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Moving From Disaster Response To Building Resilience



The scope and frequency of disaster events being reported are increasing every year. Even this week Indonesia is suffering from the devastation of a tsunami and a volcanic eruption, both within a 24-hour period. Thousands are presumed dead and many more displaced.


Travel halfway around the world to Haiti, a chronically impoverished country, devastated by an earthquake early this year. Cholera now threatens the people of Haiti. “As of the evening of 25 October, the Ministry of Health of the Government of Haiti has reported 3,342 confirmed cases including 259 fatalities” (WHO).


Images from Indonesia and Haiti paint the picture of suffering and pain, stirring all of our desires to help. Many respond to the needs of disaster victims, as in the case of Haiti, without an assessment of needs, a plan to address those needs, or a local partner. These well meaning people will tax the already fragile system and may even take resources away from disaster victims. Donated items are frequently collected and sent with good intentions but many times they are outdated, culturally inappropriate, or have no use in the response or recovery activities.


If we truly want to help the people of Indonesia and Haiti, our response should no longer be based on ad hoc efforts. Instead we must begin to develop ways to build resilience within disaster prone communities. Our perspective and approach to disaster response must change to disaster management. To change the way we approach the needs of disaster victims by doing the following:


•Start with an assessment. Disaster activities must be based on the actual needs of the people and not on our own perceptions.

• Work with a local partner. A relationship with a local partner is essential for obtaining an accurate assessment, being efficient, and offering culturally appropriate services and goods.

• Incorporate disaster medicine management into your short-term trips. Short-term medical trips are great opportunities to assist disaster-prone communities in building resilience.

• Prepare yourself and join a team. Training in disaster management will help in changing the current status quo of ad-hoc disaster response to strategic disaster medicine management.


To assist you and your teams, INMED offers an online Disaster Management Self-Paced Course designed specifically for volunteers and NGOs. Also consider participating in the INMED’s 2011 Exploring Medical Missions Conference. The theme of this year’s conference is From Rescue to Resilience, with specific presentations addressing disaster management. By changing our approach from rescue to resilience, we can change the images coming from Haiti and Indonesia.

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