It wouldn't be a disaster, if...
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CTA. 2002. It wouldn't be a disaster, if... Spore 102. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47748
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore102.pdf
Ouch! Disasters hit home hard, even when expected. The distinction between man-made or natural is often neither here nor there, when man provokes so much elsewhere in nature. But some are far too overwhelming to be controlled by man: then we can...
Ouch! Disasters hit home hard, even when expected. The distinction between man-made or natural is often neither here nor there, when man provokes so much elsewhere in nature. But some are far too overwhelming to be controlled by man: then we can only fear, predict and get ready. Better be prepared. The end of the world is not yet nigh, but it regularly seems to come pretty close. Storms, floods, droughts, plagues, fires, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Whatever has been and can be said about the nature of various disasters, they all have some things in common. They are unusual and life-threatening events; although no two disasters are the same, their effects often are. People lose goods and chattels, and in worst-case scenarios their lives. According to the World Food Programme, 5.5 million people are killed, injured or made homeless annually due to natural disasters; 95% of these casualties occur in developing countries. The economic costs are enormous too. Disasters in about 30 industrialised countries cost more than US$ 535 million a year, almost the same amount as the disastrous floods in Mozambique in 2001 cost that country alone! Barely a day goes by without news, usually left to simmer at national level and rarely awakening world media, of nature s slaps at man s presence and man s agriculture: Belize s hurricanes and endangered fisheries, the lava flows over Goma and the Great Lakes region of central Africa, or cyclones washing away more of Madagascar s eroded and fragile hills and destroying cultivation, 100%, on two of the Solomon Islands are recent cases. Finance is part of the problem, but a penny spent wisely on prevention, or mitigation (the lessening of the impact), is well-spent, if it is there to spend. Many governments in ACP countries have long been reluctant to invest in disaster-coping mechanisms and cannot always heed, or act upon, warnings. Early warning systems (EWS) can monitor and predict a variety of disasters, but expensively. They can work though - the prompt warnings of EWS in the Caribbean and the Sahel, for example, have increased their credibility, and thus their financial support. Of course, development is the best strategy to mitigate disasters, but in many ACP countries most rural people still live below the poverty line and are particularly vulnerable to disasters. And, let us face it, some of the most fertile lands are the most disaster-prone: delta areas in particular. Resilient and well-prepared In agricultural societies people can usually cope with recurring events. People in the Pacific and Caribbean anticipate the annual stormy season, when sometimes one hurricane or typhoon after another hits their islands shores. Trees can be trimmed, windows be boarded up and every farmers knows that root and tuber crops are more likely to resist a storm than a field of grain. In Africa, drought can be dealt with too. Farmers store grains to ensure their food and seed requirements for a few years to come. In the Horn of Africa, four consecutive dry seasons can be bridged with these stocks. Farmers also tend to keep numerous varieties of crops and seeds in stock to make an educated choice each season as to which varieties to plant, knowing the characteristics of each variety, including pest and drought resistance. Once these security patterns are broken when their storage systems are destroyed, confiscated in civil strife, when people become displaced or move to the slum areas of big cities people are more vulnerable to new disasters. Resilience has its limits. A local knowledge base is essential in disaster mitigation. Not only about crops and seed, but also river levels, climate, past disasters and the social structure of the community. Such information is central to the emerging practice of Community-Based Disaster Management (CBDM), where communities organise themselves against the effects of disasters. A committee is created, close to municipal authorities, linking the community to government agencies and aid organisations. Outside aid usually takes time to get into its stride. Such a committee maps out various risks and responses to diverse scenarios. The community s EWS will define who will warn whom in emergencies, where the assembly point is, who the most vulnerable families are, and who will contact the responsible government or non-government agencies and pave the way for when aid and media arrive. These committees could even secure funds or emergency goods. Together we stand Governments are taking up their responsibilities too. Jamaica s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management is a sound example of a pro-active state body. It has detailed scenarios for disasters and regular training for all sections of the society, including children. In Africa, various governments are establishing policies to mitigate disasters: Uganda and South Africa have developed such strategies already and others are starting to make provisions for emergencies in national budgets. Regional efforts are taking place too. In the southern African region, for example, SADC operates a regional EWS. Disasters are not usually restricted to a single country but affect entire regions. Both cause and effect are regional in nature, as shown by the floods in Mozambique. Hopeful signs there are, but let us face the fact that, as Nobel Prize winner Amatyar Sen points out, no democratic country suffers from famine. Despite poverty and recurring droughts, he argues that responsible and accountable governments reallocate resources in times of crisis to prevent famine. Perhaps development and democracy are the best ways to withstand the effects of disasters. [caption to illustration] When the cause is upstream, surely we can prevent this? International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, United Nations secretariat Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland Fax: +41 22 917 9098 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.unisdr.org