Preparedness and Coordination essential to saving more lives and reducing the impact of natural disasters

Published: 25 June 2013

By Jan Gelfand Head of Programmes and Operations, Americas Zone Office, International Federation  of the Red Cross and Red Crescent 

Once again the hurricane season is upon us and across the Americas Red Cross National Societies continue the challenging work of preparing for the emergencies. National Societies continue working together with governments and communities to  reduce the risks and hazards faced by vulnerable communities and increase community resilience. According to predictions it is expected that this hurricane season will be thirty per cent stronger than the norm established from 1915-2012. To be clear there are 16 tropical storms and 8 major hurricanes predicted. 

Earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, droughts and floods have been responsible for the loss of about  65,000 lives, have generated US 20 billion in damages and affected the lives of more than 15 million people in the region over the last three decades. Latin America and the Caribbean already register the highest number of disasters and second highest number of deaths due to disasters worldwide. Because of climate change, temperatures will likely increase by up to 4 degrees this century affecting the frequency of disasters, water quality, livelihoods and more.

A further increase in the number of disasters will overwhelm national and global disaster management systems. Humanitarian organizations  must address this challenge by increasing disaster response and preparedness at all levels – from local to global. 

We are already facing some of the adverse effects of climate change such as more severe storms, flash flooding and severe droughts. For this reason enhanced action on adaptation is needed to help avert or reduce the worst humanitarian consequences of climate change such as loss of life, housing and livelihoods, food insecurity and morbidity. Great efforts must be made to support rapid scale-up of adaptation through community-based risk reduction interventions.

Vulnerability to disasters is determined less by the scale of a disaster and often more by the underlying causes such as chronic poverty, unemployment, water scarcity, malnutrition, lack of access to health and education among others. People living in poverty remain vulnerable from recurring disasters, as they lack the resources at the household and community level to bounce back from the impact of disasters.

Strengthening resilience and preparedness is the first line of defence for the vulnerable in many risk-prone countries. Public awareness-raising and public education help reduce disaster risk and improve disaster preparedness. This allows people to become aware of their own risks, vulnerabilities and capacities, and enables them to work for their own risk reduction and resilience building.

Collaboration is also key to building community resilience and reducing risks. There must be increased and improved collaboration amongst all stakeholders including governments, civil society organizations and the private sector, as well  as other humanitarian and development practitioners. If we look to reduce the impact of disasters and reduce we must work together for the benefit of safer, healthier and more resilient communities.

Multi-sector integration is required to reduce vulnerability. To increase resilience and reduce vulnerability, we must work holistically in our programmes and address the underlying causes of vulnerabilities that affect a person’s well-being.

Driven by increasing humanitarian needs the 35 National Societies of the Red Cross in the Americas, along with partner national societies, and external partners are meeting in Bogota, Colombia for the first ever Continental Pre-Disaster Pre-Hurricane meeting. We will meet to exchange knowledge and experience, share lessons learned, learn about new technologies for response and recovery, and participate in trainings on how to use these new tools and approaches to improve our humanitarian action. 

In 2012, the IFRC’s Pan-American Disaster Response unit managed 22 operations in 16 countries. To support these operations three appeals and 19 activations of the disaster relief emergency funds were launched for a total of 17,103,098 Swiss francs, reaching 197,000 beneficiaries. 

Strengthening the preparedness and capacities of National Red Cross Societies and the communities where we work and live is essential to enable the Red Cross Red Crescent to continue improving responses when disasters occur as well as reduce disaster risks. 

The IFRC and its member National Societies have three main approaches to reducing disaster risks; strengthen the preparedness and capacities of vulnerable communities so that they are better positioned to respond when a disaster strikes, promote activities that mitigate the adverse effects of hazards, and protect development projects such as health and education facilities, community infrastructures and livelihoods from the impact of disasters.  

Red Cross National Societies across the Americas supported by their Secretariat,  will continue to work with vulnerable communities in community-based early warning systems, first aid, health and shelter, developing disaster preparedness plans, micro mitigation activities, and delivering health care, hygiene and nutrition information to remote vulnerable communities. 

In keeping with its auxiliary role toward governments and local communities through its partners, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are often the first to offer help in emergency situations and in some contexts are the only support that a community receives. In light of the evolving complexity of disaster response and recovery, coordination and collaboration are ever more important to reduce the impact of disasters, loss of life and livelihoods, not only during this hurricane season but throughout the year.  

An evolving context also entails changes in technology, with important innovations that can help us to improve our humanitarian interventions. Therefore, it is ever more important for the National Societies to meet and share experiences, learning from one another to continue doing more, doing better and reaching further.