Disaster Preparedness: A Taiwan Perspective

By Yin-Chun (Ingrid) Yeh, United Way of Taiwan

“Disaster is an issue of vulnerability. Our role is to prevent hazards from becoming disasters. However, outsiders can only help; it’s insiders that must do the job.” Inspirationally, this is the first lesson that I learned from Give2Asia's Disaster Preparedness forum.

I am amazed to realize that there are so many partners working towards the same goal in their own regions and communities, no matter how difficult the circumstances are. If it were not for the forum, we would never be able to have these fireside chats to discuss our problems and solutions. The impact is unpredictable. I have exchanged useful information with partners from more than ten countries, like introducing the biggest Chinese social enterprise platform to Mr. Prashant Singh, the founder of Himalayan Climate Initiative, which is a social enterprise incubator for many young leaders in Nepal. Meanwhile, after talking to the Development and Deployment team of Project DynaSlope of the PhiVolcs about a landslide early warning system in the Philippines, I’ve started to wonder whether the mechanism could be implemented in Taiwan. These dialogues and connections are like prolific seeds, which will grow into something more powerful than we can imagine.

Aside from community partners, I’ve also learned a lot from Mr. Birger Stamperdahl, President of Give2Asia and the international donors who attended. The speeches reminded me that it’s important to first understand donors’ perspectives, so that we’ll know where the gap is and how to communicate with them. When confronted with issues that are essential but lack in visibility, like disaster preparedness, our job is to make the issue visible. Quantifying and recording these issues is a must for us to influence donors with sufficient accountability.

The core competence of United Way of Taiwan lies in our connection to more than 350 small and medium sized community-based organizations. The forum called attention to our strengths to be leveraged in DRR and other preventive work, including but not limited to disasters, by utilizing these connections. I was inspired by IIRR President Mr. Issac Bekalo when he talked about lessons from the 3-year program, that partnership is built on give and take, based on learning but not teaching. Without learning from our community agencies, there’s no way for us to grow together.

During the forum, everyday I was bathed in sunshine, fresh ideas and friendship that I got from like-minded lovely people. I will surely miss everyone, firmly believing that we’ll bring more community partners in and witness fruitful produce growing after the rain.

Disaster Preparedness: Views from the Epicenter

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

Two years ago, the world reacted when two massive earthquakes struck Nepal and destroyed entire areas around Kathmandu and whole villages in hard-to-reach mountain regions. With international partnerships, many affected communities have been able to recover, while others still struggle even after the eyes of the global community have turned elsewhere. These and other parts of Asia are the most natural disaster-prone region in the world. How can the international community do more than just react to the next disaster? What does community-led disaster prevention look like in Asia and how is technology being harnessed to address these needs?

During the panel discussion on Tuesday, March 28, “Disaster Preparedness: Views from the Epicenter”, Birger Stamperdahl, CEO and President of Give2Asia, Isaac Bekalo, President of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, and Meena Palanappian, Founder and CEO of Atma Connect will discuss the future of disaster preparedness while examining what resiliency looks in the face of limited resources on the ground. With experience spanning the globe, these experts will lead a discussion on how Asia’s communities are rebuilding and preparing in anticipation of future catastrophes. These innovations will have planning implications for not only Asia but the rest of the world in years to come.

We hope you’ll join us in San Francisco on March 28. Register here with the code Give2AsiaPromo.

When: Tuesday, March 28, 2017, 6:30pm-7:30pm

Where: World Affairs Auditorium, 312 Sutter Street, Suite 200, San Francisco, CA.

Speakers: Isaac B. Bekalo, Meena Palanappian, and Birger Stamperdahl.

Join the event on Facebook.

Member                                                    FREE

Member Guest (with pass)                      FREE

Non-member                                               $20

Student                                                          $7

Disaster Preparedness and the Power of Local Leadership

By Saveetha Meganathan, Manager of Disaster Programs

“It was a huge wave. They are calling it a tsunami. I have never seen anything like this before in my lifetime. My entire village got swept away. I got saved as I had gone to town.” I remember these words of a 65-year-old fisherman in a coastal village of Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, post-2004 tsunami. I witnessed many more tragic stories as a relief volunteer, quite helpless but mustering courage to comfort the survivors.

Disasters hit hard, usually taking us by surprise and bringing everything to a stop, especially if one is not prepared for it. So, what is disaster preparedness? Disaster preparedness is defined by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) as “the measures taken to prepare for and reduce the effects of disasters. That is, to predict and where possible, prevent disasters, mitigate their impact on vulnerable populations, and to respond to and effectively cope with their consequences”.

Disaster philanthropy in Asia and many other parts of the world has predominantly supported relief and recovery activities. Yet in the recent past one can see the significance of investing in disaster preparedness and risk reduction programs that can save more lives, mitigate the severity of any hazards, and help communities to achieve long-term resilience. For example, in Eastern India when cyclone Phailin hit the coasts of Odisha at the rate 200 kmph in 2013, about 700,000 people were evacuated. Similarly, the Philippines and other South East Asian countries are prone to typhoons and floods and the local community-based organizations (CBOs) in these countries have played a significant role in promoting disaster preparedness and increasing community resilience.

Asia is the most disaster prone region in the world and a significant strategy in disaster philanthropy would be to invest directly in supporting CBOs across Asia towards disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction. This will save lives and resources and help the communities to become more resilient. It is necessary to recognize the power of local communities to effectively prepare for disasters from a bottom-up approach in planning and policy making activities of the national governments and global governance institutions. Supporting and incubating innovations of local CBOs such as early warning systems during floods and typhoons, investing in disaster preparedness strategies such as education campaigns on disasters, capacity building on emergency evacuation planning and also sustainable livelihood planning for disaster prone regions can prove to be very impactful and gain resilience for the communities.

It is also important to take into account that both the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have emphasized on the need for concerted efforts in the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) segment. The SDGs’ recommendation of sustainable development practices can reduce the impact of anthropogenic climate change that causes extreme weather conditions leading to disasters. Perhaps, disaster philanthropy should evolve towards investing resources in addressing the impact of climate change on the environment by supporting sustainable development practices of local CBOs. Strategies to inform private disaster philanthropy to invest in disaster risk reduction and preparedness has gained importance as it is synergistic towards sustainable development practices, especially in the context of resource-poor and vulnerable communities.

In 2014, Give2Asia and the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) launched the NGO Disaster Preparedness Program, building on Give2Asia’s experience in engaging donors in support of locally-led disaster recovery efforts and IIRR’s work directly with the rural poor who disproportionally suffer the impact of disasters in Asia. This program has garnered immense mileage in terms of incubating innovation within CBOs who are mostly the first responders of any disaster and also play a key role in relief, recovery and future preparedness programs.

This March, Give2Asia and IIRR will host ‘Disaster Preparedness and the Power of Local Leadership,’ an international conference to facilitate a vibrant conversation between CBOs and the philanthropic community by sharing knowledge and the best practices of some of the most at-risk local communities. The event will also feature national, regional and community-based leaders who will discuss the challenges for making real impact at the grassroots level. Since disaster preparedness is the cornerstone for mitigating future disasters, this conference will bring together the synergies of the philanthropic community and the local knowledge of CBOs through an open dialogue and also widen the scope for a knowledge-sharing platform in this realm.

Saveetha Meganathan has recently submitted her PhD in Medical Anthropology to the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She has eight years of field experience in the development sector and has predominantly worked with the tribal communities in central India on the issues of access to public health system, maternal and child health, nutrition security and bioethics. She presently serves as the Manager of the Disaster Programs at Give2Asia.