On September 28, 2018, the poverty-riddled country of Indonesia experienced a deadly natural disaster. A 7.5 earthquake followed by a tsunami that produced waves of up to 6 meters tall hit the city of Palu killing hundreds. As search efforts to find survivors continued, many news outlets have called into question the effectiveness of Indonesia’s early disaster warning system.

The Tsunami in Indonesia

BBC News reported that a system of 21 buoys used to trigger the warning system based off of the data that they receive was inactive during the time of the tsunami. Gifted to Indonesia by a few generous countries after the last natural disaster, the buoys had either been vandalized or stolen. With a strict budget in place, Indonesia hasn’t been able to afford the cost of replacing the buoys or maintaining the remaining system they currently have in place. As a result of the unreliable warnings in regards to the size of the waves, many have perished.

When a natural disaster hits a country that already has problems with its infrastructure due to poverty, like Indonesia, it often causes far more deaths and inflicts a lot more damage. BBC News compared similar natural disasters in three countries and found that impoverished areas are more susceptible to the effects of natural disasters.

The Hurricanes in Puerto Rico

In 2017 Puerto Rico suffered back to back hurricanes that left the country with even fewer resources than it had before. With 40 percent of its population living below the poverty line, the ailing country was already crippled by debt, experiencing a lack of electricity and facing school shutdowns. Given the state of Puerto Rico’s poverty crisis prior to the disaster, the country was ill-prepared for the effect the hurricane would have on its crumbling infrastructure.

Puerto Rico’s disaster relief efforts have been both challenging and expensive given its previous state of affairs. The U.S. has offered $2 billion to fix Puerto Rico’s electric grid, but in order to fix the damage done before and after the hurricane, it would take $17 billion. Further financial resources would have to be given to restore Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and help it to withstand natural disaster threats in the future.

The Earthquake in Haiti

Before the 7.0 magnitude earthquake disrupted Haiti back in 2010, 72.1 percent of the Haitian population was living on $2 a day in cities with poorly constructed cramped housing. Dwindling funds in Haiti were met with cost-cutting measures that led to faulty building codes. The soil-based land on which Port au Prince was built was at the epicenter of the earthquake, which also contributed to the city’s imminent collapse. With a stronger magnitude earthquake than Haiti, China lost 87.5 thousand people while Haiti lost 230 thousand citizens.

The earthquake in Haiti made quick work of the poverty-stricken area of Port au Prince. Haiti received $13.5 billion in aid relief after the earthquake, but with the money, came the unforeseen side effect of disease. After stationing soldiers on the ground to provide relief after the earthquake, toxic waste was spilled into a Haitian river causing a severe outbreak of Cholera which has killed an additional 9,000 people over the last four years. Additional relief funds will need to be provided to treat the epidemic.

When natural disasters strike areas that have been weakened by poverty, it leads to more damage, more lives lost and far more money needed to fix the situation. In many of these instances, measures could have been taken to prevent mass casualties, especially in areas where natural disasters pose a significant threat. Investing in long-term infrastructure solutions and natural disaster prevention instead of just throwing funds at a problem for an immediate fix in poverty prone areas will save more lives.

Catherine Wilson
Photo: Flickr

Disaster Response in Nepal
Over the last several months the world has focused on South Asia in response to devastating earthquakes in Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. With the threat of a natural disaster always looming in this densely populated area of the world, it is important to take note of the methods of disaster response in Nepal that have had the most success.

U.S. disaster response has seen results in curbing the consequences of world crisis when steps have been taken to recognize potential threats and build resilience.

On April 26 of last year, Nepal was devastated by a massive earthquake that claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people and left millions homeless. Given the catastrophic results, it’s hard to imagine a worse outcome.

However, given Nepal’s location in what the U.S. Geological Survey has called “one of the most seismically hazardous areas on earth,” the results could have been far more dire.

With help from the United States and the UN Development Program, prior to the earthquake, Nepal took several steps to help curb the awaiting catastrophe by developing a Disaster Risk Reduction approach.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, those steps “ran the gamut from retrofitting buildings for seismic resistance; strengthening governance practices on matters of zoning and building codes; helping Nepal develop a more robust disaster response management capacity; creating better advance preparations for search and rescue to save more lives; and raising public awareness to the steps individuals can take to prepare themselves better.”

To that end, U.S. disaster response in Nepal was highly effective despite the devastation. By helping to foster a program of resilience, the U.S. mitigated a substantial portion of the crisis in Nepal.

USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader, Bill Berger confirmed this when he said, “I expected a much higher death toll and much higher destruction.”

Outside of Disaster Risk Reduction, The U.S. government has also worked to bolster Nepal’s agricultural sector, which makes up nearly 40 percent of its GDP.

