Disaster preparednessDisaster preparedness – what does it mean in reality?

Prevention is better than follow-up humanitarian aid

Disaster prevention is humanitarian assistance that is planned to ensure people living in high-risk areas are better prepared to cope with natural disasters. Events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, landslides, floods or droughts do not turn into a humanitarian disaster. This means a significant reduction of the extent and costs of dealing with disaster.

Disaster preparedness can mean:

  • Disaster management which saves lives
  • Local people are better prepared for future natural disasters
  • Prevention aid reduces vulnerability and increases society’s resilience
  • Damage can be restricted to a minimum

Disaster preparedness in reality:

Grain banks boost people’s abilities to help themselves

The West African country of Niger is in the central Sahel zone. Periods of drought, poor or failed harvests and the high prices of basic foodstuffs repeatedly cause famines. Grain banks are established to break through this negative spiral, to reduce the population’s susceptibility and to guarantee that people have enough to eat even during seasons with low crop yields. There is a simple principle behind this disaster prevention project: the village community votes for a committee of seven members who focus on administration and filling up the grain bank. Those who wish to become a member of the grain bank community pay a small contribution in the form of money or grain. If market prices increase because the stores are depleted from the last harvest, the members can acquire grain from the bank for a reasonable sum. The grain banks also make a contribution to reinforcing the population’s ability to help themselves and boost resilience against hunger.

Earthquake-proof building with branches from the mulberry tree

Every year numerous earthquakes hit Tajikistan. The biggest problem is the local mudbrick building style used to construct houses that often prove not resistant to shocks. The results are destruction and homelessness. To prevent this and to reduce the impact of future earthquakes, a sustainable method was developed to ensure that houses are built to withstand earthquakes. The basic method involves: using a wooden frame to reinforce the walls of the houses and a web of branches and twigs from the mulberry tree. The walls are then covered with a mixture made from local materials such as straw, wool and cement and then plaster. The wood from the mulberry tree is flexible and still tough enough to ensure that buildings will resist shocks from earthquakes in future. The success of this approach has been proven and the method was adopted in national building guidelines.

Safe from the next floodwater

In south-western Nepal the monsoon and sustained downpours repeatedly cause flooding. The swollen rivers burst their banks and become life threatening for everyone. To be prepared for future storm surges and flooding in the mid-west region several disaster prevention measures were simultaneously put in place: in the event of a flood, a disaster protection team, which was elected by the village community, ensures that residents in the endangered zones are kept informed. The team raises the alarm. Evacuation plans have already been devised in advance. These show which villages and locations offer a safe haven in the event of flooding. The local people therefore know where to go in the event of danger. In the past, the floods led to many people drowning. The village community therefore decided to manufacture a life jacket for every resident using PET bottles to be equipped for the worst-case scenario. Every household now keeps one of these safety vests. These measures ensure that the local population is better prepared for an impending flood. They are also in a better position to help themselves.