Saturday, 25 April 2015

Let's not forget: Relief efforts don't start from scratch

Today more than ever, I believe in the power of Disaster Risk Reduction.   In the power of understanding risk and acting on it in timely fashion to make sure that our society can continue to function even in presence of extreme hazardous events. There is already an extensive community of people who has been working hard to engrave in the hearts and minds of politicians, technocrats,  decisions makers and people in general that we “ the human race”  have the power to manage our own risk and minimize the risk of disaster. Yet despite our progress we have to be honest in recognising that we have not yet achieved our goals.

Yesterday, the terrible event that we knew for years was coming, befell Nepal and the surrounding region. A 7.9 earthquake struck Nepal, India, China and Bangladesh, at the shallow depth of just 15 km (approximately). We, the DRR practitioners knew it, the politicians knew it, the scientific community new it, were the people in those countries really informed about it?  The answer is yes. But a better question could be:  did they really consciously understand the fact that it could happen?  For this, I still struggle to respond. Last night I contacted all my friends in Nepal , and fortunately all of them were safe. As we would hope for an organisation of their nature - Most of them are part of the National Society for Earthquake Technology.  When I went to Nepal to work with this remarkable organization, I was astonished to see the impeccable work Amod Mani Dixit and his team have done after more than 18 years of work (at that time 2009).

NSET was created because of the conviction of Amod - that Nepal needed to be protected for the imminent risk of earthquake that we know affects the region.  Kathmandu a heavily populated city, where the people live in buildings without any kind of earthquake resistant techniques, particularly in the most historical parts and with a very compact urban space, was obviously defined as the city with the highest risk of disaster due to earthquakes. On the other hand, rural areas with precarious buildings, limited road infrastructure, high level of poverty, and so on and so forth, was also the main motivation for NSET to establish the most professional Earthquake Risk Management organizations in the region.  

A combination of hard science and social science has been the approach used by NSET until now,  very qualified Nepali team of civil engineers and architects working hand by hand with anthropologist, sociologist social workers and journalist. This is the key to success for several projects implemented all over Nepal and South East Asian region.

But, why am I telling you all this? The answer is simple. I want us to avoid that under-informed people start judging Nepal for a lack of preparedness or negligence.   Many efforts have been done by Nepali and other South East Asian leaders, academics and practitioners, to make sure that the population is informed and knows what to do in case of an earthquake, they have also worked hard to convince governments and donors to invest in retrofitting of hospitals, schools and other vital buildings. School safety has been a massive priority, implemented with the most high quality standards. I personally had the opportunity to attend one school camp, when NSET invited Japanese students that experienced the Kobe earthquake to share their experience and knowledge with Nepalese students. Every year for the last 10 years these events have taken place all over Nepal. 

There is a representative of NSET in every district of Nepal working together with the local governments and training of masons is the one  of the most important programs. There are masons trained all over the country by professional staff.  I could name hundreds of programs and I still wouldn't have gotten through them all.

My point is that we, the international community, if we have any intention to support the government of Nepal in the relief, recovery, rehabilitation and development interventions, we have to be conscious of the fact that we are not starting from scratch. Therefore, shelter, water, sanitation, livelihood, infrastructure and all kind of interventions have to be engraved into the strategies that several national organizations and the government have already been doing for years.

Today, once more,  the new Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction makes completely sense, and every single priority must become the guide for any humanitarian and development intervention that will be done.

Let’s not forget the main point that we discussed at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction:  “Tackling underlying risk factors is the key for DRR”. Poor, uneducated and  marginalized populations are suffering and will continue to suffer if each country and individual in this world do not start to support more actively the efforts being made to manage the risks of disasters that we are all exposed to. 

For more information about NSET:  

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