USAID’s Knowledge-Based Integrated Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition (KISAN) in particular is working to increase agricultural productivity and improve nutrition.

As stated by USAID, some of the key goals of the project are:

  • Ensure sustainable agriculture production and post-harvest technologies and practices adopted at farm level in at least 45,000 hectares of land.
  • Strengthen the capacity of 200,000 agriculture extension workers, service providers, health workers and Female Community Health Volunteers.
  • Produce and ensure adoption of 1,000 tons of high-quality seed by farmers.

Achieving these goals will hopefully work to provide Nepal with the food security to better handle natural disasters in the future. USAID’s KISAN project serves as another important example of how the U.S. is committed to responding to disaster through building resiliency.

Daniel Liddicoet

Photo: Flickr

build change
Build Change, an international nonprofit organization, is working to “greatly reduce deaths, injuries and economic losses caused by housing collapses due to earthquakes in developing countries.” In short, it envisions a world where all homes are earthquake resistant, so that no one has to live in an unsafe environment and face the devastation of losing their entire home after an earthquake.

The organization was founded by Dr. Elizabeth Hausler, who holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering and is passionate about sustainable construction. Currently, the organization works in China, Colombia, Haiti, Indonesia and the Philippines, some of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world.

In the Sichuan Province of China, Build Change has constructed over 1,000 earthquake-resistant homes. The organization personalizes each design for the specific homeowners and also takes steps to ensure that locals are educated about what makes houses vulnerable so that disaster can be avoided.

Xiao Qianghui, a villager from Minle in the Sichuan province, attested to the positive change the organization can make. “I’m a bit surprised that Build Change would come here because Minle is such a remote village. Elizabeth [Hausler] is the first foreigner who has ever come to Minle. But, of course, I welcome Build Change’s suggestions and help. What they’re doing here is very good. Before Build Change came, I thought I’d be living in this tent for the rest of my life.”

In Haiti, disaster-safe construction is especially important as the country is still rebuilding from the overwhelmingly deadly 2010 earthquake. Over 2,500 builders in Haiti have been trained by Build Change to incorporate earthquake and hurricane-resistant techniques into local infrastructure.

Efforts are made to ensure that each home is built in the context of its location. Build Change has said, “Understanding local materials, tools, skills, cultural preferences and market forces is key to identifying small changes that can make a big difference in construction quality and safety.”

In addition to building disaster-resistant homes through its own programs, Build Change is making efforts to expand the availability of information about resistant construction methods. “Earthquake-resistant construction,” the organization has said, “will become common only if the right technology is locally available, widely known, and culturally accepted.”

Build Change has done significant work across the world disaster-proofing homes in developing countries and has undoubtedly saved families from experiencing the devastation of losing a home following an earthquake.

– Emily Jablonski

Sources: Build Change, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation
Photo: Gizmodo

In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the country of Haiti, claiming tens of thousands of lives and costing $7.8 billion in damages. Build Change, a non-profit international organization, is fortifying impoverished nations to prevent another disaster of this scale.

Working in Haiti, China, and Indonesia, Build Change provides earthquake-resilient house designs to be implemented by local homeowners and carpenters. Instead of proposing revolutionary design choices, Build Change analyzes the architecture of affected areas and makes specific modifications to improve stability. This allows local workers to quickly learn the new designs and eventually become able to build safer housing without outside help.

After an impoverished country endures an earthquake, houses built as replacements can either be culturally inappropriate or suffer from the same instability that caused the original houses to collapse. By intervening after a time of disaster, Build Change enables home owners to be involved in the building of secure housing. This in turn sparks the creation of new jobs for local workers. In a country like Haiti, with 70% of the population either unemployed or underemployed, this is a huge boom for the economy.

With 18,701 houses built, success stories have been numerous. Haitian Mirlande Joseph recounts her experience working with Build Change after her house was leveled by the devastating earthquake. Although they could not offer her financial support, they were able to walk her through the process of building a new house by engineering the design and providing onsite training of the workers tasked with the physical labor. Although this required more monetary investment than Joseph anticipated, the experience was so positive that she considered taking up construction as a profession.

Build Change was founded in 2004 by Dr. Elizabeth Hausler, who started the organization in response to the tragic number of lives lost following earthquakes. Hausler realized the insurmountable amounts of damage could be avoided if those in poverty had access to better housing. Finding immediate solutions to this issue helps prevent millions of dollars in repairs that would be spent following a national disaster. To Hausler, it’s imperative to provide these designs to those in struggling countries, regardless of whether their respective economies have fully recovered or not.

This sentiment is encapsulated in the Build Change site’s timeline: “Earthquakes don’t kill people… poorly built buildings do.”

