Rethinking Disasters

Listening to the community and the environment 

 
This photo was taken in 2014, on a secondment from Tearfund to the Integral Alliance network of NGOs. Tom is a founding director of photography company Ecce Opus.    www.ecceopus.com

This photo was taken in 2014, on a secondment from Tearfund to the Integral Alliance network of NGOs. Tom is a founding director of photography company Ecce Opus. www.ecceopus.com

 

Natural disasters are merciless in revealing the flaws in our systems and infrastructure. But amidst the chaos and destruction they can act as a wake up call to greater resilience. 


When super typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013, it wasn’t simply the record-breaking winds that sent shockwaves through the islands, but a surprise intense storm surge - a wall of water up to five metres high - wreaking havoc and affecting over 14 million people. 


The typhoon struck at the tail end of Filipino typhoon season, and as further rains and storms threatened to swamp the already stressed rivers, the potential for worse loomed heavily.


Rather than sit back and wait for help, I saw communities galvanised by the devastation - determined not only to clear up and rebuild, but to take steps to limit any further damage. 


Part of the genius lay in the local knowledge of the environment. By understanding the connections between the rivers, irrigation systems and climate, locals could predictably forecast the coming trouble and head it off. 

In this case, Ulderico (pictured) and his community identified the risk of waterways clogged with fallen trees and other debris and jumped into action to manually dredge them. Precious rice crops were therefore protected against further flood damage. 

This picture speaks clearly to me that resilience always requires the voice and knowledge of the local community and an integrated understanding of the human and the natural environment.