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Ready for disasters

Pardeep C Lal
Thursday, January 03, 2013

ONCE the impact of the disaster is over, government teams are activated to conduct damage assessment and set up further evacuation centres where necessary. Mainly schools and community halls are utilised as evacuation centres. Occupation of schools as evacuation centres affect education if victims are kept at centres for a longer period of time during a school term. During holidays, keeping victims at evacuation centres is still not a good idea as victims need to return home and assist in the rebuilding process.

Some victims at times do not want to return to their homes because they are provided food and other requirements without any cost at evacuation centres.

Evacuation centres are not places to have fun and they do not become permanent homes. These are temporary locations where needy people take shelter for the time being and then return home. There are some who have genuine reason to stay longer as they have nowhere to go and may have lost everything. They also need to be assisted by government and NGOs.

It is therefore important to have information on all those in the evacuation centres so that they can be assisted and guided quickly.

Villages must have centralised village halls which could serve multi purposes such as training and workshops, village and provincial meetings and evacuation centres. This would reduce pressure on education institutions and schools could operate as normal.

"Saints" and "sinners" both emerge after disasters. Those who are not affected are also seen claiming to have lost everything.

The rest of the world needs to learn a lot from the Japanese who do not loot, do not demand and do not beg for assistance after disasters. They display great patience and faith in their leaders and are prepared to offer their assistance even when hit hard by disasters. They always try not to become a burden on others.

NGO involvement

NGOs usually take centre stage and move out to assist victims.

Some NGOs are formed overnight while other NGOs which are not primarily involved in disaster management roles take the initiative to assist victims.

Mainly food ration, water supply, blankets etc are given to victims as immediate needs for survival.

Some NGOs come in the limelight to show their work while some go on quietly assisting victims without any mention. NGOs and CBOs (community-based organisations) in Fiji need to be better organised when it comes to relief operations.

Most NGOs are operated by personnel not fully trained in disaster management operations. They are not involved in disaster management on a full-time basis but organise themselves during disasters to assist victims. They do not have the capacity or manpower to tackle large-scale disasters on their own.

Once their humanitarian role is over, they go back to their core functions of their organisation. With whatever knowledge they have, they do their best to reach out to victims and assist.

NGOs do not cover or assist all affected areas and so this gives an incomplete picture of the assistance as some victims are left out.

Of all NGOs in Fiji, the Fiji Red Cross is one which has the capacity to reach out. However, it needs more volunteers and workforce that could be mobilised rapidly.

Relief distribution formula. Equality or equity?

The question has always been on whether to provide food rations equally to all families affected or base it on equity.

Equality denotes that everyone is at the same level and refers to equal sharing while equity involves factoring in aspects of the system that have put particular groups or individuals at a disadvantage. Equity refers to fairness, justness and impartiality.

Food rations given to victims must therefore be based on family size rather than distributed equally. After much research, I have formulated the relief distribution formula based on equity with Formula 2 as the baseline .

Family size quantity

1) = 3 Half of formula 2 (except in case of salt which remains 1).The additional packet of milk remains same as for F2.

2) 4-6 Apply F2

3) 7-11 Double of F2.

4) 12-20×3 of F2

Formula 2. (Family of 4-6)

Item quantity.

1) Salt — 1 pkt

2) Tea leaves — 2 pkts

3) Milk 2 pkts (1 pkt additional milk per baby/infant (less than 3 years old) or adult over 60 years ).

4) Dhal — 5 kg

5) Breakfast crackers — 6 pkts

6) Sugar — 6 kg

7) Noodles — 6 pkts

8) Tinned fish — 8 tins (replaced by additional 5kg dhal if entire family is vegetarian).

9) Rice — 10kg

10) Potato10 kg

11) Flour10 kg

Note:

1. The above is food ration for one month (four weeks).

2. One additional packet milk per baby per family or adult over 60 years per family.

For evacuation centres:

Number in evacuation centre.

1)  20×3 of F2

2) 21-50 ×5 of F2

3) 51-80×7 of F2

4) 81-100×10 of F2

5) 101-200×20 of F2

Note:

1. Evacuation centres are usually supplemented by NGOs such as Red Cross Society and donors who directly hand out relief items (eg food and water). During disasters, it is expected that victims are to only sustain themselves instead of having full meals. However, the priority must always be infants, young children, pregnant mothers, the sick and elderly.

2. Families sheltering at evacuation centres could get their own food from homes (whatever they can where possible, root crops etc.) . They must not rely entirely on government and NGO assistance as ration distribution is not always immediate. Root crops, vegetables etc. are usually available which could supplement state ration.

3. Families must not remain in evacuation centres for too long after a natural disaster.

Most families are capable of rebuilding their homes with government assistance now in place. They could plant short-term crops which could sustain them from the second month or thereafter. All those who return to their homes need to be given seeds to start planting for family use.

One of government's primary aims after disasters is to assess the extent of damage. This enables government to provide assistance and do rehabilitation work. The assessment depends on the extent of damage. In situations where damage is substantial and the area affected is large, assessment takes longer.

However, the rehabilitation work must not take too much time as seen in the past. Fortunately, this government has fast tracked the rehabilitation process unlike past governments where rehabilitation work went into the second and third year after a single disaster.

The nation needs to go back to normal mode and prepare itself for any further disasters. Failing to complete rehabilitation process of one disaster will camouflage and affect the entire process, in case of another disaster a few months later.

Reducing vulnerability: Transition from disaster situation to normal situation.

Transition to normal life after disasters is not an easy process. Small-scale disasters take less time to recover from while large-scale disasters take longer time and indeed higher cost to recover especially in developing Pacific Island Nations where islands are widely dispersed.

The Yokohama Strategy 1994 emphasised that disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness are better than disaster response in achieving the goals and objectives of vulnerability reduction. Disaster response alone is not sufficient as it yields only temporary results at a very high cost. Prevention and mitigation contribute to lasting improvement in safety and are essential to integrated disaster management.

It was commonly viewed a few decades ago that disasters were looked upon as one-off events that required response from government and relief agencies without too much emphasis on the socio-economic implications and the actual causes of those events and how those events could be tackled. However, with significant improvements in our ability to understand natural processes, the attitude and paradigm is now changing to one with a growing emphasis on preparedness measures, such as stockpiling of relief goods, preparedness plans and a growing role for relief agencies.

A lot lies in the hands of relief agencies and the humanitarian world. National policies governing relief operations after disasters will determine the time taken for response and road to recovery. Early recovery traditionally was assumed to imply emergency and temporary measures. This notion is gradually shifting to include a more permanent solution. The recovery and reconstruction phase has to consider long





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