In 2011, Hausler received the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT reward for sustainability in recognition of the work model utilized by Build Change. By winning the award, Hausler hopes to inspire governments and building agencies to create affordable building codes that are sustainable and efficient. She hopes more young inventors will take time to work with the locals of struggling countries to conceive practical and economic solutions with their products and methods.

– Timothy Monbleau

Source: BBC News, Build Change, Economic Impact of Haiti Earthquake, MIT Press Release
Photo: Build Change Universal Giving

How To Make Disaster Aid Work

When disasters, such as floods, bombings, or earthquakes strike, people naturally want to help. This is humanistic and laudable but experts want to caution people who are looking to send aid because a surprising amount of charitable donations are more disastrous than helpful.

Director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Jose Holguin Veras said, “If you go to a lot of disasters, as I do on a regular basis, you are going to find out talking to first responders that their number one issue is inappropriate disaster aid. They continually refer to that as the second disaster.”

Some donations Holguin Veras has come across? Wedding gowns, tuxedos, broken bikes, broken medical equipment, expired medications, undrinkable drinks, and sex toys. Holguin Veras estimated that about 60% of charitable donations are “completely useless and should not be there.” Even appropriate items can be problematic. For example, an amount of in-kind donations at disaster sites can clog roadways and prevent vital things, like water being trucked in, from making it into the sites. Another example comes from the Sandy Hook tragedy in which donors sent so many teddy bears and stuffed animals that the town had to ask for those type of donations to stop. The town finally finished the task of sending items that it could not use to India at the end of March.

Disaster relief experts say the most effective way to help is by sending monetary donations. Charitable organizations on the ground know what supplies are needed and more funding helps them be more effective. The Red Cross notes that material donations are not ideal because “these items often must be sorted, repackaged, and transported, which impedes valuable resources of money, time, and personnel that are needed for other aspects of our disaster relief operation.”

Make your donation count by donating to reputable organizations that are active in the area of the disaster. Disaster aid can only works if it is helping to create positive change.

– Essee Oruma

Source: Global Post
Photo: Morning Journalt

Early Warning Systems are Not Just for Earthquakes
When political crises happen or human rights are being destroyed, the use of smart phones and other technology to spread the word is critical. What about when natural disasters strike? When a family has minutes to evacuate before a tsunami wipes out their village, do they take a picture or tweet about it? No. But the World Health Organization, in cooperation with national and local governments, and by demand of citizens in crisis and an outcry for better preventative measures, is working on building better early warning systems for post-disaster epidemics. The technology? A boat, a bike, your boots. Also needed: a pencil, paper, and your determination.

Recently in the Solomon Islands the immense destructive forces of the 6 February 2013 8.0 magnitude earthquake and pursuant 3m tsunami left thousands of people without homes and brought down the health care system.

The Solomon Islands consist of 1,000 islands off the South Pacific and are home to 550,000 people. The destructive power of the February earthquake left thousands vulnerable to diseases due to the broken health care system. 5500 residents required temporary living shelters. These shelters are often plagued by poor sanitation due to lack of resources and cramped living quarters. Poor sanitation leads to a plethora of preventable diseases—most of which associated with diarrhea.

Taking a queue from the early warning systems set up to warn of impending natural disaster, the World Health Organization worked with the Ministry of Health of the Solomon Islands to set up an early warning system to identify outbreaks, unusual outbreak patterns, and the number of people affected. This is a critical step towards disaster recovery and decreasing the vulnerability of those affected.

Developing the surveillance system presented logistical challenges of connecting vulnerable people to health clinics. Five clinics were set up around Santa Cruz, the main island that was affected. The head nurses, “doubled as boat captains,” connected patients to clinics. Traveling from surveillance sites to the clinics is risky. Poor weather, no lights on the boats, dangerous landing sites and navigational skill are all impediments to the surveillance system. For Solomon Islanders, these risks are necessarily overcome because full coverage is absolutely necessary for the system to work.

The WHO works with the clinics to make sure all the information necessary to identifying and preventing large-scale outbreaks is included in an accessible way. The successful system, now fully functional, has collected data, identified risky areas, and has quickly responded to problems.

The WHO initiative in the Solomon Islands is not unique and neither is their geography. There are 52 developing island nations in the world. These nations carry a disproportionate risk imposed by earthquakes and tsunamis and break down of health systems. Early warning health systems are a part of a larger global strategy to minimize post-natural disaster vulnerability. The WHO works with governments to create a Global Risk and Response system. The main activities include working with governments to set up early warning systems and develop laboratory capacities to handle large amounts of biological material—all of which requires bio-security to keep potential diseases from escaping. Training for and building response strategy plans is also a main function of the WHO’s Global Alert and Response (GAR) system. Seasonally, the GAR supports governments in climate related disease preparedness and creates standardized approaches to climate related diseases such as influenza and malaria.

Katherine Zobre

Sources: Wikipedia, WHO , WHO