From Disaster to Renewal
The structural impacts of natural disasters are easily seen: hurricanes tear off roofs; earthquakes crack foundations and destabilize walls. Less visible is the social impact of disasters.
All Hands and Hearts (AHAH) responds when disaster strikes and we stay to help communities fortify their resilience to potential future disasters. More than assessing the infrastructural needs of the community, we ask what can lift them up to be more confident in the long-term. How do communities bounce back from disaster and become prepared to face what comes next? This requires proactive thinking, and is where AHAH’s Core Renewal initiatives come in. Core Renewal focuses on training and education in the key sectors of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).
The United Nations provides a blueprint for collective effort toward a better, more sustainable future for all with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG #6 aims to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, with special attention to the needs of vulnerable populations. WASH has implications on a group’s ability to not only stay clean and hydrated, but also to fight the spread of disease.
Each year, more than 272 million school days are missed due to preventable, hygiene-related diseases (source: UNICEF). Understanding the importance of WASH to community renewal, AHAH incorporates these systems into each International Recovery program according to the needs of the local communities. Strong WASH systems positively impact a community’s resilience when facing disruptive events, as well as their ability to flourish post-disaster.
Absence of a hygienic toilet or discrete area to dispose of menstrual products can negatively impact school attendance among female students in higher grades. Missing days of school can mean the difference between continuing education and leaving school altogether. In Nepal, our solution was to design gender-appropriate toilet blocks with adjacent incinerators for disposal of sanitary pads. This infrastructure, in concert with menstrual health training led by local female staff, empowers girls with the confidence and dignity to stay in school. The full package of safe toilets, handwashing stations, water filtration for clean drinking water and training around hygiene practices means all students can go to school with the security of sanitary facilities.
Program Spotlights: Nepal and Mozambique
In Mozambique, less than half of students complete primary school (source: UN). Limited access to running water in rural areas makes it difficult to combat preventable communicable diseases, which remain a top reason for children missing school. At both schools rebuilt in the Biera corridor of Mozambique, AHAH worked with local norms to design an improved hygienic and sanitary solution while also being comfortable and familiar. For the first time, these schools now have permanent toilets with septic systems, as well as hand-washing stations that can function effectively without piped water. Every community is unique and has its own set of needs and customs, so it’s important that we hear from local people to understand what WASH solutions work best in each place.
Disaster Risk Reduction
Our disaster recovery planning includes working with each school community to establish a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) committee. The teachers, students and parents come together to identify their greatest risks and develop a disaster preparedness plan specific to their needs. This localized risk assessment is the first step in recognizing their hazards, allowing the community to plan mitigation to remain as safe as possible. The committee identifies community vulnerabilities and capacities in order to determine the roles and responsibilities of members in case of an event. The group prepares by mapping out evacuation routes and building emergency kits. Beyond information and training, we run drills with the DRR committee to gain familiarity with how to take action if disaster affects the community again. Together, the school community builds the security of knowing they are equipped with the resources for future response.
In each locality around the world where AHAH works to help people recover from disaster, we connect with the local leaders and school authorities to understand their unique situation and the hazards they could face in the future. We also become familiar with the community groups, norms and processes, so together we can build an effective DRR committee that works within the existing structures to better situate all residents for safety.
We know that the journey from disaster to renewal is more than replacing infrastructure. We want vulnerable communities to recover from natural disasters feeling stronger, more resilient and empowered with the confidence of sustainable renewal. This is why we work to make sure that both the buildings and the people that use them are safer and more prepared to face the days ahead.
Through integrating WASH and DRR into disaster recovery, communities are empowered with the infrastructure, resources and knowledge not just to recover, but to thrive.