The cyclone shelter for Bhapur, in north-eastern India, one of 67 shelters that UMCOR partner CASA has helped local communities to build.
By David Tereshchuk*
April 8, 2014—No humanitarian work can ever be a successful solo effort—and UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is committed to operating in collaboration and partnership with others, both to respond to disasters and, increasingly, to take measures before they occur to reduce their impact.
In India, UMCOR has built an especially effective collaboration with CASA, the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action. CASA has been the humanitarian assistance arm of 24 Protestant and Orthodox churches in India since independence there in 1947. It is dedicated to strengthening poor and marginalized populations in the society, regardless of denominational, ethnic, caste or political considerations. Both CASA and UMCOR are members of the international coalition of church aid organizations, ACT Alliance.
Through their partnership, CASA and UMCOR are determined to work for a safer and better future, as well as to remedy the immediate and long-term effects of disasters. Forward-looking Disaster Risk Reduction (or DRR) gets a special emphasis in the agencies’ work together.
In the aftermath of Super Cyclone Paradip back in 1999, one of the subcontinent’s most deadly storms (it killed approximately 10,000 people), CASA set about training volunteers and putting in place disaster preparedness and disaster response plans in villages along India’s east coast.Today, CASA has tens of thousands of volunteers in the field and has assisted communities in building 67 cyclone shelters.
Much less damage
It is a measure of the much fuller preparation and readiness such a program can create that India’s most recent cyclone caused much less damage than its predecessor 14 years earlier. Cyclone Phailin hit the northeast coastline in October 2013 and carried a force second only to Paradip in India’s records of severe weather. By contrast, though, it resulted in just 45 deaths, and many thousands of people were successfully evacuated ahead of the storm’s destructive onslaught.
This time, communities had evacuation plans in place, and well-trained local volunteers were ready to lead people in enacting effective safety operations.
In one coastal village, for instance, the pre-arranged signal of raising flags alerted all of the local fishing community, and reached even those who would normally camp out on a distant spit of land while fishing. They were thus given enough warning to rush back to their home village and take cover in the local shelter.
Fresh Momentum for Risk-Reduction
Rev. Jack Amick, UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for International Disaster Response, says: “UMCOR is excited about its partnership with CASA because, together, we can equip communities to prepare for disasters, with local solutions. The poor are particularly vulnerable to disasters, and working together to prepare communities gives people a better chance to overcome the cyclically impoverishing effect of disasters.”
The CASA collaboration is part of UMCOR’s continuing effort, which is now gaining fresh momentum in 2014, to expand its Disaster Risk Reduction projects. “Our aim,” says Amick, “is to support communities as they work together to identify local hazards and develop disaster-response plans, and also to identify local solutions, strategies for prevention and simple steps towards mitigating the worst effects of any disaster.”
Amick points to UMCOR’s new Disaster Risk Reduction Advance (#3021952) as a means to give United Methodists an opportunity to invest in the future through preparedness and mitigation.
The value of such a long-term-investment approach has been borne out by the United Nations, which, since the massive Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, has calculated that each single dollar spent on Disaster Risk Reduction will save between $5 and $10 on the cost of response after a catastrophic event.
Your gift to Disaster Risk Reduction, UMCOR Advance #3021952, supports UMCOR’s work with partners like CASA to help local communities identify and reduce hazards and prepare for disastrous events, minimizing both costs and casualties.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to staging.umcor.org.