18 October 2012
Last year, barely a corner of the earth seemed to go untouched by disasters, throwing emergency response into the spotlight with ever more urgency. But if natural and man-made crises are becoming more common, shouldn’t we be paying more attention and getting ready for them?
“There are still villages underwater, even if you visit today”, says Noor Narejo an NGO worker in the southern Pakistan province of Sindh. “I have gone there, and there were people who are weeping, people who hadn’t had anything to eat for days. There wasn’t drinkable water.”
In 2011, for the second year running, Pakistan was devastated by floods, leaving hundreds dead and affecting nearly 9 million people. But the crisis struggled for international attention when pitted against earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand and Turkey, floods in Thailand and China – not to mention the famine in East Africa.
The year highlighted more starkly than any in recent memory the sheer scale and variety of catastrophes and the havoc they can wreak. Of course, TV channels focus on the unfolding high drama and the response, adequate or otherwise, to an emergency. Then it’s on to the next calamitous event.
But it’s disaster preparedness – not only response – that needs to be firmly on the agenda. Why? Because disasters are occurring more often, and increasing in magnitude, so it’s not surprising that the human and economic cost is rising.
Some 2.6 billion people were affected by natural disasters over the past ten years, compared to 1.6 billion the previous decade. 2011 was a record year for the cost of catastrophes to the global economy – totalling US$300 billion – and US$226bn in 2010.
Logic follows that disasters can’t be prevented, but if you can help the people who are vulnerable to them to become more resilient, you can save lives and speed recovery.
We’re finding that our strategic approach to disaster relief is increasingly in demand. Last year, we trained over 6,000 people in skills such as Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and emergency shelter provision.
But the need for RedR training and support exceeds our resources, which is why we have embarked on a new campaign, ‘Disaster Resilience Starts Here…’ The push aims to raise vital funds and find partners to help us train more people in DRR. In turn, it is these communities on the ground who will share knowledge and skills within their communities.
One organisation that has already jumped at the chance to help us build resilient communities is the Clothworkers’ Foundation, recently donating £30,000 to support DRR training in Pakistan. The project will train 85 people at district level through a serious of short courses.
Noor Narejo was one of the first participants on the course in March. “What the floods did”, says Narejo, “is to expose where the strength of the authorities, local government, the community and the civil society is and isn’t – where they stand and their capacity.”
Narejo is a coordinator for Cause, an NGO based in Mirpur Khas, in Sindh, which bore the brunt of last year’s floods. Since completing RedR’s DRR training, he has led half a dozen courses himself for community members in two villages in the district.
As Narejo sees it, perhaps surprisingly, it’s not a lack of resources that stands in the way of preparedness in this poor rural area. “In Mukhtiar village most people are labourers. They have the resources but, unfortunately, in the floods in 2010 and 2011, there was panic, and it was because they were unorganised.”
The short DRR courses cover skills such as protecting essential public buildings, like health centres, from floods – as well as early warning and evacuation systems for teachers so that children can be brought to safety.
On a practical level, villagers are already taking more technical control of the flood defence systems around them, doing excavation work on the smaller ‘sim-nallas’, or drainage canals, and raising the height of ‘bunds’ (earth banks which act as flood defences).
Will the area be better prepared for this year’s rainy season? Ironically, a different disaster is currently looming for many in Mirpur Khas: lack of water. “Now we have started having discussions on how to cope with a drought situation”, says Narejo. “The community is preparing to grow crops that use less water."
That, in short, is what disaster resilience is all about – being prepared for all kinds of natural and man-made disasters and having strategies to rebuild communities for the longer term.
Top: The poorest are the most vulnerable to emergency situations. ©RedR/Usman Ghani
Bottom: Thousands of people in Sindh province, Pakistan, are still living in makeshift shelters since the floods in 2010 and 2011. ©RedR/Usman Ghani