Summer 2017

Disaster Prevention: Making Communities Resilient

Bill & Sharon, Regional Coordinators Southeast Asia and West Pacific

Medical Ambassadors and the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) approach is committed to prevention. For Southeast Asia, where two-thirds of the world’s natural disasters occur, disaster preparedness and prevention are critical. We must address these tough issues and discover answers that will equip communities to survive and to thrive.

In April 2016 we gathered sixteen of the CHE leaders from around Southeast Asia in Tacloban, Philippines, for a two-week summit on Disaster Management to study these issues. With faculty from the U.S., Canada, and Philippines, it made for a lively group. Tacloban, still bearing the scars of the most severe typhoon ever recorded, had much to teach us. Our emphasis was on training community CHE volunteers in basic prevention, preparedness and response—community and family preparation, search and rescue, simple medical skills, psychological first aid—so that people can survive before professional teams arrive.

Community Resilience: the ability to return to normal and continue to thrive after calamity of any kind

We want to enhance community resilience, the ability to return to normal and continue to thrive after calamity of any kind. CHE communities already have a head start with resilience. Risk reduction, the process of recognizing vulnerabilities or weaknesses in our natural and human environments in order to predict the impact of disasters, is the next step. Slum-dweller homes, for example, built of random materials and crowded along ocean shores or riverbanks are high priority for CHE attention. Encouraging residents to rebuild in safe areas does not prevent the natural event, but it decreases the vulnerability and thus mitigates the results of the disaster. Teaching about crops that resist drought or flood, or that can be grown in containers enables food production to carry on. Death and widespread destruction do not have to follow the “storm.”

The real pay-off is prevention, things that we can actually do to reduce or even prevent natural disasters. Reforestation of cleared areas will prevent flooding and drought cycles. Making compost and natural fertilizers replenishes soil that might otherwise become barren. Eliminating the extensive burning that is common agricultural practice in Southeast Asia, as well as recycling and reusing rather than adding to the huge ever-smoking landfills of the cities, reduces greenhouse gas emissions. By caring for our environment, we can have impact on some of the erratic climate conditions plaguing the globe.

This is getting up close and personal. It is not just Southeast Asia that has been guilty of not loving or carefully stewarding the environment which God created to sustain us. In fact, part of loving God, and part of loving our neighbor, is also loving the environment as God does: the “world” spoken of in John 3:16 is “kosmos” in Greek, indicating both the human and natural orders. As Christians we should be leaders in environmental care and restitution of the damage of our past ignorance or negligence. It is not too late to change our own attitudes and practices! Plant some trees, grow vegetables in the backyard, tend the common spaces in our neighborhoods, use what we have rather than buying the latest gismo, encourage farming by eating local produce…you get it. And we all stand to benefit. That’s prevention.

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