One year on from the Kashmir earthquake, Evangelical aid agency Tearfund‚Äôs disaster risk reduction (DRR) work is reducing the vulnerability of villages in the remote region. While hazards such as earthquakes cannot be prevented, massive loss of life and suffering associated with them can be, says the agency, if measures are put in place to protect vulnerable communities before a disaster strikes.
80,000 people died when the earthquake struck on 8 Oct 2005, devastating communities in a region extremely difficult to reach with emergency aid. Following the initial challenge of getting food, water and shelter to people across mountain valleys, the measures that needed to be put in place to provide a level of preparedness were vividly apparent. The way buildings were designed with no resistance to earth movement and communications between remote villages were major problems identified.
Tearfund, an advocate for DRR measures, was soon facilitating a village level communication system with communities near the remote town of Bagh. A Disaster Risk Reduction programme including first aid training, the formation of disaster committees to co-ordinate relief and training on building designs that are more resistant to quakes, are strong initiatives developed with the full consultation and the cooperation of community elders. Schools and hospitals collapsing, due to poor structural design caused a high number of fatalities in the quake.
Jon Kennedy, Operations Manager for Tearfund‚Äôs Kashmir response, says that telling children not to run into buildings when the ground starts to quake is one simple education example that saves lives. He explains that it is also about working together.
‚ÄúLocal risk reduction isn‚Äôt driven externally‚Äù says Jon. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs about engaging with the culture and the remote village way of life to understand what works for the people as a community in the wake of a disaster. Through that dialogue and combined initiative we can help them build their own disaster management plan, to ensure that basic life saving measures - actions to reduce vulnerability, become part of community thinking to pass on for future generations.‚Äù
The British Government earlier this year launched a new policy on disaster risk reduction. This policy included a commitment to spend ten percent of its emergency aid budget on reducing the risk of future disasters. Tearfund welcomed this as a clear example to other European Union countries to do more to mitigate against the risks and reduce vulnerability. The EU must do more to develop a sufficient action plan for DRR. The European Commission has made statements of support for this issue but measures to reduce disaster risks are not routinely included in EU external development assistance.
In addition to the DRR measures developed with villages, Tearfund‚Äôs aid programme has supported over 30,000 families - some 180,000 people in the region, operating across six remote valleys. Tearfund has funded and distributed: 6,000 emergency shelter kits ‚Äì including essential tools; blankets and mattresses; stoves and cooking utensils; warm cloths; medical assistance; 4,500 latrine/washroom kits and hygiene and water purification kits. A public health promotion project is reducing the vulnerability of 6,500 households to disease. Detailed water surveys and repairs to water systems have also been carried out.
Over ¬£3 million has been spent on Tearfund‚Äôs Kashmir quake operation.