In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis struck Burma/Myanmar. The category 4 cyclone devastated communities, killed more than 138,000 people and left over two million people homeless. International and local organisations, including Caritas, provided assistance to the emergency response.
The vast majority of people who engaged in the response were local survivors of Cyclone Nargis; demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit and the solidarity of communities in the face of adversity.
Rosemary is the Emergency Coordinator of Karuna Myanmar Social Services (KMSS), the Church body organisation Caritas works through in Burma/Myanmar. Rosemary talks about some of the Disaster Risk Reduction activities the communities have participated in since Cyclone Nargis, and their preparation for any future disasters.
As part of the five year anniversary of Cyclone Nargis, 600 people from 10 villages came together on the 28th and 29th of April, 2013. The two-day event led by KMSS was held in Tayoke Kone village, in Labutta township, a fishing village on the coast in Irrawaddy Delta, and one of the hardest hit areas of the disaster. The event included a review of the progress of the Village Disaster Management Committees and Emergency Response Task Force Groups.
The event provided opportunities for coordination and networking among local authorities and NGOs for early warning and Disaster Risk Reduction activities. To emphasise the planning already done, a mock drill was also practiced. The event was capped-off with an inter-faith Memorial Service.
Reflecting on key learnings
One common theme shared by the various groups assembled was that Cyclone Nargis caught everyone unprepared. But today all feel that their communities are more aware of the need for Disaster Risk Reduction and believe that their communities are better prepared compared to pre-Cyclone Nargis times.
The Task Force Groups have many functions, including early warning systems, first aid, rescue and evacuation, water and sanitation, and distribution of supplies. The groups said their key learning has been on how to mobilize people for evacuation. They also recognised the difficulty of this task, and identified the need for further training and practice.
Preparing families and children
As individual families now practice for emergencies in their daily routine, many said that they feel better prepared.
Through the KMSS Child-Focused Disaster Risk Reduction program, children have also learned that they have a role in emergency response and preparation. During the event, the children’s groups shared their newly gained understanding of emergency preparedness. They spoke about monitoring the emergency kits in their homes to ensure the proper items are in each kit, planting trees around the emergency centrw, and cleaning around the rice storage facility which was set up after Cyclone Nargis.
Drawing on experience and training
At the event, KMSS also reported on the establishment of Emergency Response and Support Teams at diocesan and national levels. These rapid response teams were developed after Cyclone Nargis, and have received training in rapid assessment, logistics, first aid, emergency distribution, finance management, and other related early response skills.
Since Cyclone Nargis, they have combined their efforts to assist in the Giri Cylone (2010), the Kengtung Earthquake (2011), and Mandalay Floods (2012), and the Mandalay Earthquake (2012).
This blog first appeared on Caritas Australia’s website