Today, on the International Day for Disaster Reduction, the international community is coming together to recognize the critical role older people play in building more resilient communities by sharing their experience and knowledge.
At World Concern, we’re joining in this call to include older people in planning and preparedness activities while recognizing the value they bring to their families and communities.
Improving sanitationthrough the construction of latrines to prevent the spread of water borne disease.
Teaching communities about soil retention and reforestation to protect the land.
Developing early warning systems and evacuation plans that include people of all ages.
Strengthening infrastructure like flood water canals to keep water away from homes and people safe.
“The older person is often invisible in our communities until they show up in the mortality figures after a disaster event,” said head of the United Nations Disaster Reduction Office, Margareta Wahlström.
By working together towards the common goal of focusing on inclusiveness of people of all ages in disaster preparedness, we can ensure that no one is invisible and that everyone becomes resilient for life!
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
Imagine a hurricane has just swept across your rural village, toppling trees, blowing roofs off houses, and flooding streets. As you rush to check on family and friends you discover a number of people who are trapped under fallen trees or stuck in a muddy ravine. There are no emergency services and your village does not have a health clinic to treat even basic injuries. What would you do?
During the last week of July, World Concern coordinated a three day training on first aid, and search and rescue techniques for 24 community volunteers, or ‘brigadiers,’ in southern Haiti. These volunteers are ordinary people who want to better serve their families and communities. Here’s a look at this important training and some of the people we met.
Volunteers learn how to tie a variety of different knots that can be used to rescue a person or move an obstacle.
Ready…one, two, three!
Making their “victim” comfortable, yet secure. They are practicing maneuvering the victim out of a ravine.
Teamwork! Working in coordination, two rescuers pull the stretcher and victim, while four others guide it.
“I chose to be a brigadier because there were a lot of people in my community that were affected by catastrophes,” shared Rosemarie (above) who is a mother and has been a volunteer in her community since 2010. “There are many difficulties for the victims to recover after a catastrophe so I felt the responsibility and decided to be a volunteer to help my community.”
Even basic first aid knowledge can save lives. Many of these volunteers’ communities do not have a clinic or hospital so they are the first responders before help arrives or a medical facility can be reached.
Volunteers learned how important it is to protect the head when transporting victims. Practice makes perfect!
And their off!
“I was interested in becoming a brigadier because if someone has a need in my area, I want to help,” said Paul Joseph (orange shirt), a 34-year-old father of two. “Everyone in my community knows who the brigadiers are and how we can help.”
“I think with the training we’ve done, when accidents happen now we can give first aid to people so they can live,” he continued.
In the final day of training, the volunteers participated in a emergency simulation, putting to the test everything they learned throughout the week. In the simulation, some volunteers played the role of a “victim” and their injury or condition was written on a piece of paper which was placed on their body. The rescuers had to find the victims, determine what condition they were in, and decide the best way to ensure their safety. Here, volunteers are prepped and given tools for the simulation.
After carefully removing the brush from on top of the victim, volunteers evaluate this man who hurt his leg.
After deciding that the victim could be transported, the team placed on a brace on his leg and helped him to the “medical station.”
Rosemarie was another victim in the simulation. Here a volunteer tries to revive her and another gives instructions. Hang in there Rosemarie!
Thanks to some great CPR and delicate care, it appears Rosemarie will make it and is on her way to the medical station.
“It is important for more people to know (about first aid and search and rescue) because when more people know, we will have less victims too,” said Rosemarie. “If more people know, we will have less people die. Less victims.”
The victims were all found, treated and carried to the medical station. Great job everyone!
Now these volunteers have the skills and knowledge needed to be active participants in their community when a crisis or disaster comes. These are important and significant investments in communities and will help reduce vulnerability and save lives. For more information on our disaster risk reduction work, click here.
“I am 40-years-old and above,” shares a poised Canab (pronounced Ah-nahb), “and I have lived in Balanbal my entire life.”
Snuggling up next to her without-a-doubt adorable daughter who is wrapped in a pink burka and wearing a coy smile, Canab tells me, “My children are healthy and they go to school. Some people think the school here is not good, but this is where all of my children have gone.”
We’re sitting on the dirt floor of Canab’s thatch hut – located on the main, and only, road in the very rural village of Balanbal, Somaliland. After meeting each other at one of the village’s recently rehabilitated berkads (a local water catchment system), Canab has invited me into her home to impart on me a bit more of her story.
“This land is difficult. We have suffered many droughts and famines,” Canab says, peering out of her doorway. “In the past, there have been times when we have gone seven days without water.”
I ask her how this makes her feel. The only question my dumbfounded mind is able to conjure up in response.
“My children are my heart, so when there is now water, I worry about them,” she pragmatically answers.
Due to its semi-arid climate, Canab’s village is afflicted by persistent floods and droughts.
“The water is not always enough because we all are sharing, and currently we are experiencing a drought,” says Khadar, a 45-year-old father and lifetime resident of Balanbal.
Due to the area’s extreme weather, water devices such as berkads are necessary in order to catch and hygienically store rainwater – sustaining communities through the seemingly endless dry seasons.
Unfortunately, when a berkad has not been well maintained, it serves as more of a community monument – either inefficiently or un-hygienically storing the water.
