Croucher Foundation sponsors disaster reduction report

31 May 2017

Researchers from universities in the Greater China and Asia-Pacific region put forward their valuable insights as the UN looks to move ahead on a global strategy for disaster risk reduction.

The Croucher Foundation sponsored the production of a report submitted by members of the Collaborating Centre for Oxford University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong for Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Response.

The report, “Co-designing Disaster Risk Reduction Solutions: Towards participatory action and communication in science, technology and academia”, served as one of the core scientific reports to support evidence-based decision making and policy optimisation. Collaborating with scientists in the Greater China and Asia-Pacific Region, the evidence-focused report with relevant global perspectives was prepared for the ‘Global Platform’ talks in Mexico from 22 May to 26 May. The 40 case studies presented in the report would provide the necessary scientific rigour to support productive dialogue

In the report, education and training were identified as an absolute must for effective disaster risk reduction. Researchers related, “if communities can receive training and develop their own preparedness strategies to integrate Disaster Risk Management into development, it can surely progress towards development and disaster mitigation side by side.”

For example, the report related the West Sumatran earthquakes in 2009 to the Aceh tsunami of 2004. A number of mock drills, natural disaster simulations and education have been carried out in the community to prepare for sudden crisis. While there were identified areas for improvement in this particular case, the training and education set the local community on the right path to achieve further DRR outcomes.

Training and education should also be implemented at all levels of community structure as suggested by the report. Incorporating education and training for disaster readiness into school and technical curricula create alertness. In addition to the delivery of information and learning materials through these curricula, local training such as fire safety and evacuation are encouraged to inculcate a culture of disaster safety and risk management among people

The report also pointed out the importance of the empowering women and children to bring about change in a local community. The report cited the ‘FREEDM’ project, where local community members received training on search and rescue operations, first aid, fire safety, evacuation, communication, and relief and shelter options. Adolescent girls were the major focus of the training. Many local women were assigned to manage the collection and dispensation of disaster relief funds. Clearly, through education and training, all members of a community can have an active role in crisis management.

The report also developed effective communication as a crucial factor. Media, particularly mobile phones, should be used extensively to disseminate updates and practical information such as weather information, places of shelter and provisions, as well as where to find news of missing persons. It could heavily influence public sentiments, views, and actions both during and after a disaster situation.

Another emphasis made was the engagement between the community and social media. Channels used for information dissemination poses influence on the accessibility of information. The choice is mainly determined by age range. Younger generation prefered phone applications while older residents were more dependent on traditional means including television and radio.

In terms of communication for pre-emptive disaster risk management, the report discussed the importance of big organisations, researchers and government agencies being in direct contact with local communities through open forums and other events. Instant feedback from residents within a disaster-prone area played an integral role in the development of risk management practices. In fact, many case studies in the report intonated the importance of interdisciplinary and ‘grass roots’ communication as a means of achieving this goal.

Further to that, researchers communicated that involvement of the community in decision-making built the necessary knowledge and resilience to assess, managed and monitored its own risks. In the report, there were numerous innovative approaches to cultivating autonomy. From involving community members in rain monitoring and data collection in flood prone Brazil to the implementation of “Safe Schools” as centres for community engagement and education, the overarching theme was building community awareness and resilience through community involvement and the communicative processes.

As delegates of the ‘Global Platform’ reflected upon the discussions in Mexico, synergy from the community helped to negotiate and accomplish disaster risk reduction targets. It is hoped that this ‘on the ground’ research will continue to provide the necessary scientific rigour to support subsequent decision making and policy optimisation.