Will You Survive When Disaster Sirens Wail?

Pain. Loss. Betrayal. Disillusionment. These are but a few of the words which surface when disaster rips through a state, leaving in its wake a perilous sea of angst and incertitude.

A young boy carries his belongings through flood water

All that remained were a few belongings and a question mark over his future

Understandably, you may question the relevance of this post to the global community, as not everyone has been forced to face the soul-shaking roar of a tsunami as it pillages and destroys, or watched as violent seismic vibrations flick roads around like limp spaghetti, but you needn’t look further than your very own childhood to begin understanding the plight of disaster victims.

Childhood is brutal and on any given day you could be forced to face the harsh reality of life’s iron fist. Losing your guardian in a shopping centre, having your noble red balloon burst spontaneously or even watching as the perfectly scooped ball of ice-cream is lurched from its wafer pedestal, tumbling in a cascade of heartache towards the floor, something screamed injustice; these events seemed to be likened to cataclysmic catastrophes which had evidently upset the delicate balance of the troposphere.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to down-play the magnitude of suffering and malaise inflicted on disaster victims but rather trying to underline the fact that we have all experienced reality altering events. Whether it is the sight of a melted ice-cream ball on the pavement or the heart-wrenching cry of a disaster-orphaned child, everyone understands suffering and this is why Disaster Management(DM) is a matter of proactive people rather than reactive authority.

Disaster Management 101

As a third year DM student I have spent hours combing through disaster journals, learning how to act effectively when things go wrong, and have discovered that little is known about the dynamic field of Disaster Management amongst the general public.

According to the UNISDR, a disaster is “a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.”

Disaster Management is performed through a 4 phase cycle, including both proactive and reactive activities. Mitigation and Preparedness comprise the proactive phases, whereby action is taken to lessen the effects of potential disasters and establish more resilient communities. The reactive phases are Response and Recovery, where activities actively address disaster impacts and disaster victims, helping to rebuild lives in a sustainable manner after the occurrence of a disaster.

The DM Cycle is a comprehensive approach to establishing resilience

As time has progressed, Disaster Managers have realised that proactive measures are where DM’s strength lies. Not only does it lower future financial implications but promotes more effective and efficient response and recovery, ensuring that affected communities are better equipped in dealing with potential disasters, ultimately allowing for disaster resilient and sustainable communities to be established.

Asia: Disaster Capital of the Word

Whilst disasters are observed globally, Asia’s geographical positioning and topographical composition have resulted in them being considered the most disaster-prone region worldwide. Asia is subject to a variety of disasters, including earthquakes, cyclones, droughts, heat-waves, land-slides, wildfires, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis; these natural disasters can be coupled with the presence of nuclear power plants, fracking and mining to create a lethal Asian disaster recipe.

As a result of these hazards coming to fruition, 2015 painted a clear picture of Asia’s disaster vulnerability and illustrated the need for DM in ensuring prosperity and longevity are achieved. With an estimated 160 disasters affecting more than 59.3 million individuals, leading to 16046 deaths and generating $45.1 billion in economic costs, Asia’s disasters accounted for 47% of the global total and were responsible for 64% of all disaster-related fatalities.

Overview of Asia's Disaster Statistics 2015

Asia’s 2015 disaster statistics highlight the severity of the issue

2015 does not sit as an outlier when it comes to Asia’s disaster statistics; the last decade has seen an estimated 350 000 disaster related deaths, urging regional organisations to seek out mechanisms for increased resilience.

ASEAN’s Attempt at Resilience

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has developed the motto: “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” in the hopes of creating a region where integration and prosperity reign supreme. In order to achieve these ideals, ASEAN has established 3 different blueprints as a mechanism for establishing shared prosperity throughout the region. The Blueprints aim to ensure that economic stability, socio-cultural sustainability and political security are maintained.

the fundamental principles for ASEANs Shared prosperity

The ASEAN Charter and Blueprints are the base upon which their hope for shared prosperity is established

ASEAN has acknowledged the damaging effects of disasters within their jurisdiction and have incorporated resilience as a characteristic of the socio-cultural community blueprint; this characteristic is supported by objectives which seek to achieve enhanced capacity in collectively responding and adapting to growing threats. Whilst ASEAN had incorporated disaster resilience elements into their 2015 socio-cultural blueprint, failure to achieve desired outcomes lead to the realisation that increased integration and more specific action needs to take place in establishing a stronger community.

Resultantly, ASEAN’s 2025 blueprint now outlines target objectives in promoting resilience and after adopting the Declaration on Institutionalising the Resilience of ASEAN and its Communities and Peoples to Disasters and Climate Change (DIRADCC) in 2015, the following objective has been set in place: “A Disaster Resilient ASEAN that is able to Anticipate, Respond, Cope, Adapt, and Build Back Better, Smarter, and Faster”

This objective speaks to the need for integration by states and individuals to occur, as only by working in accordance with one another and taking ownership of national-level adversity can the objective of shared prosperity be achieved. DM can only be successful in achieving resilience when there is complete buy-in from all stakeholders and whilst legislature and procedures are vital in promoting disaster resilience, DM essentially comes down to action taken by individuals in actively combating threats to their longevity.

