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With developing countries the hardest hit by disasters like floods, cyclones, droughts and earthquakes, a new competitive challenge fund is being launched today to help developing countries design and implement ground-breaking solutions to overcome problems they face assessing disaster risks.

The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the World Bank, and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) have joined forces to launch the new fund to help spur new and inventive approaches and partnerships so developing countries can better gauge disaster risks.

"Finding new ways to use technological innovation to empower communities to build their own solutions to the risk of disasters has proven effective from Nepal to New Orleans," said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change. "We hope this challenge fund can further spread innovation."

“The technology to help developing countries prepare for disasters is getting better every day. Early warning systems saved thousands of lives when Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh in 2007, aid workers in Haiti used crowd-sourcing software to find people after the 2010 earthquake, and weather forecasting expertise is helping the Philippines predict and prepare for catastrophes like Typhoon Haiyan,” said Desmond Swayne, Minister, International Development, UK.

“World-class innovations and data tools can save lives but global investment in these new technologies remains far too low and is not keeping pace with the growing risk countries face. That is why Britain is backing the best new ideas to help the world’s most vulnerable people limit the devastating cost of natural disasters,” he added.

The world is facing twice as many natural disasters as 30 years ago, with the annual cost to economies rising from $50 billion to almost $200 billion. To limit the human and financial cost, it is vital that countries understand the risks and how to reduce the impact of natural disasters on individuals, communities and governments. Rapid innovation means the technology already exists to help countries do this, but many of the world’s poorest countries still face difficulties in accessing and using this information.

Francis Ghesquiere, Manager, GFDRR, said: “We have great examples of where ‘disruptive innovation’ has transformed our lives, the internet being a classic example. In this field, we have seen the potential for crowdsourcing and participatory mapping sky-rocket, with governments around the world embracing the power of the crowd to collect data on schools, roads, refugee camps and so on. Datasets that would otherwise take years and millions of dollars to collect.”

The Challenge Fund aims to help decision makers in developing countries to make the best use of technology and data through new approaches and innovative partnerships between technology companies, NGOs and those at risk from natural disasters.

With a Challenge Fund grant, organizations will respond to challenges including how to: Access high resolution digital models of an area’s terrain and elevation; Identify and collect missing data that undermines countries’ ability to understand the risks they face; Develop new approaches to modeling risk; and Develop innovative approaches to communicating risk information to different stakeholders.

In its first phase, the Challenge Fund will provide between $20,000 and $150,000 to up to 20 projects.