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Rebuilding Stronger Communities when Disaster Hits

  • Date: 22 July 2016
  • Author: Anita van Breda, World Wildlife Fund Senior Director of Environment and Disaster Management

The Nepal Earthquake, 2015; Nepal Floods, 2014; Pakistan Floods, 2011; Chile Earthquake, 2010; —these devastating natural disasters reshaped landscapes and communities. The most destructive impacts occurred instantly: lives were lost, homes destroyed and families displaced, but the secondary effects from rebuilding efforts can have far reaching impacts on communities for years to come.

Earthquakes, flooding, cyclones and other hazards can directly affect the natural resources essential for sustaining livelihoods. Avalanches and landslides triggered by Nepal’s 2015 earthquake completely destroyed forests and farmlands, and the strength of the tremors shifted the source of fresh water in some areas. The cyclone that hit Fiji in 2016 left many communities homeless and in need of food and water. The Chile 2010 earthquake shifted rocks and sands in the mouths of rivers, limiting coastal fisheries and food supplies.

Impacts to natural resources can be exacerbated by the urgent need to support survivors and restore devastated communities. Without planning that includes environmental considerations, rebuilding can lead to further environmental degradation and depletion, putting communities at increased risk for future harm. The Chilean earthquake led to a surge in temporary housing located on hillsides susceptible to erosion, landslides and flooding. Following the 2011 floods in Pakistan, the need to rebuild homes led to a demand for over 5 million fired bricks – causing heavy air pollution and deforestation due to the timber used in the firing process.

Yet, if we can environmentally responsible practices throughout disaster management issues– such as spatial planning, building materials and construction practices, water and sanitation and livelihood approaches, waste and debris handling – we will support people and communities more effectively, and efficiently, develop resilience and reduce their risk and vulnerability to future disasters.

We are proud to work with humanitarians, conservation practitioners, government officials and communities to support localities in building more resilient communities. And we’ve just streamlined our multiple efforts to support these goals under a new web platform. This platform connects communities and practitioners with toolkits, training materials, case studies and 24/7 support from environmental specialists who provide customized guidance on integrating the environment into disaster management projects, programs, and policy.

In today’s changing climate, building back “safer” necessarily means building back “greener.” That process begins by addressing the critical intersection between the environment and post-disaster recovery and reconstruction.