NEW ORLEANS, March 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After
Hurricane Sandy battered New York in 2012, American entrepreneur
Ramsey Green and his partners came up with an innovative way to
protect houses from extreme weather - one that would also be
affordable for their occupants.
The startup MyStrongHome, which works in the coastal areas
of Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina, allows homeowners to
pay for a new, reinforced roof out of savings from the lower
insurance bills they get thanks to their dwelling being safer.
Green estimates that potential losses in a storm would be 30
to 60 percent lower in the strengthened homes. The work, carried
out by the firm's contractors, typically costs around $10,000.
Participants make a down-payment of between $2,000 and $3,000,
and pay back the rest over five to seven years.
"There is also a public benefit in terms of people not being
displaced in a disaster," Green said this month at a New Orleans
conference on resilience, which tackled how to fund projects
that help cities, communities and individuals stand up to
disasters and other threats.
When it comes to reducing risks, the problem is not a
shortage of ideas but rather a lack of cash to put them into
practice, said experts in the city that has largely bounced back
from the destruction wrought by deadly Hurricane Katrina in
Phillip Kash, a resilience consultant with urban development
group HR&A Advisors, said it remained a challenge to turn into
revenue the gains from equipping real-estate developments and
other infrastructure to better withstand storms, floods and
other natural hazards.
"The resilience benefits aren't the benefits that are paying
for the projects yet," he told a discussion on bankrolling such
That is why philanthropic dollars from organizations like
The Rockefeller Foundation - which backed the development of
MyStrongHome - or government grants such as the U.S. National
Disaster Resilience Competition are key to making the case that
investing in stronger property and community cohesion yields
financial returns, he added.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said it was still harder to
persuade elected representatives to pay for measures to reduce
disaster risks before a crisis than to get them to appropriate
money to clean up after one.
"We haven't done a good job of telling that story of why it
makes no sense not to invest upfront in resilience," he said.
Having concrete examples of the financial benefits of doing so
to feed into public policy discussions would help, he noted.
Efforts are underway to quantify what has been labelled the
"resilience dividend", with the New York-based Rockefeller
Foundation leading the charge.
Together with the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research
organisation, it has developed a model to value the economic and
social worth of resilience work, in the hope of enlisting more
support from decision makers.
In one case, RAND assessed projects by aid agency Oxfam in
southeast Pakistan that aim to cushion farmers from the negative
effects of food price swings.
To cut their reliance on loans from middlemen and crop
losses due to extreme weather, farmers received a season's worth
of agricultural inputs, while grain banks and cooperatives were
RAND estimated Oxfam's intervention increased agricultural
income by approximately 20 percent - or $400 - per household in
the year after it was made, enabling families to spend more on
farm equipment and goods at local businesses, or on their
Longer term, farmers changed the way they worked, using new
fertilization and cropping practices, it found.
At the New Orleans conference, Janice Barnes, global
resilience director with architecture and design firm
Perkin+Will, emphasised the importance of understanding how
risks can escalate across society.
In a community that is regularly flooded, for example, mold
in homes may lead to chronic disease problems, making it a
public health issue that goes beyond property damage.
Identifying good reasons to prevent flooding - in this
broader sense - can help open up more funding streams and a
wider range of potential backers, she noted.
Jeff Herbert, chief resilience officer for New Orleans, said
cities should try to be creative with the existing cash in their
municipal budgets rather than always seeking new sources.
"Look at the large amount of money you already have. Figure
out how to program that in the ways that make sense to build a
more resilient city - and then also add on the funds (you) want
to get outside of that," he told the conference.
New Orleans, for example, has an annual budget of over $1
billion which can be used to boost the city's resilience across
the board, Herbert said. But it has also won a national
government award of $141 million to demonstrate how building
green infrastructure in one district can reduce flooding and
As cities are waking up to the need to bolster themselves
against the growing risks of climate change and surging urban
populations, more are earmarking funds for that purpose.
Almost 30 of the 100 cities in a network backed by The
Rockefeller Foundation have pledged to commit 10 percent of each
year’s budget towards resilience-building goals and projects
without raising additional funds or taxes, noted Samuel Carter,
the foundation's managing director.
Meanwhile, New Orleans has recently adopted a policy that
all municipal departments should consider how they can help meet
the goals of the city's resilience strategy when planning
budgets, he added.
"That is transformative," he said.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie
Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking
and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)