Disaster Preparedness: This is What Empowerment Looks Like

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By Jill Chang, Regional Manager

In March 2017, Give2Asia and IIRR hosted a 5-day “Disaster Preparedness & the Power of Local Leadership” conference in Silang and metro Manila, inviting international donors, intermediaries, as well as practitioners all around Asia to share their experiences. I was fortunate to be the moderator of an exciting session called “Unleashing Innovation for Disaster Preparedness.”

In the session, Mr. Shamim Arfeen of Bangladesh’s AOSED demonstrated how he uses Information and Communications Technology, as well as capacity-building programs and establishing strong fishermen communities to help reduce flood damage. Dr. Saroj Dhital of Nepal’s phect-NEPAL is a surgeon: he devotes tremendous time and effort trying to improve health care in rural areas, especially in the remote high hills. He uses internet, wifi, even drones to achieve those goals. Dr. Partha J. Das of India’s Aaranyak is an Environmental Scientist: he demonstrated his award-winning "Community Based Flood Early Warning Project" - a system that uses simple technology in local houses to provide flood warning.  

Simple and Violent

It was a mind-blowing 75 minutes for me, and I was truly amazed by their creativity and innovation. Taiwan is known as a tech island: it manufactures cell phone components and high-tech wafers at some of the best foundries in the world, but I hadn’t yet seen much use of these types of technology in disaster preparedness.

“Simple and violent” are the words that jumped right across my mind after listening to their talks. They probably would not agree on this, but to me they are changing the world in a hacker way: if there is a problem, go find a solution; and if there is no solution, create one on your own. It is that simple, it is that violent. And their solutions are low-cost, replicable, intuitive, based upon local knowledge  - and in fact it made us all wonder why no one thought of it before. The line between breaking new ground through reflecting on the old ways was entirely blurred.

Power of Serendipity

As the moderator, I was privileged to get a good understanding of the speakers and their projects. After the session, I introduced them to Mr. Paolo Lubrano, Regional Humanitarian Manager from Oxfam Asia office, also a speaker of the conference, about how these innovative models can be scaled up. These turned out to be productive conversations: partnerships may be established, they may work on projects and/or start scholarship together. It was almost magical that we come from different countries, live in different time zones, and before the conference we didn’t even know each other’s work, and all it took was 75 minutes to connect the dots, create synergy, and make impactful changes. It was living proof of the power of serendipity.

The Warm Empowerment

My hands were cold when I was on stage, but I felt warmth throughout the conference, then I realized: it was the people. I felt it when Saveetha Meganathan, Manager of Disaster Programs at Give2Asia, touched my face and said "I've got everything ready, don't worry," and when Dr.Dhital said to me on a busy street "it's your generation’s turn, be brave." It was a typical tropical day, in the typical fast pace of the financial district, but I felt unprecedented calmness and strength. For me, that's true empowerment.