Helping communities prepare for disasters

Helping communities prepare for disasters

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by Richard Welford  rwelford@csr-asia.comThe death toll from the earthquake in Awaran, southwestern Pakistan has exceeded 500. The disaster was certainly been exacerbated by the fact that communities affected had poor infrastructure and many buildings simply collapsed when the disaster struck. Relief efforts have been slow and survivors have complained about the lack of shelter from the scorching sun. But relief efforts were also hampered because of community conflicts and attacks from insurgents.Bodies are still being discovered in houses whose flimsy mud walls and wooden roof beams collapsed. In the worst affected areas more than half of the houses toppled over and others have been left uninhabitable because of weak structures.
Much of the aid to the affected area must travel by poorly constructed roads that cut through hazardous mountains held by communities that are fighting for independence from Pakistan. These communities accuse the central government of stealing the province’s rich mineral deposits and the security forces of widespread human rights abuses.
This is not the first time that the disaster-stricken area has suffered from disaster situations. When it was battered by Cyclone Yemyin in June 2007, flooding affected 1.5 million people and the region was poorly prepared for the much needed relief efforts. Again, community conflicts, prevented aid from reaching its intended destination.
The news from the region shows that it is the poor that are often affected first and worst by disasters. They often lack adequate infrastructure and do not possess the community resilience that can help to combat these sorts of disaster. Moreover, where community conflicts exist and where some communities are marginalized, then vulnerability to disasters increases. In the Pakistan situation it is clear that there was a lack of any real community-based disaster preparedness.
In order to try to reduce the impacts of disasters on poor and vulnerable communities we are working closely with the Prudence Foundation on examining the role for business in community disaster preparedness. It is important that we find ways to build resilience and preparedness for disasters like the one that has impacted Pakistan. Targeting community investment projects towards communities vulnerable to disasters is important in helping the communities themselves prepare for disaster situations.
It is clear that communities and businesses have a cooperative role to play in building preparedness for effective response. To save lives and livelihoods, capacities need to be built before a disaster hits. And the World Bank points out that for every dollar spent on disaster preparedness, $7 can be saved on response efforts.
To support businesses in helping communities prepare for disasters, we aim to host the first annual Forum on Disaster Preparedness. The aim is to bring together key leaders in the business, humanitarian, and government sector to explore and discuss opportunities for cooperation on community-based disaster preparedness.
The inaugural CSR Asia Prudence Foundation Forum on Disaster Preparedness is a one-day event on 21st November, structured to provide delegates practical tools and expert insights on how to implement responsible partnerships for improving community preparedness. It will examine best practices in partnership development, capacity building, employee volunteering, and innovating much needed solutions.
Businesses have a very valuable role to play in helping communities help themselves in disaster situations. Many community investment projects can be enhanced through giving some additional thought to disaster preparedness. Working with schools on developing resilience amongst children, examining how employee volunteers can help communities build much needed infrastructure and working on continuity planning with local small businesses are just some of the contributions that can be part of community investment strategies.
Many businesses have strong programmes on disaster response that can be swiftly “turned on” in the event of a disaster. But we can make those responses even more effective if we also think about preparedness. One of the most effective ways to create preparedness is to work with those who are likely to be most impacted – vulnerable communities.

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