People take preparation for disasters seriously in Vietnam’s Tien Gian province. Everyone gets involved, because the country’s so vulnerable to disasters – typhoons, flooding and mudslides.
Local leaders ensure the village’s early warning speaker systems work. Plans are in places for hand-held megaphones to warn hamlets with no electricity. Dirt roads and dykes against rising waters are reinforced. Children help draw maps of the village so everyone knows where safe evacuation points are, learning ahead of time so they won’t be afraid.
All across Vietnam, a country with more than 2,000 miles of exposed coastline, people know about climate change and what they need to do to protect themselves. That’s why they are investing time and money in projects that help reduce the risk of disasters.
The government has a department devoted to it. Children are involved through schools, dance, drama and other community activities, so they and their parents will know what to do in the case of disaster. Children’s specific needs are identified, as smaller-sized life-jackets are shipped in and schools equipped with community boats.
I recently visited small villages in the Mekong Delta, travelling by boat at dusk to reach communities where Save the Children is supporting disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities. The children I spoke to seemed to think this was all normal – no panic involved. Last year’s flooding season involved thousands of people evacuating, yet no one died.
Disaster risk reduction saves lives. In Bangladesh, cyclones in 1970 and 1991 killed around 500,000 and 140,000 people respectively. The November 2007 cyclone, Cyclone Sidr, which was of greater intensity, killed fewer than 4,000 people.
While this is still a huge number of casualties, it represents a significant reduction in loss of life. The experience of Bangladesh contrasts strongly with Myanmar (Burma) in May, where there was very little preparation, and a much higher death toll.
The consensus on climate change is clear: it is already affecting the earth with more frequent, more severe and less predictable natural disasters.
Save the Children works in many of the countries already feeling the impact of climate change. We are seeing children and families struggle against drought, floods and other disasters that hit with such frequency there’s little time to recover.
We know that climate change, along with the global rise in fuel and food prices, threatens to undermine the Millennium Development Goals, pushing hundreds of millions more people into deeper poverty. But we also know that when you work with children and their communities on disaster risk reduction, lives can be saved and people can be inspired to achieve dramatic change.
The call to political leaders in this summer disaster season – as drought causes hunger across Africa and storms lash the coasts of Asia and Latin America – is to recognise the links between climate change, disasters and poverty. The poorest people in the poorest countries will clearly be the hardest hit.
Both climate change and poverty have deeply damaging consequences for all of us, and demand global solutions and strong leadership by the world’s richest and most powerful nations.