Monday, 25 June 2012

GfGD Blog Competition (Runner-Up): Natural Disasters - The importance of education in long term recovery

Our second, and final, runner-up in the GfGD Blog Competition was Daniel Sharpe, a geology student at the University of Leeds. Dan writes here about the importance of education in long-term recovery from natural hazards. You can read more of Dan's work here:

The bridge between short and long term recovery is rarely crossed in developing nations. Even in economically prosperous countries it is difficult, with aftershocks of Hurricane Katrina still rumbling through the U.S. and the more recent tsunami that ruptured the coast of Japan still having significant impacts on communities. Surely more can always be done?

Through personal experience I have seen how recovery can be slow and emotionally strenuous. In 2007 I visited the south-west coast of Sri Lanka, a region devastated by the tsunami of 2004. Two and a half years on, the entire coast was still ruined. Broken houses sat derelict, an unceremonious reminder of the lives lost. Rusting train tracks, flowers lying roadside, and crumbled memories encapsulated within the polished memorials ran parallel to the re-surfaced highway.

After the publicity subsided so did the financial aid and little could be done to continue to assist those who needed support. To protect developing communities for generations a natural response needs to be instilled in people's minds. Educating people on how to deal with hazards should be at the forefront of aid efforts. As I write this news has sparked about a magnitude 8.7 earthquake that has struck near Sumatra, very similar to that of 2004. The news now is not about the loss of life but the reaction of the local people. Granted, fortunately no tsunami proliferated from this earthquake but the immediate reaction of people was to flee to high ground. Evacuation schemes were efficient and people climbed hills and onto roofs in the knowledge that they would be safer. It can be assumed that should a tsunami have formed many lives would have been saved as a result of past experience and teaching, and this knowledge now needs passing down to younger generations; a continuation of experience and learning.

A classic case study is that of Japan. A nation that regularly suffers earthquakes, they have developed and become more educated in natural hazards and the loss of life has significantly reduced. Before 1950 the average number of deaths per earthquake was 13,000 compared to just 1,200 after, despite the average magnitude of the events being almost identical. The high level of construction quality in Japan is greatly responsible and sets an example to everyone, but with an increasing population this decrease in fatalities can also be attributed to the education of citizens. Regular earthquake drills act like fire drills in the UK, and it is now rooted in their minds how to respond should shaking ensue. 

These are two examples of how developing and now developed regions have reacted to the need for education, reducing fatalities both short and long term. China has also recognised the need for educating its citizens. In a country where deaths from natural disasters have actually increased since the millennium, the government is set to improve monitoring systems, raise public awareness and train 2.75 million people for a new disaster rescue and relief scheme. This is the attitude needed in order to reduce the loss of life in developing nations. Educating people on how to prepare, respond and relieve themselves and others from natural disasters is crucial. Coupled with a continued support from governments and NGOs the loss of life from natural disasters can be dramatically reduced; as we have seen across the Indian Ocean and Japan.