Forecast-based financing for flash floods

socioeconomic factors such as risk perception, gender and religion, to name a few.

A thought experiment we use to explain the complexity of taking action before a potential disaster is to think about what we would tell a community that considers itself to be at high risk of flood when an FbF system instead shows a different area (one that is normally at low risk) should receive cash transfer for early action. Without explicitly doing so, the decision maker is de-prioritizing one community for another. This is a much different framing than asking ‘What community do we prioritize for the cash transfers?’. Furthermore, such a decision might need to happen on a sunny day, five days before any potential flood occurs. This will likely add to people’s skepticism that the de-prioritization is justified. And remember that no forecast is perfect. What happens if the flood actually does occurs in the high-risk community? This can happen 1 out of 10 times in a forecast that is 90 percent accurate, which is very high.

Finally, another issue is the development of the early-action protocols and making sure the there’s good communication and coordination with the national-level disaster management agencies. In many countries, the Red Cross/Red Crescent National Society is closely linked to the governments, and FbF is an opportunity to further strengthen that link.

Fiondella: Some of your current research is being funded by NASA. What’s the connection here to flash floods?
: Yes, NASA Disasters Program is funding this research because satellites are useful to understanding risk of flash floods at a global scale. It is co-sponsored by the Group on Earth Observations (@GEOSEC2025). Without satellite data in this context, flash flood risk is largely dependent on ground-based radar data, which is only available in limited areas, and ground reports. Satellites will allow for my team, which comprises staff from IRI, the Columbia’s Masters of Arts Program in Climate and Society and the University of Chicago, to explore how flash flood risk may differ from one country, and city, to another. This will be done from a user-centric framing with a goal of identifying the steps needed to build a flash-flood FbF system.

Francesco Fiondella is author at State of the Planet. This interview is published courtesy of Earth Institute, Columbia University