As experts from around the world gather in Bonn, Germany to debate priorities in warning vulnerable communities of impending disaster, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is urging that emphasis be placed on developing communities not just technologies.
Since the tsunamis struck in December 2004, there has been much talk about the importance of meteorological monitoring, ocean-floor sensors and redirecting satellite paths. Leading seismologists say that other major earthquakes could spark tsunamis in the same region.
“Technology is important,” says Hisham Khogali, Acting head of the Federation’s Disaster Preparedness and response department, “but it is only one piece of the puzzle. The tendency to focus on technology and telecommunications can overshadow the real key to successful disaster preparedness the people living in high-risk areas themselves. Early warning systems have limitations. Once the danger is identified, how does the message get through to vulnerable or isolated communities? Clearly, what is required is a blend of technologies and grass-roots networks.”
This is where the Red Cross and Red Crescent plays a critical role in disseminating early warning and safety information at the local level by mobilizing its unique global network of trusted volunteers and community members. Only then can the messages which have been transmitted from the ocean floor, the satellite and the radio airwaves travel the ‘last mile’ and have meaning for the most vulnerable.
In Bangladesh, the Red Crescent has long invested in cyclone preparedness. In Vietnam, Red Cross public awareness campaigns have informed hundreds of thousands of primary school children and families how best to respond when floods strike. Research shows that in disaster-prone areas, good training, planning and evacuation rehearsals, along with some basic equipment can be the difference between life and death.
“Lives undoubtedly can be saved through better risk reduction measures,” says Khogali. “Tragically though, the investment relatively little compared with the vast amounts required to repair the damage from natural disasters is often simply not there. It is vital that communities know what to do and have reasonable resources to cope.”
“As a global community we must also ensure that the warning systems being put in place are designed for a variety of hazards, not just for the rarer tsunami events, but as importantly for the more frequent floods, typhoons, droughts, landslides and epidemics the easily forgotten disasters that erode the social and economic well being of an estimated 255 million people annually,” adds Khogali. “We will never be able to stop natural disasters from occurring, but we can do more to reduce the risk to vulnerable communities that lie in their path. Resources in advance of a disaster will cost us much less than efforts to repair damage later and no effort should be spared to save every life possible.”
For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:
Pete Haydon, Tsunami Operations Media Officer Tel. + 41 79 308 9804/+41 22 730 4426
Media Service, duty phone Tel. + 41 79 416 38 81