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Six things you need to know about disaster risk reduction at HI


Prevention | Protection | International | PUBLISHED ON October 13th 2023
In response to consecutive intense cyclones devastating communitities in Madagascar, HI distributed household kits, hygiene kits, dignity kits and cash to 1,024 households, targeting individuals with disabilities and vulnerable individuals.

In response to consecutive intense cyclones devastating communitities in Madagascar, HI distributed household kits, hygiene kits, dignity kits and cash to 1,024 households, targeting individuals with disabilities and vulnerable individuals. | © H. Andrianjatovo / HI

Focus in the frame of International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, 13 October.

What exactly are we talking about?

Reducing the risk of disasters is based on the principle that the human and economic losses caused by natural disasters are not inevitable; they can be minimised and, in some cases, prevented.

Climate change is a constant and unprecedented threat that is increasing the intensity and frequency of the kind of extreme weather conditions that cause disasters.  Local actors and international aid organisations are struggling to respond to the crises that these disasters engender.

Therefore, it is urgent to act before they occur by reducing the vulnerability of at-risk communities and individuals, and strengthening and improving their response capacity. This is the aim of HI’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DDR) projects.

Almost a quarter of the countries in which HI works are concerned

Today, HI is working on disaster risk reduction projects in 12 countries around the world, in Asia (Philippines, Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh), Central and South America (Cuba, Haiti and Colombia), Africa and the Indian Ocean (Mali, Niger, Madagascar and Burkina Faso) and Palestine.

A total of 23 DDR projects are being deployed in these countries, focused on risk awareness, training, the strengthening of community anticipation, preparedness and response, institutional strengthening, and the distribution of essential goods. They are all highly exposed to climate-related disasters – exacerbated by climate change - and their populations are extremely vulnerable to the consequences. For all these reasons, risk management needs to be stepped up.

Through its DDR projects, HI is supporting more than 783,000 people directly or indirectly.

The Philippines, among the most exposed countries

10 years ago, typhoon Hayan claimed the lives of at least 10,000 people. Since then, the country has been regularly hit by climate-related disasters. The Philippines is one of the four countries in the world most affected by extreme weather events. It is also one of the countries most at risk from climate change because of its exposure, vulnerability and lack of coping mechanisms.

The damage caused by these events is always considerable – destruction of infrastructure and property, loss of livelihoods, displacement of populations, acts of gender-based violence, breakdown in access to healthcare – and presents a huge challenge.

HI’s teams in the Philippines, as well as providing a multi-sectoral response to emergencies (protection, distribution of hygiene kits and mobility devices, etc.), are also running a range of development projects with the communities designed to help anticipate and reduce disaster risks. For HI Philippines, it is essential to involve local communities, particularly women, older people and people with disabilities who are often the most affected, to help them become proactive in defending their rights and well-being.

In Madagascar, workshops for strengthening the inclusiveness of humanitarian action

Particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and extreme climatic events, it is crucial for the population of Madagascar, and in particular the most vulnerable communities, to be as prepared as possible for these events and their short, medium and long-term consequences.

Since 2021, HI Madagascar has been organising workshops on inclusive humanitarian action, and is currently assessing the vulnerability and resources of populations in its intervention zones. The findings of these assessments will be used to establish early action protocols, also known as "anticipatory action based on forecasts", which will ensure better protection for vulnerable populations as soon as an alert is received and reduce humanitarian needs.

To achieve this, the involvement and participation of all sections of the population, particularly people with disabilities and older people, is essential. HI’s teams regularly organise working groups to find out more about their living conditions and the barriers they encounter in their daily lives and when a disaster hits the island. These meetings help the teams to find the most appropriate solutions to mitigate these situations.

These discussions have revealed that the needs of people with disabilities and older people are not sufficiently considered in a crisis. Participants in the workshops spoke of the lack of information available to them, being forgotten during evacuations, their isolation, and the inadequacy of the assistance provided to them by the inhabitants who are focused on reconstruction once the event has passed. All these arguments confirm the need to take better account of the specific needs of these populations.

Long-term support in Cuba

In September 2022, Hurricane Ian hit Cuba with winds of more than 200 km/h. Many Cubans said they had never experienced anything like it. In Pinar del Río province, the hurricane damaged 100,000 homes, destroyed 660 schools, and ravaged 21,000 hectares of farmland.

In addition to its emergency response activities, HI Cuba is now helping communities to become more resilient to deal with these challenges over the long term. In April 2023, HI launched a new project to strengthen the resilience of the inhabitants of three towns: Consolación del Sur, San Juan y Martínez and Pinar del Río. The aim is to help communities to adopt preventive measures, with a focus on including women, people with disabilities and older people.

HI is also planning disaster preparedness training in schools, as well as awareness-raising sessions for support staff on emotional support for children.

HI further supports the development of urban farms, offering training and encouraging the use of agroecological methods, such as crop rotation and composting, which are more respectful of the environment. In this way, the food autonomy of communities is strengthened, improving their resilience to future disasters.

In the Sahel, a multi-risk and participatory approach

populations with which HI works on its disaster risk reduction projects are often struggling to cope with multiple risks of very different kinds: natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, armed violence, gender-based violence, discrimination linked to age and disability, the impact of these phenomena on mental health and so on.

These risks can accumulate or compound each other, undermining the populations’ resilience. This is the case in several Sahelian countries facing complex and prolonged crises, where populations are simultaneously confronted with all of these risks. We must therefore adopt a crosscutting approach when analysing these risks so that the local, preventive and inclusive intervention strategies deployed correspond to the real and multiple needs of the populations. In this way, we can provide tailor-made response!

In Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, HI’s multi-risk analysis and planning methodology draws on disaster risk reduction tools and involves the communities directly by:

  • Conducting participatory and inclusive workshops with the whole community to assess their vulnerabilities and their ability to cope with different types of risks and threats.
  • Developing local multi-risk prevention, reduction and mitigation strategies, both at community and individual level, and supporting their implementation by mobilising the appropriate HI expertise.

This approach helps vulnerable populations exposed to violence and shocks to feel better protected and better prepared to deal with them.

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