Instant Long-term Solutions
by Captain Mike McKee
A tsunami affected family in front of the tent that served as a temporary home
IT seems we have been facing a constant stream of major disasters in the past two years. There was the Indian Ocean tsunami, an especially brutal hurricane season - including the destruction brought about in the USA by Hurricane Katrina - and major earthquakes in Pakistan and India last October, with another one recently in Indonesia. Add to this list emergencies such as the drought and subsequent famine in Sub-Saharan Africa and a variety of smaller-scale floods, landslides, volcanoes, civil wars and conflicts and it's not too difficult to be overwhelmed by the number of emergencies.
With each new disaster comes a new group of people who find themselves in immediate, unexpected need. Stories and photos of human suffering tend to mobilise individuals, governments and organisations into urgent action to help alleviate some of the most immediate needs.
With The Salvation Army being active in more than 111 countries around the world it finds itself not only on the front lines of relief efforts in many large disasters but, more often than not, actually part of the affected community. For most major disasters, whether it's an earthquake in South Asia, a mudslide in Latin America or a famine in Africa, the question for The Salvation Army is not `if' i should respond, but rather `how'.
The old method of disaster response was to arrive quickly, with tents, food, water and maybe some medical supplies in order to stabilise the situation, take some photos of grateful people and then just as quickly go home. While this type of response helps to ease some of the initial survival needs it does little to help people begin to regain their ability to take care of themselves and their families.
Even though shelter, food and water remain high on the list of immediate needs, many disasters disrupt the lives of those in the community in ways that are not immediately obvious.
Quickly-delivered tents and tarpaulins help to provide some temporary shelter when homes have been destroyed, but many other less-apparent losses have usually been suffered by survivors of a major disaster. Stores and other businesses may have been damaged or destroyed, leaving families without their usual sources of food, clothing and other necessities. The loss of local places of business also translates into the loss of jobs, which directly affects a family's ability to be self-sufficient, let alone its capacity to begin to rebuild all that was lost due to the disaster.
|Men from mountain villages in Pakistan who lost their homes in the earthquake set up a Salvation Army tent|
Local sanitation systems are often affected, leading to the spread of disease. Schools and other public institutions can be damaged to the point where education and other essential services are completely disrupted. Add to this the trauma suffered by people who have lost family and friends and you begin to realise the impact a major disaster has on a community.
Clearly, even though the initial focus is on the immediate survival needs of shelter, food and water, much more is required for a community to recover from a large-scale disaster.
|New houses built for tsunami victims in India|
Salvation Army responses to natural or man-made disasters are taking on a different form to those of a generation ago. By virtue of its presence and active participation in communities around the globe, The Salvation Army is fully aware of the complex needs of communities facing a crisis. It is often perfectly placed to make a positive contribution to the community's effort to recover and regain its ability to be self-reliant.
While many specialised relief agencies are quick to provide initial needs after a major disaster, The Salvation Army will not only have been there all along but is also committed to being a permanent part of the community and will typically still be present long after some of the other groups have gone. This gives it a vested interest in working to provide for the longterm recovery of a community.
Recent disaster interventions help to illustrate The Salvation Army's philosophy of both a rapid response and a more deliberate, longer-term recovery strategy. In the immediate aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, for instance, local Salvation Army personnel took an active role in rescue and recovery efforts, in many cases working to help others while they themselves suffered loss in the disaster. Initial efforts to rescue and comfort survivors quickly progressed to an ambitious programme of rebuilding homes and helping families to re-establish their ability to generate income.
Following last October's devastating earthquake in Pakistan, The Salvation Army followed up its initial deliveries of tents and other shelter materials with a project to rebuild a primary school and some additional vocational training programmes and other initiatives aimed at helping families to regain their independence. Although the earthquake occurred in an area of Pakistan where there had been no previous Salvation Army ministry, officers are being appointed to provide for a sustained Salvation Army presence long after the International Emergency Services team now in place has been withdrawn.
|The foundations of a permanent school building which will replace a school destroyed by the earthquake in Pakistan|
Regardless of whether the world is experiencing more and more disasters or whether we have just become more aware of the disasters that have been occurring all along, The Salvation Army is continuing to reach out to families and individuals who find themselves in need. And as the need continues to become more complex, The Salvation Army will continue to modify its methods to ensure that, with God's help and blessing, it can appropriately represent him to people in need.
Captain Mike McKee is Emergency Field Operations Officer at International Headquarters