Caryl M. Stern
Mediaplanet: How can we best prepare communities in the developing world for disaster and emergency situations?
Caryl Stern: Knowledge, preparation and early action are critical in reducing the effects of disasters in developing countries. Schools should have emergency drills to learn how to respond to disasters, and early warning systems need to be set up in underserved communities so that they are prepared for future disasters.
"Schools should have emergency drills to learn how to respond to disasters, and early warning systems need to be set up in underserved communities so that they are prepared for future disasters."
Ian Rodgers: The most important thing is for communities to understand the unique set of risks they face and want to reduce. Communities can be empowered by helping them undertake Hazard, Vulnerability and Capacity (HVC) assessments. Once they identify the risks through this method they can seek out preparedness, mitigation, early warning, resilience and adaption activities. Some activities can be done without external assistance and resources; others need this input.
Jim DiFrancesca: We can best prepare communities for disasters by building their capacity—as well as the capacity of local governments, companies, universities, and other key stakeholders—to rigorously assess their vulnerabilities and develop effective strategies to address them; and by reinforcing their efforts to implement those strategies.
Joanne Beale: It is vital that disaster risk mitigation is considered in all development activities as part of a commitment to sustainability. This should be combined with advocacy efforts at the national level to ensure communities are included in government-led preparedness activities.
Holly Solberg: Early warning systems and advance planning are key. We saw thousands of lives saved because of government evacuations when Cyclone Phailin hit India. CARE partners in the Philippines helped local government evacuate people before Typhoon Haiyan. CARE works with communities to identify practical ways to reduce risks and prepare for potential disasters. Being prepared and knowing what to do in case of an emergency is critical. Working with others, in a coordinated way—and particularly being looped into government plans--is also very important.
"The best way to reduce risk is investing in long-term, sustainable improvements and having a response plan in place."
Abagail Nelson: Communities where people watch out and care for each other are more resilient when faced with disaster. Projects such as installing early warning systems and creating evacuation strategies can save lives. The best way to reduce risk is investing in long-term, sustainable improvements and having a response plan in place.
MP: What is one thing you wish readers knew about emergency response in developing communities?
CS: Organizations that are already on the ground and have well-established relationships in communities are best positioned to respond to emergencies when they happen. These are the organizations that can deploy pre-positioned supplies immediately after an emergency, giving children and families the lifeline they need to survive.
IR: By the very definition of a disaster, a community will be overwhelmed in the early stages. While there is a lot they can do to move this coping capacity threshold, it is critical to understand that the responsibility cannot be left solely to them. Local governments and local NGOs have a responsibility to stand ready to assist.
"Research suggests that one dollar invested in disaster risk reduction can save two to ten dollars in disaster response and recovery costs, not to mention the reduction in impact on human lives."
JD: When implemented with a rigorous understanding of the local context, emergency response can not only save lives, but also restore the livelihoods people rely on to recover and rebuild. And when done responsibly, it can also help greatly reduce their risks to future disasters by addressing underlying vulnerabilities simultaneously.
JB: Response is only one part of the disasters cycle. Research suggests that one dollar invested in disaster risk reduction can save two to ten dollars in disaster response and recovery costs, not to mention the reduction in impact on human lives.
HS: Logistics can be a huge challenge during the first few days and even weeks after a disaster. Roads can be blocked by debris or mudslides. Basic services such as electricity and water are often not functioning. Just getting aid to certain places can be extremely difficult. But you see amazing and inspiring things in those first few days—it is important to remember that the people affected by emergencies are those that are on the ground first, responding immediately, helping each other, sharing, saving lives.
AN: The news cycle and the disaster response cycle are totally different. Global attention wanes after the initial relief stages, but that’s when our long-term recovery work begins. Our response in the Philippines will unfold over the next three years in cooperation with the community-based development programs of the local Church.
MP: Why is disaster relief in developing communities different from domestic disaster relief?
CS: Children in developing countries tend to be more vulnerable to disease and malnutrition both before and after disasters strike. Also, developing countries are less equipped to meet the basic needs of people affected by natural disasters, which means they rely on the support of organizations like UNICEF to deliver lifesaving relief.
IR: In many ways it is not. If we look at how natural disasters have overwhelmed capacity in the beginning of many recent US disasters, we can see how difficult it is to plan for the unexpected. Having said this, clearly more wealthy counties have a greater ability to allocate funds toward what may happen and to meet the everyday needs of the population.
"Children in developing countries tend to be more vulnerable to disease and malnutrition both before and after disasters strike."
JD: There often isn’t a significant difference in domestic and foreign disaster response. The bigger differences lie in the greater impact disasters have in more vulnerable communities—where buildings are poorly constructed, households have inadequate economic capacity to absorb shocks, and there is less capacity to rebuild, for example.
JB: Developing countries are more vulnerable to disasters as they often lack the required infrastructure, disaster preparedness systems, or resources to prepare for or manage these situations. Since 1980, low income countries have accounted for only nine percent of disaster events but 48 percent of the fatalities.
HS: Existing infrastructure problems can really hamper relief efforts. If phones, electricity and water systems never worked well to begin with, all that is magnified during a crisis. That said, people really pull together during an emergency. With Typhoon Haiyan, it’s the community that is leading rebuilding efforts—CARE and our partners are assisting them with their own relief and recovery efforts.
AN: The context might be different, but our approach is the same: we mobilize community assets to meet increased need. In the Philippines, our partner’s agricultural programs are supplying food for Typhoon Haiyan relief. In the US, churches expand their existing food or shelter ministries to help those most vulnerable.