations, and local institutions to help communities prepare for and cope with future shocks.

In addition, we collaborate with other foundation programs to develop and introduce innovative products and approaches that can save lives and build community resilience before an emergency occurs.

The emergencies we respond to, which often number in the dozens per year, have included the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, cholera outbreaks in Cameroon, floods and landslides in Kashmir and Nepal, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and conflict and displacement in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Areas of Focus

Emergency Relief

We provide grants to help our partners respond to three general types of emergencies:

  • Drought and famine in Somalia have led hundreds of thousands of people to seek refuge in Ethiopia.

    Rapid-onset emergencies. The largest portion of our emergency funding is disbursed as flexible funding to address high-impact disasters, including disease outbreaks. Within 24 to 72 hours, we approve funding to pre-vetted partners who have the local and national capacity to respond effectively. For example, immediately after Typhoon Haiyan hit the central Philippines in November 2013, killing more than 6,000 people, we made grants to Mercy Corps, Lutheran World Relief, and Save the Children. This funding helped provide families with immediate shelter, food, water, sanitation, medical care and supplies, and options such as cash-for-work assistance to get them back on their feet financially.
  • Complex emergencies. Many emergencies in this category include an element of violent conflict and involve political and military forces and disruption of national systems, while others have roots in natural phenomena. Our grants in this category often go toward basic relief support—including food, water, sanitation and hygiene, healthcare, and shelter—in the acute phases of complex emergencies, such as during peaks in violence or displacement. In late 2013, for example, we made grants to respond to the humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic, where civil conflict has led to population displacement, civilian deaths, and gender-based violence.
  • Slow-onset emergencies. Drought and famine are among the slow-onset emergencies that we work with our partners to address. For example, we have supported relief efforts in response to the severe drought and famine in the Horn of Africa and the drought and food crisis in the Sahel. Efforts include programs to build stability in communities through approaches such as improved agricultural practices that can help people remain productive in the face of future droughts.

Strengthening the Capacity of Emergency Responders

We work to strengthen the effectiveness of local and national responders, organizations, and institutions that are inevitably the first responders because they are on the ground before international help arrives and are best placed to understand the needs of their communities. We support these organizations in sharing effective approaches with one another, developing disaster-planning programs, and cultivating leaders who will be able to act quickly and effectively during an emergency. We are currently carrying out pilot projects in Bangladesh, India, Central America, and the Horn of Africa.

By helping communities build strong systems, we can strengthen their ability to “build back better” in the wake of a crisis. We can also promote a shift in the humanitarian sector from purely reactive responses to proactive preparation.

We evaluate our investments by gathering data on successful models and approaches, and we use this information to inform our future investments.

Learning and Innovation

A vaccine cold storage facility in N’Djamena, Chad.

Our Emergency Response program collaborates with other foundation programs to develop and study new approaches to disaster assistance, including innovative tools and technologies. For example, we have supported research and pilot-testing of approaches to improving water and sanitation in emergencies. We have also jointly developed innovations with the foundation’s Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, Enteric and Diarrheal Diseases, and Vaccine Delivery teams—including chlorine dispensers, the global oral cholera vaccine (OCV) stockpile, new toilet prototypes, and improved slum sanitation methods.

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