Community Based Disaster Management
Climate change and globalization bring uncertainty and risk to many communities across the world – especially those who rely heavily on the availability of local resources and infrastructure. When disaster strikes, a stable, empowered community will respond with resilience and recover quickly. For this reason, disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs are now essential priorities of sustainable development.
As a component of Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), WOTR has begun a disaster risk reduction initiative in its project villages. Much like other themes of CCA, such as Biodiversity, DRR is interlinked with all aspects of village life – a complexity that requires a holistic, systematic approach in reducing risk and boosting resilience. WOTR’S chosen approach to achieving successful DRR is called Community-Based Disaster Management (CBDM), the central focus of which is community participation. While WOTR staff may help to facilitate the process and act as a liaison between the community and government, it is crucial that the community play the leading role in its own production of resilience. This means the village community is involved in every part of the process: identifying hazards and potential disasters, formulating a plan to mitigate risk, communicating this information with other concerned parties, and both creating and implementing its disaster-management plan when disaster does strike. When the village community becomes self-aware of its own vulnerability, and formulates its own plan to reduce that vulnerability and effectively manage disaster by working together and sharing resources, then the DRR program is complete and the community itself further approaches true sustainability in the face of uncertain times.
Total vulnerability comprises, among other factors, the combination of various hazards within the area of concern. Hazards, which are defined as anything having the potential to cause human or environmental harm, can be physical or conditional, sudden-onset or slow-onset. For example, a broken swing set at a school is a physical hazard, while a thunderstorm represents a conditional hazard. Both are crucial in the assessment of overall vulnerability. The greatest initial challenge to implementing DRR is capacity-building, primarily because this involves the complete reconstruction of a villager’s perception of their landscape. What a visitor observes as a “hazard” is to a villager just a part of everyday life. Villagers sometimes patch their roofs with grass, but if a roof lies under an electrical pole which frequently sparks, then something which they use every day becomes a fire hazard. That villagers see hazards as avoidable disasters is compulsory, if any positive action is to be taken by the community towards overall resilience. Additionally, villagers must understand the options that they have in addressing each individual hazard. In the case of the leaning electrical pole, what is the best choice in eliminating this hazard? Does a community have the capacity to demand a repair from the government, or must they simply build a home elsewhere to eliminate their risk of damage caused by collapse, or electrical fire? Awareness-raising is therefore an important first stage of CBDM for DRR, because in enhancing a villager’s perception of their everyday lives will allow them to better identify hazards and assess vulnerability.
In preparation for the exposition of DRR at the Shiswad Biodiversity Festival, WOTR staff implemented the initial physical hazard-mapping process with the Shiswad community, which was divided into two stages. First a capacity-building session, for the reasons previously discussed, was held on DRR and CBDM, in which critical concepts of Hazard, Risk, Vulnerability, Exposure, and Capacity were introduced. In the second stage, the participants were given time to walk throughout the village area and make a note of any physical hazards they recognized. These included broken or damaged electrical units, a dangerous river crossing, areas prone to landslides, and collapsing or damaged buildings, among others. These sites were then mapped using a GPS and translated into a Geographic Information System (GIS) and Google Earth. A summary and series of images of these hazards, as well as the prepared maps, were prepared in a report that was shared at this Shiswad Biodiversity Festival, to increase awareness about the importance of DRR. Though this was only an initial stage in the overall DRR process, and there are many more vulnerabilities to be addressed that are conditional rather than physical, it was certainly an important one in establishing recognition among WOTR’s stakeholder communities in the importance of assessing and reducing risk in the context of climate change.