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Cordaid NL

Happy 30th birthday, UN International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

Each year on the 13th October, the United Nations celebrates the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR). This is a day to recognise how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and to raise awareness about the importance of reducing the risks that they face. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Day’s introduction to the international calendar.

(A community in Uganda implementing climate resilient agriculture activities. © Cordaid.)

This year, seven million people have been displaced around the world as extreme weather events have destroyed homes, schools, health facilities, and roads in countries as diverse as the Bahamas, Mozambique, and India. It is clear that we cannot cope with the climate emergency if we do not build to last, in a risk-informed manner.

Taking heed to the fact that nobody knows their land better than locals, we aim to provide all the necessary tools to communities to build their own sustainable development.

Many disasters can be avoided or prevented if there is a risk-informed approach to the development, construction, and maintenance of critical infrastructure. Doing so will ensure that the creation of new risk is avoided, and that critical infrastructure continues to function during and after a disaster occurs. On International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, we take a look at some of Cordaid’s work building and strengthening communities’ resilience. One of these communities is in Burundi.

Toward resilient communities in Burundi

Burundi’s land use and economy are mainly used for agriculture and pasture. This combined with the fact that 95% of its energy is wood-based causes significant deforestation, which can result in other hazards such as landslides. Since its independence in 1959, Burundi has also suffered several internal conflicts and is currently one of the poorest countries in the world (180 out of 186 in the Human Development Index).

Growing trees helps to prevent landslides and to create wind barriers. These wind barriers protect vulnerable houses, whose roofs are susceptible to being blown away.

Since April 2019, Cordaid has started a Resilient Disaster Risk Reduction project in the province of Cibitoke, in the north-west of the country, for a period of 21 months. Taking heed to the fact that nobody knows their land better than locals, we aim to provide all the necessary tools to communities to build their own sustainable development, thereby reducing the risk of natural hazards. With the help of local NGO Empowering Response Burundi (ERB), this project will further develop communities’ knowledge to plan and implement resilient measures themselves.

From being told what to do, to taking own decisions

Since the beginning of the project 6 months ago, Cordaid has facilitated training to strengthen ERB’s capacity in Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction. For a period of one week, participants were challenged to change their usual way of working, from managing to facilitating activities. In other words, there was a move from telling communities what to do, towards allowing them to take their own decisions, with external support if needed.

A mapping exercise facilitated by ERB during a Participatory Disaster Risk Assessment in the town of Cibitoke, June 2019. Credit: ERB

Following this training, ERB was facilitated three risk-mapping exercises. Based on these assessments, communities have decided to focus on floods, violent winds, erosion, and landslide mitigation. Three DRR committees were then elected by the communities, divided equally between men and women. Their first task was to propose measures to tackle the natural hazards affecting their communities, before being discussed and validated by the whole community.

Creating wind barriers by growing trees

In early July, the community decided to start with landslide and strong wind prevention, as the upcoming season was favorable to grow seedlings. Since this decision, the communities have planned and identified the best location to build nurseries. The tree production from these nurseries will then be planted as part of a reforestation plan, in order to prevent landslides and to create wind barriers. These wind barriers will provide protection to vulnerable houses, whose roofs are susceptible to being blown away. Based on their action plan, floods will be addressed later on in a second stage, involving water harvesting to improve agriculture.

Retaining water during the dry season

Being one of the poorest countries in the world and working almost solely in agriculture, water availability is essential in Burundi. Despite lying in the tropics and having significant levels of rainfall during the wet season, Burundi also suffers from droughts during the dry season, which heavily reduces agricultural production. To confront this, gutters will be installed to fill newly built water retention infrastructures during the wet season. This will allow for improved productivity during the dry season, resulting in an increase in revenue and continued development after the end of the project’s implementation. With the creation of 15 saving groups, members of the community can contribute to a savings account for future development plans.

2 pictures above: Community working on nurseries, to increase reforestation and prevent erosion and landslides in Rusiga, July 2019. © ERB.

Throughout the project, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) committees will work on the development of contingency plans to establish the action to take in moments of disaster. Burundi already has a national plan, but in order to maximise the reduction of losses, provinces and communities also need more location-specific plans. While most provinces in Burundi have one already, the province of Cibitoke does not. Each committee is thus working on a plan for its community that will then be aggregated in a provincial plan, in order to improve national response.

Community members are the key actors

Just 6 months into this project, many activities have already taken place, and there are more to come. Initial results are already visible with the community action plans developed, the committees elected, and nurseries built. Although busy with their farms, community members are always willing to participate in every activity planned. In this short time, they have taken complete possession of this project and know that they are the key actors in developing their brighter future.

A DRR committee at work. © ERB.


Read more on Cordaid’s work building and strengthening Resilience.