Loss and Damage Funds Must Target the Most Vulnerable and Be Just

Loss and Damage Funds Must Target the Most Vulnerable and Be Just

By Dr Aditya Ghosh


The Loss and Damage fund finalized at the Conference of Parties (CoP) 28 must develop a mechanism to identify those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and objectively assess losses and damages that these households and communities suffer from both slow-onset environmental shifts and sudden disasters. Research must also focus on the host of intersectional threats these environmental shifts produce across diverse socioecological systems. This study conducted in the Indian Sundarbans and published under the title of “Sustainability Conflicts in Coastal India: Hazards, changing climate and development discourses in the Sundarbans” uncovers some of these entanglements and provides a framework for future studies about accurately assessing losses and damages from disaster events and conducting similar intersectional studies.

The work specifically challenges our understanding of disasters:

  • What do we understand by disasters?
  • Is it simply based on the technical parameters of a weather event or actual losses and damages people suffer?


The research examined and reviewed various documents pertaining to disaster relief and rehabilitation at the levels of the federal disaster management authority and regional government. The compensations for different losses and damages were compiled by the author in a comparative manner. The research also conducted an extensive ethnography to understand the nature of losses and damages from different weather events and their subsequent outcomes on the people. The number of all eco-climatic events were compiled by the author from the government records and media reports of actual events that fit the parameters. In the Sundarbans, where this study was conducted between 2015 and 2018, these smaller disasters comprise storm surges, Perigean Spring tides, localized floods, land erosions. The study compiles the accrued losses from these smaller disasters over a temporal scale and compares this with losses caused by severe weather events during the same period.

Results and Analysis

Results of the document review and subsequent analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data developed the concept of ‘everyday disasters’ which comprise extreme weather events that are smaller in scale but are more frequent now because of effects of climate change and produce substantial losses and damages at a temporally squeezed window. t was found that the cumulated losses from the smaller but more frequent eco-climatic hazards were far greater than those caused by mega disasters. The study also uncovered the intersectional drivers behind which help understand the nature of losses and damages, how to mitigate these, where to invest and how.

Mega disasters attract global aid and federal support while these ‘localised’, small-scale perturbations do not, and the affected communities are forced to cope on their own. These temporally squeezed disasters did not allow households to recover from losses suffered from previous disasters but also seriously affected social, household-level, systemic and institutional resilience building processes.

Disasters are defined differently by various systems of governances, branches of science and agencies, based largely on physical parameters of weather events  (wind speed in case of a cyclonic storm)  or scale (area, populations, extent of damage). Losses and damages of communities and households over a protracted temporal scale, periodicity of such losses and nature of losses do not define whether one of these events or a series of such occurrences would qualify as disasters. This is a serious shortcoming in our efforts towards minimizing losses and damages.

Table 1 shows the number of smaller disasters that affected at least 15000 or more, according to government report. Each of these disasters led to substantial damages of lives and livelihoods.

Table 1. (Reproduced from Ghosh 2018)

Embankment breach & flooding 2010-2015,  Indian Sundarbans (Reported incidents)
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Total incidents Annual average
18 21 8 13 12 10 82 13.67
Source: Compiled by the authors from media and government reports

The assessment of losses and damage as shown in Table 2 explains how, for the same damages, there could be variable compensations offered depending on the status of the ‘disaster’. If a disaster is classified as a national disaster, compensation for destruction of the house is 10 times higher as opposed to a local disaster. A just compensation regime based on the actual cost of the damage is essential instead of compensation being decided on the basis of classification of a weather event. Also, as Table 2 clearly demonstrates, many different losses are still unaccounted that include crop loss, saline poisoning of the community and aquaculture ponds. This official assessment also does not include losses resulting from loss of or poor quality of food and water, impacts on individual and community health, suspension of services such as education, health and transportation, emotional or psychological losses as well as losses at the household level that may include possessions such as cash, cattle, other belongings including valuable ones.

Table 2.  (Reproduced from Ghosh 2018)

Type of damage Units Rate of loss per unit Total Financial Loss
Number of people 35000 Not in record
Crop area 2650 hectare Not assessed €1,263,577*
Aquaculture ponds 2072 Not assessed Do
Total Inundation 5 sq km Not assessed Do
Embankment Collapse 5.85 km €270,000 €270,000
Houses / Dwellings / Settlements destroyed 1000 completely As per National Disaster Management Protocol
  4477 partially @ €1385 for complete destruction  
    @ €692 for partial destruction
    € 1385000  
    € 3098084 €4,483,084
    Total €4483084 €6,016,661 or > €6 Million  = £5.2 Million
    As per district level local assessment
    @ €245 for complete destruction  
    @ €32 for partial destruction
    € 245000  
    € 141984 €386,984
    Total: €386984 €1,920,561 or €1.92 Million = £1.63 Million
*@ 2177 kg/hectare paddy productivity in the region (Diwakar 2009), loss of 5769.05 MT/57690 quintal paddy from 2650 hectare. Support price for paddy @1650/quintal (lower range) ₹ 95188500, €1,263,577


The agreement of parties on loss and damage fund in CoP 28 calls for addressing these knowledge gaps. Also, direct and indirect financial mechanisms about distribution of the funds equitably to the most vulnerable needs more research. Climate change induces both slow-onset environmental changes and sudden disasters, this study focused on the latter to uncover how definitional shortcomings and relationality can affect utility of the resources, and area which should constitute immediate research.


Ghosh, A. (2018) Sustainability Conflicts in Coastal India: Hazards, changing climate and development discourses in the Sundarbans. Springer.

Author’s short bio: Dr Aditya Ghosh is ADN’s Science Society Interface Coordinator and a Teaching Fellow in Environmental Geography at the University of Leicester.

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