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International day for Disaster Reduction

October 13 marks International day for Disaster Reduction. Habitat’s Regional Program Manager for Asia Pacific and Emergencies, Megan Krolik explains what DRR is and why it is so important.

What is Disaster Risk Reduction

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) refers to the actions we take to prepare for, recover from and mitigate the impact of a natural hazard such as a cyclone or an earthquake.

Every year, natural hazards impact human settlements and cause the loss of thousands of lives, infrastructure and damage to national economies. When natural hazards impact communities this way, and when those communities lack the resilience to recover on their own, it becomes a disaster. Unfortunately, disasters discriminate, often impacting the most vulnerable groups in society the hardest.

Natural hazards are inevitable, but they don’t have to be disasters. Planning for and recovering from disasters opens up a window of opportunity for positive social change and addressing pre-existing social or economic disparities.

Devastation caused by Cyclone Winston, Fiji
Devastation caused by Cyclone Winston, Fiji

Why is DRR so important?

Projects and activities to reduce disaster risks are the most important things we can do to protect the hard won development gains of communities in Asia and the Pacific.

DRR is also important for empowering vulnerable social groups via capacity building, reducing dependence. It acts like insurance – whatever we do now to strengthen and prepare for future disasters helps us manage those disasters so much better and reduces the social, emotional and economic impact of those disasters.

For instance, for every dollar we spend on DRR, we save between $5 and $10 in the long term. Through DRR, communities can adapt to the surrounding environment to minimise the destructive impact of events such as cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis and flooding. Long-term planning, community education and preparation helps ensure people can live safely in their natural environment.

Habitat disaster-proof homes withstood Cyclone Pam, Vanuatu.
Habitat disaster-proof homes withstood Cyclone Pam, Vanuatu.

Why did you decide to get in to this type of work?

For me DRR is a natural connection point between environmental protection and sustainability and human development. Basically it is where humans and the earth collide – sometimes quite literally!

The earth is in constant motion – it is actually fascinating and beautiful. We will never be able to prevent cyclones and earthquakes from happening. They are natural phenomenons.

But we can definitely learn how to co-exist alongside these natural hazards, learning more about how and why these events occur and changing our own behaviour such as becoming more reliant on renewable energy, building infrastructure such as houses and schools, roads and water and power systems that can withstand powerful cyclones, earthquakes and so on.

Evacuation simulations in Vietnam.
Evacuation simulations in Vietnam.

What can you tell us about your experience on the ground with DRR?

I was recently in Fiji, with our partner Habitat for Humanity Fiji. Together we travelled to Ra province, one of the areas hit the hardest by Tropical Cyclone Winston which struck in February this year.

While I was there I met a young mother and her baby, who had taken shelter under the flooring of a neighbour’s home. During the cyclone, the whole house blew away above them. I can’t imagine living through an experience like that – it must have been so scary for her and her little boy.

But despite the recent trauma of living through Fiji’s worst ever cyclone, she was so welcoming and happy to meet with us. The Headman of her village told us that having Habitat working in the village to rebuild homes has given them so much hope for the future and assurance that if there is another cyclone like Winston, it won’t be as bad for them because their new homes will protect them from the storm.

It was a great reminder for me that while sometimes we see our projects as just building houses, for so many of the families we work with, these houses are their homes, providing hope for a better and safer future.

Habitat helped Terry build a new home in Fiji after Cyclone Winston.
Habitat helped Terry build a new home in Fiji after Cyclone Winston.

What are some of the highlights of Habitat’s work in Asia and Pacific when it comes to DRR?

The Habitat network is doing so many amazing things around the region when it comes to DRR – and teaching children in flood prone villages in the Mekong Delta how to swim is definitely one of the most awesome!

Recent reports have highlighted high rates of child drowning deaths in Asia, and that being able to swim is one simple measure that will help keep children safe if they fall into floodwaters that form in low lying and flat areas of land like the Mekong Delta. Habitat has designed a program that helps teachers to integrate swimming lessons into their curriculum and supports swimming lessons for the students. Knowing how to swim is an excellent way to stay safe and stay healthy!

In Vietnam, school children are being taught about DRR.
In Vietnam, school children are being taught about DRR.

What is the aim of the Arup Design School?

Each year Arup University hosts 40 of their future leaders in the Asia-Pacific region to take part in a Design School, where they apply Human Centred Design methodology to develop solutions to emerging challenges.

The purpose of this year’s Design School, which runs Thursday 13th to Saturday 15th October is to develop concepts and prototypes which will enhance Habitat for Humanity overseas shelter programs. The challenge which the Design School will seek to resolve is: “To design Cyclone resistant (Cat. 3-5) Transitional Shelters for early recovery among affected Pacific communities”. Human Centred Design methodology will be applied over three days to develop innovative solution concepts and create prototypes for improved shelter options, ultimately to assist people and communities affected by disasters in the Asia-Pacific region.

Masi Latianara (Habitat for Humanity Fiji) and Aoibhin Flanagan (Arup) will judge the final designs and nominate the winning solution. The winning design will be submitted to Habitat for Humanity Asia-Pacific for programming consideration.

Megan Vanuatu Megan Krolik manages our International Program projects in Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Fiji and Vanuatu, as well as our regional Emergency Response programs. Megan has over ten years of international development experience and specialises in Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Response.

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