The Indonesian Revolution 

Indonesia is not exempt from the ASEAN disaster risk trend and faces major threats of flooding, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and Tsunamis; it is these threats which have left at least 40% of the country’s population are vulnerable to disasters. Their archipelago nature, topographical composition, geographical positioning and seismology have increased their disaster vulnerability and resulted in government moving to increase coping capacity.

Volcanic eruption meets electric storm

Indonesia’s brilliant display of lightening, lava and ash

Although there is still room for improvement in Indonesia’s attempts to promote disaster resilience, they have taken the lead in establishing integrated prosperity within ASEAN, by actively working to mitigate the effects of disasters and establish stronger, more resilient communities.

National government has spearheaded the motion to increase disaster resilience. By utilising a multi-dimensional approach, engaging with international organisations, NGO’s, local government and community members, Indonesia has managed to increase their capacity and work towards a more resilient ASEAN community.

In accordance with the adoption of the DIRADCC, Indonesia has ensured that not only is its legislation targeted at promoting resilience but that the desired outputs are actionable and that they are attainable at all societal levels. The establishment of DM structures and processes has allowed Indonesia to implement building legislation for seismic-resilient buildings, develop communications systems for freer flow of disaster-related information, establish a tsunami early-warning system and promote hazard mapping as a mechanism for mitigation and prevention. In addition to these activities, Indonesian government has worked with the National Development Planning Board, to create the National Action Plan for Disaster Reduction.

By creating a network of key role-players, Indonesia has been able to lay a solid foundation for community involvement that has ultimately strengthened their capabilities. Regular disaster-awareness initiatives, employment of flooding and drought interventions, conducting community-based risk assessments and using local knowledge as a base for rehabilitation and reconstruction have seen Indonesia working towards ASEAN’s objective for disaster resilience.

It is all about connecting

Disaster resilience is a matter of inter-connectedness; everyone has a roll to play

Amongst their most successful initiatives is the incorporation of communities into prevention and reconstruction efforts; the fact that communities are familiar with their residential area, means they are able to provide in-depth knowledge and information in accurately mapping disasters and creating thorough DM plans. Collected information may be utilised by organisations in establishing simulation scenarios, allowing accurate and efficient plans to be constructed. Additionally, community engagement has seen the rehabilitation of disaster-affected areas being improved by utilising indigenous knowledge to ensure that efforts are relevant and viable in the area of implementation.

Their success does not stop here and Indonesia’s use of community members in disaster resilience efforts has allowed them to establish the Safe School program, in collaboration with the World Bank. The program looks to rehabilitate disaster ravaged schools and rebuilds them with the premise that they will be able to better withstand future disaster impacts. The program ensures that there are preparedness schemes in place and that financial resources are available for the reconstruction of educational facilities. By collaborating with the World Bank, Indonesia has been able to boost disaster risk financing, lessening the impact of disasters on the economy.

By utilising community members in promoting disaster resilience, it promotes community morale and encourages them to take ownership of initiatives; the Safe Schools program has been welcomed readily by communities and has helped to educate communities about disasters and their impacts. The program has heaped to restore 180 schools to date and has opened the eyes of communities to the importance of disaster resilience efforts. It is the words of an Indonesian parent which truly highlight the impact of this program:

So many schools in our area are in disaster-prone areas, and if we didn’t take action to safeguard these buildings which are full of children, they are truly high risk places. The Safe Schools program provides our communities with schools that are safe and comfortable, so that our children can learn without worry.

pain in the eyes of a child

The harrowing eyes of a disaster-desimated future

Whilst Indonesia may still have a way to go in establishing disaster resilience, it is clear that their integrated approach to DM has allowed them to actively combat that which threatens their future prosperity.  Whilst Indonesia’s capabilities would be strengthened through increased integration between ASEAN members, perhaps the other member states could use Indonesia’s proactive measures as a guideline for their own resilience.

What does this mean for the world? 

Disasters are indomitable beasts, unleashing their fury on ill prepared victims and leaving the stench of catastrophe and despair rife in the air. The need to establish disaster resilience has moved to the top of organisational priority lists, as this is a way to ensure prosperity amidst adversity.

By analysing Indonesia’s integrated approach to DM, it is evident that effective resilience is only able to occur when there is multi-level cooperation and ownership by all stakeholders; we can no longer look at Disaster Management as a governmental responsibility and perhaps ASEAN’s move towards resilience needs to be focused towards grass-root level.

You may never have experienced the paralysing fear of watching a disaster decimate your community but if you have ever lost a loved one or seen the pain in the eyes of an orphaned child, you will know that action against disaster is a much needed commodity. Disaster may strike with little or no warning and this is why we, as a global community, need to work together in establishing resilience; whilst ASEAN may be prone to disaster, the world is not exempt from catastrophe and this is why we as humans should take proactive measures in ensuring we are able to combat the fury of unrelenting disasters.

So, whilst this post nears its closing remarks, the matter of disaster resilience has yet to reach its final chapter and I urge you to sign-up with Ready.gov, to ensure that you are taking active steps in promoting disaster resilience within your personal life and community; Don’t let nonchalance destroy your hope at a prosperous future. You may never have been subject to life-altering catastrophe’s, but in the words of the National Disaster Management Authority, Disaster Management is everybody’s business.

Extending the hand of joint resilience

“If one suffers we all suffer. Togetherness is strength.” Jean-Bertrand Aristide


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