Over the course of the years, humanitarian aid has evolved significantly in terms of disaster management. The global Caritas network is no exception: today, Caritas not only ensures the survival of people through emergency aid, but also works with populations to reduce the risk, if possible, of future disasters and thus limit the impact of crises.
“It’s about going beyond providing food, water, or temporary shelter at the scene of a disaster,” says Jean-Yves Terlinden, Caritas International’s advisor for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). “DRR brings together members of a community to analyze potential threats and develop solutions. The experience that local people have gained over the years plays a major role.”
According to the study above, the fact that assistance is no longer limited to meeting immediate needs, but also includes a preventative approach towards risk reduction has undoubtedly reduced the number of deaths caused by extreme weather conditions today. This is far from being a coincidence, but rather the result of constantly evolving field expertise.
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INTERNATIONAL PRIORITIES: THE SENDAI FRAMEWORK FOR ACTION
Caritas International bases its humanitarian response strategy on priorities 1, 3, and 4 of the so-called Sendai Framework (United Nations International Agreement on Disaster Risk Reduction.
- Priority 1: understand the risk of the disaster.
- Priority 3: investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience.
- Priority 4: re-enforce disaster preparedness to response effectively and to “build back better” during the recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction phase.
NATURAL AND MAN-MADE DISASTERS
The DRR not only limits the loss of lives, livelihoods and health during extreme weather events, but also during earthquakes or epidemics, and even during conflicts, although the last point has “A concrete example of this approach is our program in the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a conflict zone”, explains Grégory Claus, responsible for projects in the Great Lakes region. “This region is often subject to heavy rainfall and high winds. Since 2018, at the initiative of Caritas International, a humanitarian alert system has been set up with the cooperation of the local Caritas network and local communities. In the case of impending problems or disasters a “flash alert” is sent to the various actors and organizations concerned in order to provide a solution as soon as possible. It can include an overflowing river, a local conflict that threatens to spiral out of control, or an alarming new cholera outbreak.”
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© Caritas Lebanon – Risk reduction is also the responsibility of the government which could have prevented the explosion in Beirut. Caritas is working to improve medical care and make it more accessible in this impoverished country.
A MULTIFACETED APPROACH
An alert system is a means, but not an end itself. Many other things are also put in place. By reducing deforestation and reforesting hills, we control erosion and reduce the risk of flooding. Peacebuilding activities promote understanding between different groups and prevent conflicts from escalating. And if a crisis situation occurs, like a bad harvest for example, the fact that people have an income outside of agriculture helps to mitigate the impact of the disaster. Training first aid, simulation exercises, an elaborate disaster plan…are all elements that guarantee a quick and efficient intervention in the case of flooding and limit the damage.
AWARENESS AND POLICY ADVOCACY
With its expertise, Caritas wants to contribute to a better understanding of humanitarian issues among the public and to advocate to decision-makers for appropriate policies and funding. With local, Belgian and international partners, we promote respect for humanitarian principles and legislation as well as the rights of victims. We ask for better and more flexible funding for NGOs and an integrated approach linking humanitarian, development, and peace building issues. We also actively participate with platforms and networks that promote the same goals.
In this respect, VOICE is a major international partner. VOICE, which signifies “Voluntary Organizations in Cooperation in Emergencies”, is an NGO network who has promoted efficient humanitarian aid around the world since 1992. It is the principal NGO contact for the European Union in the domain of emergency aid and disaster risk reduction, and supports the values of its 86 member organizations, including Caritas.
YOU CAN ALSO HELP!
Humanitarian disasters claim millions of victims around the world. When a crisis strikes, it is imperative to act quickly and protect survivors: stopping starvation, making sure clean water is available so that people don’t die of dehydration and making sure diseases stop spreading. A quick and immediate response is only possible through our Emergency Relief Fund. It allows us to work immediately with the international Caritas network and not have to wait for a fundraising campaign to bear fruit. The media often only shows the distribution of basic necessities, housing, and medical assistance, know that your support also helps to reduce risk and increase resilience.
 WMO, Atlas of mortality and economic loss due to weather, climate, and water extremes (1970-2019), 2021, accessed 06/10/21
 United Nations, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (FR), March 2015, accessed 06/10/21
 More information about VOICE