One of my colleagues told me that when her mother was in grade school, a tsunami warning was issued Honolulu (where she was raised as a child). School was released early. Residents were instructed to move to high ground. Instead, her grandmother gathered up her mother and siblings, as well as a few of the neighborhood kids, and they all piled into a convertible and down to the seaside so they could watch the wave come in.
The tsunami never arrived in Honolulu that day and I never got a chance to crawl under my desk at school with a hurricane bearing down, but these memories and anecdotes made me think how far we’ve come in making people more aware of the risks of natural disaster, and less likely to take a convertible down to the beach to go “tsunami-watching.”
This year, October 8 is the International Day for Disaster Reduction , marking almost two decades since the United Nations General Assembly agreed on the second Wednesday of October to promote a culture of disaster risk reduction  around the world. In a year in which more than 62,000 died in China’s Sichuan-Wenchuan Earthquake (see related blog posts ) and more than 84,000 people were killed or made homeless in Myanmar as a result of Cyclone Nargis, it is clear that we still have a ways to go and plenty of work to do in order to reduce disaster risks in our region.
It’s a good time to for everyone involved in disaster risk reduction to highlight how very small awareness raising actions at the community level can have a big impact in mitigating the effects of a disaster.
Take the case of the ten year old British schoolgirl Tilly Smith who managed to save several people who were at the beach in Thailand when the Asian tsunami hit in 2004. She watched the sea receding and bubbling from a beach in Phuket, Thailand where she was vacationing with her parents. Remembering a school lesson weeks before on earthquakes and tsunamis, she told her parents what was happening; they then immediately alerted tourists and hotel staff, and remarkably, almost everyone was evacuated in time.
In the EAP region, we’re working with communities and governments to come up with plans to deal with the threat of disasters before they happen. While it’s not always possible to avoid a storm, earthquake or tsunami, innovative national governments, as well as local authorities, are constantly coming up with new ways to protect their citizens. The International Day for Disaster Reduction is a prime opportunity to promote these initiatives.
For example, in the Philippines, the World Bank, through the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR ), is supporting technical assistance to strengthen the capacities of Philippine institutions, especially at the local level, to reduce vulnerabilities to the impacts of natural disasters and to better manage disaster risks. And in Pacific Island countries, which are especially vulnerable to sea level rise and associated impacts of climate change, we are working to enhance the capacities of Governments to prepare ex ante for disaster risks and to be ready to respond when catastrophes strike.
|Houses have been rebuilt to higher standrads.|
I believe these and other programs, which the World Bank and the GFDRR, Governments, the UN and other development partners are supporting, will have a ripple effect across all development activities at the country level—to ensure that future disasters don't have such devastating impacts.
What do you think? Have you experienced a natural disaster? How did you and your family cope with the event? What are your thoughts on reducing disaster risk in the East Asia Region?