“Our berkads used to be dry so we had to get our water from Burao, a faraway town,” explains Canab, reflecting on the past. “We would have to buy the water, but often times we had no money to do so.”
Canab continues, “Additionally, when we suffer, our animals also suffer. For a period of time I only had three goats.”
“The berkads containing water are far away. The nearer berkads have dirty water or are empty,” says Muna, an 18-year-old mother and community member.
Recently, World Concern rehabilitated berkads in Balanbal, also offering hygiene and sanitation community trainings, contributing to a more holistic transformation.
According to Khadar, “Previously, the berkad’s water would only last for ten days. Now the water is enough for three months.”
“The World Concern trainings have taught us how to manage, distribute, and clean the water,” expresses a joyful Canab. “We are also learning about caring for the environment, including planting trees!”
World Concern is partnering with communities across Somaliland to improve their current water situations as well as prevent future disasters from occurring.
“Our eyes have been very opened by the trainings. We are healthier and so are our animals. We have learned many tangible things. As a community, we are helping each other and giving to those in need.”
Clearly, Balanbal’s berkads are now more than rusted tin meeting points – they are tangible symbols of health, income, disaster risk reduction, and community cooperation.
My dad used to always say, “It’s better to build a guardrail on a curve than a hospital at the bottom of the hill.” As an adult, I’ve come to understand that wisdom of his words. We all want to rescue someone after they’re hurt. But isn’t it better to protect them from harm in the first place?
Today, as the president of World Concern, I have an opportunity to put my dad’s wisdom into practice. Our focus is on disaster risk reduction: equipping vulnerable communities for a disaster before it happens, and taking practical steps to minimize its destructive impact.
We work to provide infrastructure within and around a community to protect its residents from disaster. This is far better than repeatedly helping them rebuild… and grieving with families who have lost loved ones in a devastating earthquake or hurricane.
Mercila’s story is a great example of how communities can protect themselves.
“When there is flooding, the houses fill with water and people lose many things. When there is a hurricane… houses are destroyed,” said Mercila, a young mom who lives in Haiti. Hurricane season comes every year, and her village’s precarious location along Haiti’s northern coast leaves the entire community vulnerable to frequent natural disasters.
Her one-year-old son’s safety weighs heavily on her mind. “My dream for my son is to let him grow up in Anse-á-Foleur where disaster will not impact our town again.”
World Concern is taking action to keep everyone in Anse-á-Foleur safe. We’ve trained Mercila as an emergency responder for her village. Now, she is teaching her entire community, passing along all the disaster preparedness training she’s received.
The community was equipped to establish an early warning system to alert villagers of coming danger, and built rock walls along the river to prevent flooding. They also constructed a storm shelter, so families will have a safe place to go when a hurricane is near.
“Because of the activities of World Concern, Anse-á-Foleur has become a new town,” Mercila proclaimed. “We are not afraid about anything.”
Mercila no longer fears disaster,
but many others in vulnerable communities are living in the path of destruction. Families in Bangladesh, for example, know that the month of May brings another cyclone season… and certain destruction. Together, we can help them prepare and survive.
World Concern will always be there for those who are suffering after disaster. But it’s a wise and critical investment to protect vulnerable moms, dads, and little ones from future disasters.
World Concern makes providing clean water to communities that lack this life-saving resource a top priority. Recently, we visited the Southeast Department of Haiti and saw the direct link between disasters and the need for clean water.
Grand Gosier is a rather isolated commune (cluster of communities), near the sea and the Dominican Republic border. One reason it is so isolated is because of the poor condition of the road that leads to it. From Jacmel, the big city in Southeast Haiti, you must travel approximately 84 kilometers east to reach Grand Gosier.
Those 84 kilometers took us over four hours.
While crawling at a snail’s pace can be exhausting, the views are stunning. This is one contrast I noticed on the trip–poor infrastructure yet stunning natural beauty.
Once we arrived in Grand Gosier, we caught up with Pierre, the coordinator for the project in this commune. He explained that the water system for the area had been damaged by a storm in 2007. Since then, those not fortunate to live close to the water source have been forced to spend a lot of time and energy walking to reach water. Even while we were visiting with Pierre, children and women walked past us carrying water. All kinds of jugs, bottles, and containers are used to transport water.
Occasionally we saw someone guiding a donkey, loaded down with water, but the majority of people were walking. It was early afternoon, and limited cloud cover meant it was a hot and dusty journey for them.
Soon, those long journeys will not be necessary. Once finished, the project will provide nine water collection points throughout the commune which will shorten the walk to water for many.
As we were listening to Pierre speak about the project, I wondered what precautions were being taken to ensure that this time the water system will be more resilient to withstand the next storm. Hurricanes and heavy storms are all too common in Southeast Haiti. Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy in 2012 are the most recent reminders of the devastation such storms can cause. Combined, these two storms killed 87 and affected 205,623 people. We cannot stop the rains and winds from coming, however we can be sure that communities are prepared as best as possible.
Pierre explained that the prior water system had used PVC for the piping, but his team is working to replace all the PVC with metal pipes. Though a seemingly small step, using metal will be a huge step towards increasing the system’s – and the community’s – resiliency.
When the repairs and construction are completed, this water system will provide clean water to people, whatever storms come their way.
You can help protect families and their resources from future disasters. Donate today.