As the head of the Response & Resilience Track at CGI, I work with CGI members on issues related to preparedness, response, reconstruction, and resilience across geographies. One of the most exciting shifts I have seen since the Track was launched in 2012 is the transition by our members from focusing on traditional disaster response to preparedness. This is exciting for two reasons: first, we know that the natural disasters are costly both in terms of human and economic loss; The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) reports that disasters currently have a yearly price tag of $315 billion and that number is expected to rise. On the other hand, we know that investing in preparedness is the smart thing to do, as reports show that every dollar spent in disaster preparedness yields a savings of at least $4 in disaster response, relief, and recovery.
In recent years, CGI members have put a lot of their resources and efforts into mitigating the impacts of natural disasters by investing in infrastructure and communities. “Natural hazards are not preventable; natural disasters ARE preventable,” says Elizabeth Hausler Strand, chief executive officer of CGI member Build Change, an organization that works in earthquake and typhoon relief. In light of the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf coast of the United States in the last week of August 2005, it is an opportune time to reflect on how relief organizations have been addressing the acute and immediate effects of disasters, while also investing in long-term planning and prevention. From the recent Great Gorkha earthquake in Nepal and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, to Hurricane Sandy striking along the Pacific Coast—here we explore how four CGI members are working to create a safer and more prepared future through their Commitments to Action.
Building Stronger Structures
There is often a lag time between when emergency response crews stabilize a disaster area, and affected populations are able to return to normal living conditions. A new commitment by CGI member the American Institute of Architects Foundation and its partners will provide 540 earthquake-resilient houses to victims in Nepal’s severely affected Sindhupalchowk region. To avoid a cycle of dependency on foreign aid following a disaster, the project will engage the participation and input of the homes’ future residents.
To fully understand the cultural context and needed housing requirements, community workshops and meetings will be led by a team of designers from the Society for Nepalese Architects (SONA) and Small Works. Once the most vulnerable and urgent-care families are identified, a team of project managers and construction experts from CGI member All Hands will provide training in building materials, building methods, and disaster risk reduction skills—responding to current needs, while planning for future disasters. Learn more about this effort to rebuild villages in Nepal.
Sending “Tweets” from Space
After Hurricane Sandy’s destructive force swept through the Caribbean, Canada, and the United States in October 2012, there was an urgent need for real-time communication and tracking of volunteers and aid supplies. In response, CGI member Palantir Technologies—a data integration and analysis software company—created Palantir Mobile, a communication technology that instantly locates responders and allows them to promptly submit and respond to work orders and report back to a central location without the need for hand-delivered paper reports. Palantir used this technology in New York City after the hurricane in partnership with CGI member Team Rubicon, an organization that applies the skills of military veterans and first responders to emergency relief situations:
Building on their work with Team Rubicon, Palantir Technologies made a commitment in 2013 to improve disaster response efforts by providing software and analytical support to better mobilize responders and resources during natural and other disasters. When working with Team Rubicon in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, Palantir Technologies had to build another solution since existing devices depended on cellular connectivity, which was unavailable in the most damaged and remote areas. Within a few days, a purely satellite-based version of Palantir’s disaster relief technology was born—MIni MObile SAtellite, otherwise known as MIMOSA. Distributed with the help of CGI member Direct Relief, a nonprofit humanitarian medical aid response organization, MIMOSA works with two-way satellite communicator devices—equipped for GPS tracking anywhere in the world. It also sends 160 character messages, much like tweets, that show up on maps in real-time to help locate volunteers and resources when they are needed.
Engaging Airlines in Aid Efforts
CGI member Airlink works to build and leverage relationships with over 60 vetted nonprofits and more than 20 airline companies—deploying rapid-response relief when it is most needed. Because of these relationships and this forward-thinking approach, after the Nepal earthquake and the subsequent aftershocks, Airlink’s first shipments of material amounted to approximately 26.3 tons (57,842 pounds) of humanitarian aid for earthquake victims. Airlink’s partners have reached more than 25,000 people with medical and food aid, and more than 30,000 people with clean water solutions.
In 2014, Airlink made a commitment to transport between 100 and 500 tons of cargo aid, medicine, and protective equipment in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. As of March 2015, Airlink had coordinated and consolidated the air transportation of 90 separate shipments of critical relief cargo from 35 NGOs in order to tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In total, 567,330 metric tons of cargo and 25 healthcare workers were transported on 30 flights. This success was the result of collaboration between 10 airline partners, ground transportation providers, funders, and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI). Learn more about the work that they are currently doing to aid crisis victims and to see how you can help.
Minimizing the Spread of Infectious Disease
The consequences of natural disasters do not end at the last tremor of an earthquake or the last drop of a typhoon. The infrastructure damages caused by these events include ruptured sewage systems, which can often lead to an outbreak of disease. Cholera is one of many diseases transmitted through fecally contaminated water, hands, and food. Without prompt treatment, the loss of large amounts of fluid and salts through diarrhea and vomiting can lead to severe dehydration and death within hours.
In 2011, CGI member AmeriCares and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) made a commitment to prepare for outbreaks of cholera and other similar diseases spread in environments that have been affected by natural disasters or humanitarian crises. Focusing on proactive disaster relief strategy, their emergency preparedness cholera kits provide resources, training, and financial planning to combat outbreaks of cholera across the world. icddr,b and AmeriCares responded to a number of diarrheal disease outbreaks since the commitment's inception, including in the Horn of Africa in May 2012 where acute water diarrhea (AWD)/cholera management training sessions were held with 50 local health workers in Mogadishu, Somalia and Dadaab, Kenya.
In diverse ways, all of these commitments provide examples of how CGI members are better preparing the communities in which they work, as well as their own organizations, to withstand future shocks and crises.