“There were 18 billion-dollar disasters in 2022. And probably at some point or another one of us heard about most of those. There were 119 weather-related disasters in the country last year.” In this simple statement, Mark Lindberg captured the problem of low-attention disasters: We simply do not know about the majority of disasters people in our own country are coping with. 

To bring attention to the plight of people who experience low-attention disasters and help donors develop appropriate responses, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy hosted a webinar: Funding Low Attention Disasters: From Preparedness to Long-term Recovery. Cari Cullen, director of CDP’s Midwest Early Recovery Fund, moderated the discussion between Joshua Behr, Research Professor, Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center, Old Dominion University, and Program Manager, Institute for Coastal Adaptation & Resilience; Courtney Goss, Section Chief, State Voluntary Agency Liaison, Disaster Recovery Task Force, Texas Division of Emergency Management; and Lindberg, Program Director, Disaster Relief & Recovery, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies

What Are Low-attention Disasters?

Low-attention disasters get little media attention and few resources from individuals or the government. They happen disproportionately in marginalized communities with insufficient infrastructure to recover. Often, there is damage to housing (25% or more).

Behr shared that, eventually, all disasters become low-attention. Disaster recovery takes years of work, but news coverage and donations fade quickly, leaving people picking up the pieces with little support. Even high-profile disasters fall off the radar quickly for people outside of the impacted region. 

Why Focus on Low-attention Disasters?

Cullen put it best: “Low-attention disasters impact human beings.” All communities impacted by disasters deserve support, but they don’t all get it. Cullen shared that she has frequently heard “You're the first one to call” and “We didn't think anyone cared” from communities struggling in the wake of a low-attention disaster.

Fundamentally, low-attention disasters are an issue of equity. Marginalized and chronically under-resourced communities are more likely to be affected by disasters that don’t get attention. These communities have the greatest need for support, as they are particularly vulnerable in disaster contexts and struggle to access resources to recover. 

How Can Donors Target Low-attention Disasters?

Donors have key roles to play in all disasters. In low-attention disasters where few - if any - other resources are available, taking effective action is even more crucial. The panelists highlighted several best practices, including: 

  • Focus on the most vulnerable: The people with the fewest resources will be most impacted and least able to recover. Focusing on these people will ensure that your efforts are going where they are most needed, and where other resources likely aren’t flowing. 
  • Take a community approach: Goss shared that “recovery is most efficient, most effective when it's a whole community approach.” Building up an entire community may be complex, but it can create lasting resilience that better serves all members of that community. 
  • Stay with communities: Disaster recovery is long, difficult work. Plan to stay with a community through the mid- and long-term recovery and resilience-building efforts. Help them prepare for future disasters to reduce future needs. 

Watch the full webinar: Funding Low Attention Disasters: From Preparedness to Long-term Recovery at The Center for Disaster Philanthropy.