This week is Global Emergencies Week, an awareness raising initiative and fundraising drive from ActionAid. The reason I wanted to mention this is that we’re quite familiar with emergency relief work, but we don’t usually get the whole story when it comes to emergencies. The high profile relief effort that kicks in after a disaster is hard to miss. It’s all over the news and often TV appeals, but there’s a whole other side to emergencies that we don’t hear so much about – disaster preparedness.
That’s the work that happens before disasters. By nature, it’s not dramatic and newsworthy, but it’s hugely important. As the climate destabilises, the number of natural disasters is rising. It is increasingly important to be prepared.
Disaster preparedness takes many forms. Analysing vulnerability is often a starting point, working out what might happen and what knock-on consequences might be for things like food and water supply. Once vulnerabilities are identified, you can make interventions to reduce risk. For example, if an area is prone to flooding, you can create planned routes for flood water, channels, embankments and soakaways. Trees can be planted where there is a risk of landslides and erosion.
You can’t usually eliminate risk entirely, so resilience building is another important factor. Using the same example, villages at risk of flooding could be fitted with wells built on elevated platforms so that flood water doesn’t contaminate drinking water and add water-borne disease to the tragedy. Where the risk is from seasonal hurricanes, it might mean creating storm shelters and reserves of food and medical supplies.
A lot of work happens at the community level, working with people to prepare for emergencies. This can include first aid training, planning evacuation routes and doing drills in schools so that children know what to do when disaster strikes. Community planning also involves making sure that someone is responsible for particularly vulnerable disabled or elderly people who might need extra help.
Disaster preparedness saves lives, and if you’d like to support this week’s appeal, you can do so here.