Q&A: Why increasing resilience to disasters is vital

Y Care International volunteer, Natalia Biskupsa, tells us what inspired her to get involved with disaster risk reduction. She shares her own experience of being caught up in an emergency and gives us her top tips for how to stay safe during a disaster.

Why is Disaster Risk Reduction so important?

Natalie delivering a workshop to Y Care International staff on what to do before, during and after an emergency when travelling. Photo: Lizz Harrison/YCI

Natalie delivering a workshop to Y Care International staff on what to do before, during and after an emergency when travelling.

Disasters have been increasing in frequency and intensity all over the world. In the last 20 years, a third of the world’s population has been affected by them in some way, with certain groups of people (such as women, children and the elderly) disproportionately more affected than others. A huge 95 per cent of disaster fatalities occur in developing countries, which are more prone to issues such as poverty, conflict and injustice, affecting their ability to adapt and respond to disasters.

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan devastated communities in the Philippines. Over 13 million people were affected, leaving many people having to completely rebuild their lives after their homes were destroyed by the disaster. People are still recovering and in need of resources to build their lives in more resilient ways so that if any future disasters strike, they will be much more prepared. It is also important to remember that it is not just the big scale disasters which are the only problem, but the ‘everyday’, recurrent shocks, which cause a large proportion of losses but go mainly unreported and unnoticed. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) activities are vital in empowering communities to become more resilient to both large and small scale disasters and reducing the negative effects.

So you are studying at the moment – could you tell us a bit about it?

My interest in disasters has led me to do a Masters course at King’s College London which involves learning about disasters, adaptation and development. I am really enjoying it so far as it has given me a new perspective and understanding of what makes people vulnerable to disasters and the issues of development at local through to global scale. The course has also allowed me to have practical experience by giving me the opportunity to work with Y Care International as a Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergencies Volunteer. This has opened my eyes to the workings of an development organisation and the vital work being carried out both before and after a disaster happens.

What inspired you to get involved in Disaster Risk Reduction?

At school and university, the thing that struck with me the most was learning about the number of disasters occurring around the world and their increasingly devastating impacts. I was struck by the fact that disasters can often completely erase decades of development efforts. This highlighted to me the importance of disaster work – especially before a disaster happens – to reduce the negative impacts of these events by helping those that may not have the resources or opportunities to do so. It also made me realise that the power is often within the community to reduce its own vulnerability to the threats they are exposed to. The idea of working with these communities to realise their full potential, so that they can build their own resilience to future disasters and reduce negative impacts, is what inspires me most!

Social media has become a good way to keep updated about natural hazards – how would you describe DRR in in 140 characters or less?

OK, here goes:

Follow us on Twitter!

Do you have any experiences of being caught up in an emergency or disaster in the UK or abroad? What was it like?

Yes! It was a few years ago when I was carrying out some research to do with earthquake and landslide risk in Nepal. Nepal is a beautiful country but prone to severe earthquakes, landslides and flooding. We spent one of our first days there walking around Kathmandu, assessing the underlying vulnerabilities of the city and people to various environmental hazards and what could go wrong if an event occurred. Coincidentally that evening, an earthquake shook the city. While we all laugh about it now (fortunately the earthquake was reasonably small and our group was unharmed) it was truly terrifying, especially since we had just spent the day thinking about the worst case scenarios. Luckily for us, this is a risk which we don’t really have to think about or worry about back in the UK. However, for millions of people around the world, this is a risk they are faced with every day.

It’s been the wettest winter in 250 years and parts of the UK suffered from serious flooding, if you had to make a poster or infographic to inform people how to prepare for a flood what would it look like?

Like this – download my emergency poster here!

Click here if you want to donate to our Emergency Fund so we can reduce the impact of disasters and be ready to respond as soon as they hit. 

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