International Day for Disaster Reduction: In Central Asia, early action saves lives

Published: 7 October 2008

When trained disaster response teams of Tajikistan Red Crescent volunteers and staff arrived on the site of an earthquake that measured 5.5 on the Richter scale in Rasht, eastern Tajikistan, only six hours after the disaster struck on 22 July last year, it was proof if needed that good, community-based disaster preparedness training helps save lives, reduce risk and promptly deliver vital assistance to survivors. The Red Crescent team was the first on the scene to provide first aid, assess needs and bring emergency relief to 720 of the most affected people.

This was again the case in Kyrgyzstan on 5 October when the Red Crescent immediately activated its contingency plan and despatched teams to distribute emergency relief, provide first aid and assess needs and damages, only hours after a massive earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale hit the Osh region of the country, leaving more than 70 people dead and 100 injured.

“On this International Day for Disaster Reduction, we reiterate the vital importance of training local teams in managing crisis situations, and in preparing for disasters, involving the community as the most important resource,” underlines Mohammed Mukhier, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ disaster policy and preparedness department in Geneva. “Nothing is more effective, as we have seen in Central Asia recently, and in other parts of the world, such as Cuba, Mozambique and West Africa, especially when preparedness is combined with early warning systems and public awareness.”

Since the beginning of 2007, and with support from the European Commission humanitarian aid department (ECHO), the Red Crescent Societies in the five Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, have developed national and regional contingency plans and set up national disaster response teams to meet humanitarian needs more effectively in an extremely disaster-prone region.

The funding supports the training of national disaster preparedness teams in emergency response, first aid, relief coordination and needs assessments, the pre-positioning of stocks, as well as the setting up of telecommunications systems and logistics. Regular simulation exercises are also organized, to refresh people’s skills and knowledge about disaster preparedness, along with the distribution of information leaflets.

“Everyone in the community must be involved, young and old, men and women, village elders and their grandchildren, to make sure preparedness measures are fully accepted, implemented and integrated into the life of the village,” adds Mohammed Mukhier. “This ensures that everyone knows what to do if a disaster strikes to help themselves, their family, friends and neighbours, until outside help arrives. Communities at risk are the most effective first responders.”

Note to editors: A fact sheet on disaster preparedness programmes in Central Asia is attached to this press release. Video footage of a disaster preparedness simulation exercise, conducted by the Tajikistan Red Crescent, (B-Roll 6’53”), is available and broadcast via EBU in Geneva.