Lessons from the past help to prepare for the future
19 Dec 2014 by Haoliang Xu
In China there is an old proverb that goes: “If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”
Helping countries better deal with disasters has long been part of our mandate. But that objective took on new urgency following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Since then we have worked closely with governments in Asia and the Pacific to try to better protect communities, and provide those at risk with early warnings about approaching disasters. We have drawn on our experience and encouraged South-South cooperation, for example, by facilitating a visit of experts from the Indonesian government – who managed the Banda Aceh reconstruction – to the Philippines so they could share expertise and ideas.
These types of exchanges, support, training, and education have had an impact. Most recently, in the case of Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) - while not as strong as Haiyan – preparedness and planning was reported to have played a vital role in saving lives, when the typhoon made multiple landfalls on the East coast of the Philippines.
In recent years we have witnessed, when cyclones and storm surges have hit- fewer lives have been lost in regions where the death tolls used to be in the thousands, or tens of thousands. Our stories in this special section on the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, highlight the dramatic differences in the impact of natural disasters past and present. They are also evidence of what can be achieved through innovation and cooperation.
Yet much more needs to be done, and we cannot afford to be complacent. We must heed warnings from scientists about the growing risks due to climate change, and the challenges from natural disasters.
So we continue to work with local and national governments in reviewing early warning systems, contingency planning, creating better evacuation plans, and providing up-to-date training for response teams, particularly that involves communities.
Typhoon Haiyan allowed us to sharpen our recovery and risk reduction efforts. Our cash-for-work programme provided a much needed income for villagers to quickly stitch back together their lives.
While debris removal sounds modest its effects have had wide impact:
- More than 1,700 kilometers (more than 1,000 miles) of roads were cleared, which allowed easier access for humanitarian aid to reach isolated communities;
- More than 2,000 public buildings, including hospitals, schools, daycare centers, and government offices were cleared of debris;
- More than 40,000 people were provided temporary employment, almost half of them women.
Our experience in places such as Tacloban have taught us much. We have seen that involving communities in the recovery process brings special commitment and speeds up recovery. We’ve also learned how critical it is to have coordination between government, donor agencies, NGOs, and multilateral organizations such as the UNDP. This coordination provides not only fast, effective relief, but it also helps communities build back stronger than before.