Preparing for Disasters

We can't prevent a natural disaster from happening, however, we can reduce the damages done by it.

In 2015 alone, there were 346 disasters, killing 22,773 people, surmounting a loss of US$66.5 million in costs, and affecting 98.6 million people according to UNISDR. If only everyone knew about disaster preparedness, many tragedies could be prevented or minimised.

Talking About Preparedness

Responding to current emergencies is just one part of World Vision’s response towards disaster relief. World Vision works with communities, even before a disaster hits them, to help them be better prepared for future disasters. With today’s technology, it is no longer difficult for us to assess the potential risk of a natural disaster; however, significant repercussions may still ensue when a disaster strikes due to lack of preparation and knowledge to mitigate the impact of a disaster.

World Vision’s approach of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is to help communities be aware of the risks they face and how to properly prepare and respond in the event of an emergency. World Vision designs programmes to eliminate or mitigate hazards within a community’s control, increase community resilience and provide DRR training.

"Now, I Can Protect Myself"

Zin lives along the banks of a channel prone to flooding when water flows from a river in Myanmar. Although the village was frequently hit by seasonal floods, the villagers were unprepared to protect themselves and their children until World Vision provided DRR training.

Most of the families in the village practise traditional fishing. The river is their major source of food and livelihood, yet it also poses threats to their lives, properties, and not to mention disrupting the education of children. When the rainy season comes and water level arises, the school compound is submerged up to two feet high of floodwater, which recedes after about two weeks.

Now, the community as a whole, including children like sixth-grader Zin, are now aware of the impacts of these floods and are better prepared to respond to natural disasters. “I can now protect myself. When the water level rises, I will go to a higher ground. I should take along drinking water and some dry food,” says Zin, 13.

Zin shares the knowledge he learned from training with other children.

Students were also advised to go to the highest building in the school compound when flood warnings are announced, "I should run up to that building when the school gets flooded," says Zin, pointing to the building that serves as a shelter during an emergency.

World Vision organises regular meetings and training for members of Community-based Disaster Management Committee, facilitating the community to draft a disaster preparedness plan. "Previously, communities were not aware of the hazards of disasters, but now they realise that their children are at risk if a disaster strikes," says Lu, a World Vision staff.

What to Do Amidst Disaster

In Cambodia, Phally describes a folklore that when acted on, is believed to stop strong winds, “My mom told me to put a knife in the stove,” her husband Chheng adds, “The knife is placed upright with its sharp edge facing the direction of the wind. We believe the knife can cut the wind and stop its power.” In fact, the couple and their family faced a life-threatening storm in 2015 and they were able to remain calm, not because of the folklore, but the knowledge they gained from DRR training.

As farmers, they were happy to see the rain was coming and rushed to finish their work before the dark clouds emerged. Suddenly, Phally heard a voice from the house: “Mommy, Mommy! The tree has fallen down! Our house is going to fall down too!” Her terrified son cried from the house where its corrugated zinc roof was flapping. “I was so scared and thought about what might happen to us,” says Phally, “I immediately thought of the cowshed as a safe place to stay.”

World Vision has trained regional leaders, including Chheng who was the local chief, to improve disaster preparedness at the local level. “If I hadn’t been to the training beforehand, I would’ve been stressed on that day and wouldn’t have known how to respond or how to cope with the disaster,” says Chheng. “I visited places that had accidents and collected some information. I then reported to the director of the health centre, the school head and police to take action. All of us knew our duties and how to respond. We acted quickly without waiting for two or three days.”

The Disaster-Ready School

An earthquake rips through a school in Indonesia. Children duck under their desks with their hands covering their heads. When the shaking stops, students rush out of their classrooms, pouring into the school’s courtyard. But it becomes clear that not all the children are there. A team of Grade 5 and 6 students run back to the classrooms to search for the missing students. Rescue and search efforts continue for 15 minutes. Finally, a bell rings. Children break into smiles and laughter. The quake simulation ends, instilling invaluable lessons.
Two boys arrive with a stretcher and gently move one of the injured students, carrying him to safety.

"If we face a real earthquake now, we won't be confused," says Nurul, a Grade 6 student who is part of the child medical team in the school's Disaster Club. "We know how to check if everyone is okay and if everyone is there," she adds.

The school was hit by the 2004 tsunami which snatched away lives of 11 teachers and over 200 students. In the aftermath, World Vision helped set up temporary learning spaces for children, and taught teachers how to run a disaster simulation in order to educate children to react to future emergencies.

Be Well-prepared

"We can reduce risks, but we can never eliminate them. Unfortunately, natural disasters will continue to happen, as we have seen recently in the devastating earthquakes in Nepal and Ecuador. We must prepare for them much more effectively, so we can respond as quickly as possible," the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in the World Humanitarian Summit.

This is why World Vision implements DRR features in all of its Area Development Programmes around the world, and educates disaster-stricken communities about disaster preparedness during rehabilitation. Through our DRR programmes, we aim to improve children and families' capacities to face future disasters. We believe that with greater capacity, they become more resilient to risk.

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