By Kate Roux in Thailand
Walking through the damp mud of an extensive mangrove plantation, wearing straw hats to keep cool from the mid-morning sun, the Red Cross societies of Lao, Thailand and Viet Nam along with the Southeast Asia regional delegation from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), took action last week to mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction. Knee-deep in solidarity, everyone dug into the mud to plant mangrove trees, while smiles and laughter were shared.
“Disaster risk reduction and preparedness is a necessity that we must realize and act upon,” said Mr. Tej Bunnag, Assistant Secretary General for administration at The Thai Red Cross Society in his opening speech.
These words ring particularly true for the region of Southeast Asia, which is so vulnerable to natural disaster that it is often referred to as ‘the supermarket for disasters’. In 2008 alone, the region suffered 152 natural disasters according to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The unique mangrove ecosystem is, therefore, particularly relevant in this part of the world. Mangrove plantations protect coastal areas from erosion, storm surges and tsunami as their massive root systems are effective in slowing down tidal water and collecting sediment when the tide arrives.
The vulnerability of Southeast Asia to disasters further underlines the significance of having the leadership of the National Societies come together to promote disaster risk reduction initiatives.
The event, hosted by The Thai Red Cross Society, welcomed the new President from Lao Red Cross, Mr. Laoly Faiphenyoa, and the new President of Vietnam Red Cross Society, Mr. Nguyen Hai Duong.
Their exchange also provided an important opportunity to share success stories. Vietnam Red Cross Society has been running a mangrove plantation project for nearly two decades, which has mitigated risk to disasters and also enhanced livelihoods of numerous communities.
“It is a great opportunity that we can mark this day together with the National Societies of Lao, Thailand and Viet Nam, as well as other communities around the world, in an effort to reduce risk to disasters,” Anne LeClerc, Head of the IFRC Southeast Asia regional delegation, said. “Especially since we know that the Red Cross Red Crescent is a leader in demonstrating how it is possible to reduce risks for hazards and natural disasters, for today and future generations.”