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  • Disaster Risk Reduction Day: Building Community, Saving Lives

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    Disaster Risk Reduction has a very simple premise: don't wait until disaster strikes to protect people from devastation. Crises—both man-made and natural—create waves of displaced people, many of whose communities and resources have been devastated by past disasters. So it is the humanitarian community's responsibility to ensure that forewarned is forearmed, to help displaced populations prepare for future disasters before they strike.

    Conflicts and natural disasters often recur with recognizable and predictable patterns. Every civil war that began since 2003 was in a country that had had a previous civil war.[1] Droughts, storms, floods and earthquakes often revisit the same territories and populations.

    DRR Blog Photo

    Recurrent crises create recurrent refugees, and those who were vulnerable before—including women and children—become even more vulnerable. As the WHO points out, "Emergencies have a disproportionate effect on the poorest and most vulnerable, particularly women and children. Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is a significant public health need in all communities, including those facing emergencies... These services need to be strengthened in preparation for future events to reduce SRH-related morbidity and mortality."

    That's the bad news. The good news is that the needs of displaced populations are also predictable—while the precise needs and their magnitudes are variable, there are definite trends. So local communities and international humanitarian organizations can foresee the most dire needs and prepare for them.

    Even better news: just how effective Disaster Risk Reduction programs are. Every dollar spent on disaster prevention saves $5 and $10 in economic losses (which makes one wonder why only $1 out of every $25 spent on humanitarian programs goes toward risk reduction)[2]. Disaster Risk Reduction through local capacity-building is even more powerful. Local residents are already experts in their own geography and culture—so when they acquire some basic humanitarian information and skills, they are uniquely effective (and cost effective) at both protecting the vulnerable and rebuilding their communities.

    Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is one critical area for disaster risk reduction. Between 6 and 14 percent of all displaced women of reproductive age (15-49 years) are pregnant at any given time. Fifteen percent of women who are pregnant while fleeing from conflict may experience a life-threatening obstetric complication.

    In a few weeks, we will launch The Facilitator's Kit: Community-based Preparedness for Reproductive Health and Gender. Developed collaboration with UNFPA and local partners in the Philippines, this kit includes everything needed for a three-day workshop on building local capacity to address sexual and reproductive health needs in disasters.

    Since 2010, the Women's Refugee Commission has incorporated preparedness and planning for sexual and reproductive health needs in an emergency into our advocacy and in-country training activities. We have supported the training—before a crisis—of national-level teams and health providers in the Minimum Initial Services Package (MISP) of Reproductive Health in Crisis Situations, an international standard of care. We have conducted a survey of disaster risk reduction programs promoting sexual and reproductive health in Haiti, Uganda and South Sudan.

    Similar approaches can be developed for other needs, such as shelter and livelihoods. Plans and trainings can be put in place to protect those who will become especially vulnerable, such as women, children, persons with disabilities and the elderly.

    [1] Harbom, Lotta & Peter Wallensteen (2010) Armed Conflicts, 1946-2009. Journal of Peace Research 47(4): 501-509

    [2] Paddy Ashdown, "Businesses must take the initiative in dealing with disaster"