Reducing the Risk of Disaster
By Yovanna Troansky*
"I am grateful for the knowledge about disaster risk reduction. This will help us greatly, as we are always beset by disasters. I learned that we need to be aware of weather updates and to be alert in times of emergencies. I learned about the hazards in our barangay (community) and what we can do." Adelrita Ay-ay, a beneficiary of an UMCOR Disaster Risk Reduction grant in partnership with Relief International in the Philippines, January 2017.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has as its goal to alleviate suffering in communities. When a natural hazard, such as a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake, has churned into a disaster because of a community’s vulnerability and lack of resources, UMCOR is grateful for the many people who help survivors recover some of their material goods. No one, though, can recover a life lost in a disaster. Losing someone close can generate permanent suffering.
Yovanna Troansky, UMCOR’s manager for Disaster Risk Reduction, speaks with participants who traveled from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to take part in a Disaster Risk Reduction training held at Global Ministries’ headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. PHOTO: CYNTHIA MACK
Disaster risk reduction (DRR) is a process that seeks to avoid and alleviate suffering in proactive and long-lasting ways. This process helps communities identify their vulnerabilities and the resources needed to address them and thereby reduce or mitigate the negative impacts of hazards.
Adelrita Ay-ay is from Barangay 85, San Jose, Tacloban City, one of the communities hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. She knows now how vulnerable her community was during the storm. “We did not prepare for the incoming typhoon at the time, thinking that it was just one of those typhoons that visit us normally,” Adelrita said in an interview with Relief International in the Philippines. “People were so used to having typhoons all the time that we only made minimal preparation.”
Through the course of the storm, Alderita’s house became a refuge for several of her neighbors, but even on the second floor, the water rose to be knee-deep. They lost everything, but they survived.
Adelrita is a Barangay Nutrition Scholar (BNS) from her village. Barangay 85 was chosen to participate in Relief International’s Urban Disaster Risk Reduction Project, which was offered in partnership with UMCOR. Although her family has had to relocate from the village, Adelrita takes with her the knowledge she learned and she will teach others about preparing in advance to reduce the risks and effects of devastating storms.
Prevention and Preparedness
All people have the right to live in a place where life can thrive. Yet, impoverished communities register more disasters than other communities. This doesn’t mean that they are struck by a greater number of hazards but that, because of their levels of vulnerability, the impact is more frequently disastrous.
Disaster risk reduction aims to help communities understand the importance of creating and maintaining a balanced relationship between the natural environment and the environment that humans build, of mitigating existing risks and increasing resilience, and of preventing the creation of future risks.
For the DRR process to be effective, it needs to be made an integral part of daily community life. It is particularly connected with socioeconomic development processes because disasters are, ultimately, the result of gaps in human development. These gaps create stress in the relationship between the natural and built environments.
Basic Life Support and First Aid training participants, resource speakers, and Relief International-Philippines staff members at the November 2016 Disaster Risk Reduction training held in partnership with UMCOR. PHOTO: RELIEF INTERNATIONAL
UMCOR engages in three main strategies for reducing the risks of disaster, depending on the needs and resources identified by community members.
1. Remedial—This approach helps communities manage their current risk scenarios, so they understand the connection between their built and natural environments and the consequences of their actions. Once the issues are clear, communities work together to identify ways to reestablish balance. In Indonesia, for example, UMCOR worked with communities to build water reservoirs that supply communities with drinking water during dry seasons.
2. Proactive—Using this strategy, communities prepare to manage the challenges of natural hazards and avoid the generation of future disaster risks. Communities learn to identify imbalance, its cumulative effects, and the changes needed to avoid disaster. An example of this is UMCOR’s support for the local government of Las Terrenas, in the Dominican Republic, to establish land-use policies that avoid erosion and preserve the earth. Another, in the Philippines, is UMCOR’s work with communities to build evacuation centers and help residents understand how to better prepare for emergencies.
3. Reactive—This basic approach helps communities respond to emergencies in timely and effective ways, reducing loss and protecting people’s lives and integrity. Along these lines, UMCOR worked with the Methodist Church in Peru to establish and train volunteer teams at local levels who will help in the church’s response to disasters.
Speakers from Relief International, Philippines, demonstrate how to make an improvised stretcher during rescue operations using bandages and bamboo. This UMCOR partner project in the Philippines is helping communities to be better prepared to respond in the case of typhoons. PHOTO: RELIEF INTERNATIONAL
UMCOR works with communities around the world in disaster risk reduction programs that draw from these three strategies. It is vital to our shared life on Earth that we embrace, at the level of every community, the need to reverse patterns of imbalance, degradation, and lack of awareness.
Rapid and unplanned urbanization and environmental degradation are increasing the exposure of communities to hazards, and the effects of climate change are intensifying the hazards. Communities can’t stop natural hazards from happening, but they can increase their resilience to disasters and, in that way, avoid or reduce the suffering generated by the impact of disasters.
*Yovanna Troansky is the manager for UMCOR’s Disaster Risk Reduction, the General Board of Global Ministries.