Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tsunamis are examples of what many of us would call natural disasters. In fact they are examples of natural hazards that turn into disasters once villages, towns and cities have been affected. A lack in preparation to handle such perils leaves communities vulnerable to the damages caused. Thus it is important to establish methods and programmes to reduce the risks brought to humans by natural hazards, as well as programmes which enable local communities to come together to learn and develop new skills in preparing and responding to catastrophes.
Muslim Aid promotes the inclusion of disaster risk reduction projects in hazard prone areas of the world and on the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on 13th October, the organisation highlights the key variables concerned with risk preparedness and reduction. Successful disaster risk reduction strategies require systematic planning processes where Governments and NGO’s engage in discussion with local communities to identify problems and provide solutions in high risk areas. Disaster risk reduction is a test of how successful disaster preparedness has been before a hazard strikes. Many countries are unable to develop their national capacity in establishing a trained unit of volunteers in emergency response and early warning. Without such support citizens are left in a state of extreme vulnerability and are more likely to fall into life threatening positions. This occurs more often with women and girls. In many disaster risk reduction sessions, women are generally excluded. In countries where women have a lower socio-economic status, research has shown that more women die as a result of natural hazards than men (Neumayer and Plumper, 2007). The consequences of excluding women from disaster risk reduction programmes and initiatives are much higher than anticipated. Inclusion in such activities could be the difference between life and death.
In many countries susceptible to natural hazards, women are not educated or trained in looking for signs of a natural hazard before it arrives. They do not know how best to react to hazards once they occur. For example, many women do not receive first aid training whilst men and boys gain these life saving skills through education and participation in community training sessions. Therefore men and boys are better able to cope in disastrous situations compared to their female equivalents.
Investment should focus on reducing dependence on government-sponsored employment initiatives and bring greater responsibility and global awareness to communities. Muslim Aid’s interest free microfinance program in countries with little or no social safety-nets such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka is designed to enable those in need to become self sufficient without depending on government subsidies or outside help.
Muslim Aid firmly believes that women and girls need to be included in disaster risk reduction discussions within communities and ensures that their disaster risk reduction programmes are open to women and girls as well as men and boys. Since the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, Muslim Aid has implemented a mangrove plantation project, with more than 15000 seedlings provided. In addition workshops and an awareness campaign to promote mangrove planting has also been implemented. Mangroves, although cannot prevent tsunamis and floods, can act as a natural barrier and minimize the damage caused to the environment. The project itself is an excellent example of how donors, aid agencies and host governments can learn from each other to enhance community coordination and local resilience. Post-disaster situations provide a fresh impetus to learn from the past and build on the existing architecture of disaster preparedness. This is often overwhelmed by other considerations such as post-disaster reconstruction and development, ecological impact of disasters, insurance claims, legal and financial implications and the overall political and economic vulnerability of states. We must continue to build on local awareness, resilience and sustainability by regularly sharing best practice and experience and by placing people at the centre of the DRR agenda. Muslim Aid has signed strategic partnership agreements with a number of organizations such as the OIC and the IDB to enhance its rapid response. We remain fully committed to implementing this comprehensive agenda.