Disasters are touchstones for innovation. Since the earthquake in Haiti and the typhoons Haiyan and Hagupit in the Philippines, Cordaid keeps improving the approach we now call Resilient Recovery: working side by side with affected communities to repair and prepare for the next catastrophe, soon after a disaster has hit and as soon as possible after the emergency phase. Relief and rebuilding interventions that build on their capacity, creativity and resilience gain efficiency, innovation and sustainability.
Whenever a big disaster happens, the world comes into action. The UN, governments, aid agencies come together and within no time, Antonovs fly to the disaster area with tons of blankets, food parcels, medical kits, tents and other emergency aid goods. When they arrive there, the next logistical challenge occurs: distributing the goods to the hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands who are not killed. In many ways, international relief is organized top down, and it goes over the heads of the receiving communities. If the next typhoon, earthquake or flood occurs, they can only hope the aid reaches their village.
To break the cycle of disasters and dependence on aid, Cordaid tried a different approach after the tsunami in late 2004: working with affected communities very soon after the disaster, as soon as possible after the emergency phase work, repairing and preparing for the next catastrophe. “After the tsunami, people were either dead on the beach, or they walked around unharmed, while they had lost everything,” said Inge Leuverink, emergency aid coordinator at the time. “We realized then that emergency medical care was not our top priority. We had to quickly start the recovery: buiding earthquake-resistent houses and schools with local architects and experts. With the participation of communities, we made sure that fishermen had boats that remained intact right after the disaster and that kids could go to school. It was “an innovative approach,” says Leuverink, “We tried to reduce the risks of another disaster very soon after the first one. This was new in the emergency aid sector.”
“It’s different than waiting for the next Antonov. “
We wanted to appeal to the capacity of communities as early as the reconstruction phase, so that they would be more equipped to manage disasters that strike repeatedly. In that way, communities become less dependent on aid. In addition, the reconstruction process becomes more democratic. It’s different than waiting for the next Antonov.
Workshop on reducing disasters in Ngolos Village, Philippines after Hagupit
Bouncing Back Better
Disasters are touchstones for innovation. After the earthquake in Haiti and the typhoons in the Philippines Haiyan and Hagupit, Cordaid has improved the approach we now call Resilient Recovery. Our experience shows that all local capacities and knowledge that can contribute to the recovery of a community must be mapped soon after the disaster. Who can help repair the damage to roads or houses? Who maps out the village’s biggest concerns and needs in the days and weeks to come? Who helps with the preparation of action plans in case of new earthquakes or floods? Who looks out for escape routes, who works on warning systems? What can hard-hit villages learn from villages who suffered less damage?
If one community of fishermen has lost fewer boats, because they timely sunk their fleet in shallow water, that practical knowledge is worth a great deal to the other villages. Jan Willem Wegdam, emergency coordinator for Cordaid with extensive experience in Haiti: “Relief operations after a disaster are not just about replacing what is destroyed, but also to strengthen the collective power of a community to recover after a next disaster. We call that bouncing back better.”
“If you give affected communities responsibility, it reverts them from aid recipients to people taking the lead and initiative,” knows Athena Banza of NASSA, a Caritas organization and partner for Cordaid in the Philippines. She works with communities in Guiuan that were hit by typhoon Haiyan in 2013. “The residents of Guiuan were perfectly capable to make a plan, and determine what had to be done and what was is still missing to do it.” Guinan residents asked to train more local people to become a carpenter. Today, 74 professionals did not only help build typhoon-resistant houses after the next, but also stimulated the local economy with their economic activities. In Banuang Daan, also in the Philippines, the community came up with the idea to build a pedestrian bridge across the river. 12-year-old Angel explains why: “. With this bridge, we no longer have to climb down the rocks after another typhoon. And we don’t have to keep swim through the mud to go to school”. And fishermen who wanted to be prepared for the next storm always kept a hatchet in the boat. With one small hole in the keel, the boat would be in shallow water, well protected from the torrent. No international aid program had ever imagined the risk reduction value of such a hatchet in a boat. Local fishermen do.
Being innovative means adjusting constantly
There are numerous examples of things that residents in Haiti and the Philippines come up with if they get a significant role in the organization and the strengthening of their own disaster preparedness and resilience. All those examples demonstrate that people in need are more than just aid recipients. Relief aid and rehabilitation interventions that call on them to be capable, creative and resilient are more efficient, innovative and sustainable. But in all the hustle and bustle during and after a disaster they ask the utmost of aid workers. It is therefore important to start with Resilient Recovery well before the disaster occurs. And to learn from every disaster, as each one is a test case.
“Walking two paths at once, that’s art. The art of slow hurry.”
As Inge Leuverink says, “You must hurry to save lives with clean drinking water, food, shelter. But at the same time, spend time with affected communities to identify the needs and work with them to repair, and prepare for the next disaster. Take the time to constantly adapt your interventions to the changing reality that communities have to deal with. Walking those two paths at once, that’s the difficult trick. The art of slow hurry.”