The massive tornado that hit Oklahoma city is a reminder of the devastating power and unpredictability of natural disasters, and the death and destruction that follows in their wake – even in the richest country on earth. Yet the Oklahoma tornedo is just one incident. A Guardian graphic shows the impact of disasters worldwide in 2012, reporting that more than 32 million people fled their homes last year because of disasters such as floods, storms and earthquakes – and that 98 per cent of displacement was related to climate change.
ActionAid always responds to natural disasters in communities where we work and a roll call of recent disasters shows just how important that is: the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistan floods all required massive coordinated and collaborative relief responses. Yet just as important is work to encourage resilience within at-risk communities.
In particular, the effects of climate change – floods, cyclones and crop failures – are growing and have a much bigger impact on people in poor countries because they don’t have the resources to protect themselves. They suffer the most, even though they have contributed the least to global warming.
That’s why we’re working with communities in vulnerable areas to help them adapt to natural disasters caused by climate change. And with more and more poor families living on marginal land, it’s a development field that ActionAid is investing in. We’re helping communities identify the risks they face that make them vulnerable and we're developing their skills to push their governments to provide the services that will help them survive in a world where climate change is making the world a less safe place.
ActionAid has placed reducing vulnerability to disasters at the heart of our emergencies work and it makes a difference. Just recently my colleague Alice Klein reported that when Tropical Cyclone Mahasen passed through Bangladesh casualties were thankfully minimised. Much of that was due to investment by the Bangladesh government and aid agencies. Millions living in low-lying coastal areas in the Bay of Bengal were evacuated and ActionAid had three emergency teams on standby in the coastal region where we have many sponsored children.
Helping small communities cope with increasing stresses and shocks is also a reason why we’re a member of the Global Network for Disaster Reduction which seeks to put poor people at the heart of responses to disaster risk reduction. As ActionAid’s advisor on disaster resilience, Jessica Faleiro has written about how empowered people are able to strengthen their own communities to be better prepared and adapt to rapidly changing environments.