Celebrated on 19 August, World Humanitarian Day is when the humanitarian community renews its commitment to helping vulnerable and suffering people all over the world. It is also a day on which to pay tribute to all humanitarian aid workers.
Caritas says that while aid workers provide valuable assistance, it is communities themselves who are the first to respond in a disaster.
“The main humanitarian response in disasters is from the grassroots. People across the world who are dealing with these catastrophes need more support and resources to become less vulnerable,” says Alistair Dutton, humanitarian director at Caritas Internationalis. This support can come in many forms – from ensuring houses are made more earthquake-proof in at risk areas to encouraging people to store grain for lean times in countries where drought is common.”
Caritas says that while massive progress has been made over the past 20 years in getting aid to communities in difficulty more rapidly, disasters still have a major impact on people’s lives.
“In some countries, floods and droughts are an almost annual event, and yet people still lose their homes, sometimes because they are built in risky places; they still sell their animals because they run out of food. More work needs to be done at empowering communities so they are less vulnerable and less reliant on outside help,” says Mr Dutton.
Many Caritas members across the world engage in Disaster Risk Reduction (DDR) and help empower communities in the face of difficulties.
Examples of this work include cyclone shelters in Bangladesh, encouraging communities to build drought resistance crops in Uganda and programmes to prevent deforestation in Peru.
The benefits of projects which reduce the risk of disasters can be enormous to communities. In Bangladesh, 150,000 people died when a cyclone hit in 1991. Better warning and evacuation systems and the construction of shelters meant that only 3,500 people died in 2007 when a similar cyclone hit.
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