Let’s stop disasters happening!

December 12th, 2013

So far today I’ve read an article on Tsunamis and how many there have been over the last few thousand years, received an appeal for people still impacted by the typhoon in the Philippines, and seen a news report saying that the number of people impacted by climate related disasters is growing at a huge rate. Two of these were in a 10 minute skim of the BBC while eating my sandwich at lunch time. The third popped into my inbox.

I wasn’t looking for news on disasters but …

There are more and worse disasters – it’s a fact!

The scale, frequency and severity of natural disasters has risen progressively over the last 20 years. It’s happening because of climate change, resource scarcity, people living on marginalised lands and migration to cities (more densely packed people can mean more casualties).

In Nepal earlier this year, I heard how UK Minister, Alan Duncan, described Kathmandu as another Haiti waiting to happen – major earthquakes happen in this part of Nepal on average once every 100 years, it’s been 90 years plus since the last one. In the densely packed streets, with narrow roads between high rise houses it was easy to see how vulnerable people would be if an earthquake hit and to feel scared.

Yet as a world our response to disasters remains the same – when they happen we are desperate to help. Of course we are – we see poor little children suffering, people desperately searching for loved ones, scavenging rubble for what remains of their possessions. The devastation in The Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan was terrible.

BUT in some ways this approach, providing help after disasters strike, can be best described as sticking plaster. Wouldn’t it be so much better that instead of rushing to help; we did everything we could in advance to stop disasters hurting so many people? I think it would!

Planning flood early warning systems in Nepal

Planning flood early warning systems in Nepal

This very practical approach – planning and taking action in advance – is called disaster risk reduction. It’s an approach we at Practical Action use, advocate and are seen as leaders in. It’s very sensible and required very sensible, practical action. For example in Bangladesh we are helping communities prepare for flooding through building water pumps on raised platforms, in Nepal working on early warning systems, in Peru earthquake-resistant buildings etc.

The issue however is money. Earlier this week I heard that for every £100 we, as a world,  spend on disaster response we only spend 40 pence helping people prepare for disaster. £100 versus 40 pence!

Isn’t that wrong? What if we were able to reverse the numbers? Now that could be exciting!

We cant stop earthquakes, floods, typhoons happening – we can – if we prepare sufficiently in advance – stop some of them turning into disasters.

An example …

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