Published on Investing in Health

What health emergencies and disaster risk recovery efforts have in common

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Fiji?s recovery from Cyclone Winston in 2016. © Vlad Sokhin / World Bank. Fiji’s recovery from Cyclone Winston in 2016. © Vlad Sokhin / World Bank.

It is fair to say that the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has caught the world by surprise and is now forcing governments to focus on better health emergency preparedness and more effective responses. The World Bank’s massive COVID-19 response is currently helping more than 100 countries. In addition, new mechanisms have been developed to help countries build back more inclusively, in ways that will improve the world’s resilience to the next pandemic or other natural disasters.

One of these new mechanisms is the World Bank’s new Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Trust Fund (HEPRTF) to help developing countries respond to the current crisis and to improve their preparedness for future health emergencies.

The HEPRTF provides financing to low-income countries and to countries with low health emergency preparedness and response scores.  Funding will also be available for countries not eligible for World Bank financing because they are in arrears with their payments to the International Development Association (IDA), and to countries supporting Syrian refugees.

The fund aims to provide upstream catalytic funding to countries that would kick in before they can access other sources of funding or their own domestic funding, or for countries for which such funding is not sufficient. To ensure complementarity with other funding efforts, this Trust Fund is closely coordinated with the IDA Crisis Response Window, with Japan’s Policy and Human Resources Developing Fund grants, and with the World Bank’s COVID-19 response financing.

First countries have received funding

Sudan, one of the countries not eligible for IDA financing, was the first country that received HEPRTF funding for their COVID-19 response. Other countries not eligible for IDA financing, such as West Bank and Gaza, and Zimbabwe, have been allocated HEPRTF funding for their COVID-19 responses. Lebanon and Jordan have been allocated funding to support COVID-19 programs for Syrian refugees in these two countries.

In its 2019 annual report, A World at Risk, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board warned of the very real threat of ”a rapidly spreading pandemic due to a lethal respiratory pathogen”, and the need for determined political leadership at national and global levels, but noted that financial and political investments in preparedness have been insufficient over the past decade.

The HEPRTF is taking these lessons in health emergency preparedness to heart. Although the global political will now exists to focus on health emergency preparedness for future emergencies, we still have a long way to go.  

Learning from disaster risk management

Looking across other sectors can help and there are opportunities, for example, to learn from disaster risk management planning efforts. One of the ways in which to do this, is a close partnership between the HEPRTF and the World Bank’s disaster risk management efforts under the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).

As Mr. Taro Aso, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance for the Government of Japan (a founding donor of the HEPRTF and longstanding partner of the World Bank’s disaster risk management efforts) pointed out during the Development Committee meeting at the World Bank Annual Meetings last week, there is opportunity for cross learning:

“To strengthen the preparedness for infectious disease, it is also useful to learn from the experiences regarding preparedness for natural disasters accumulated over the years. We will promote the sharing of knowledge by making full use of the Japan-World Bank Program for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management in Developing Countries.”

The GFDRR and HEPRTF programs at the World Bank share a commitment to help countries prepare for and respond to unexpected and unforeseeable events.  Whilst the programs are different in how they operate and function and with whom they interact in government counterparts, they share commonalities such as a strong commitment to strengthen the capacity of governments to systematically prepare for and respond to emergencies.

Joining efforts between health emergency and preparedness related to natural hazards

Going forward, the HEPRTF and GFDRR programs will forge further collaboration on three areas:

  • Developing guidance and joint retrospective assessments in selected countries to develop a wholistic strategy for resilience;
  • Providing technical assistance to countries to integrate disaster risk management and public health strategies, and to establish legal and institutional frameworks;
  • Sharing information and joint approaches for planning, modeling, monitoring, and evaluating; to empower governments to respond quickly and effectively to crises.

All countries that receive HEPRTF funding can request this package of technical assistance as part of their HEPRTF applications. Through this joint effort, countries will benefit from the lessons of disaster preparedness planning to build back more inclusive and resilient health systems and sustainable economies to make progress towards universal health coverage by 2030. 


David Wilson

Program Director, Health Nutrition and Population practice of the World Bank

Maitreyi Bordia Das

Director, Trust Funds and Partner Relations, Development Finance (DFi)

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