This year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR) theme is “Fighting Inequality.” Breaking the cycle of inequality means that every person will be better prepared and protected, but also that the community as a whole will be safer from disasters. A focus on equity is not only the right thing to do, but also the most effective approach to truly build disaster resilience.
In honor of this day, I am sharing five ways that we recently worked with communities to help break the cycle of inequality:
1. Include women in disaster-resilient construction training. Women are not typically builders in communities where we work, and men skilled in construction often have to move far away to work at higher paying jobs. This is a significant problem where there is a high risk of damaging earthquakes, such as Nepal. When women are trained in disaster-resilient construction, they can apply these techniques locally. They can do this before a disaster to protect themselves and their families, and after a disaster for speedy recovery.
Western Nepal: Mason training for both women and men in seismic-resilient construction while building a community school. “Women we train will stay here for a long time. Training women will not only benefit them, but also the community,” said Dinesh Joshi, our staff member in Nepal.
2. Engage and empower youth to take action. Young people can feel highly fearful of disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and they are especially vulnerable both physically and mentally. They often lack the knowledge to take action for their own safety. But informed youth can influence parents, teachers, peers, and the broader community. They can become powerful agents of change.
Northern Haiti: Thousands of students participated in tsunami evacuation drills, as part of our Timoun an Aksyon program. Many acted as victims during the evacuation, catching the attention of the community and testing first responders’ coordination and reaction time. Through these efforts, youth shared knowledge in their own voices and style to encourage community-wide action. Engaging youth is particularly important in Haiti, as close to half of the population is under the age of 20.
Bhutan: Youth-focused disaster preparedness training was led by staff member Yeshey Lotay, as part of our efforts to support the Department of Education in Bhutan since 2010. Students of all ages learned how to use a fire extinguisher. Recent fires in boarding schools—a common type of school in rural Bhutan—focused attention on this need.
3. Ensure the participation of persons with disabilities. While disasters impact everyone, persons with disabilities often suffer disproportionate impacts—not because of individual impairments but because of barriers. The participation of persons with disabilities means that their experiences will not be assumed or overlooked. They can explain mobility challenges, medical needs, and communication requirements. Decision makers can hear their concerns directly and can make truly informed decisions.
Northern Haiti: The man (left) who is blind and woman (right) who uses a wheelchair evacuated as part of an earthquake and tsunami drill. Representing the Departmental Office for Disabled Persons, she spoke about the importance of including differently-abled people. Our locally-led evacuation drills have included the Dept. of Civil Protection, firefighters, police, Red Cross, City Council, and other public and private institutions. Persons with disabilities had a voice in the planning and practice.
4. Aim to reach those often overlooked. For resilience programs to be effective, information needs to be accessible to all people, relevant to their daily lives, and show their ability to take action. It needs to be in plain language and come through channels they trust. Always consider: Who are the trusted messengers? How can people connect with expert advice? How can we reach people who are often overlooked?
Our global staff regularly appears on community radio and local TV shows. People ask questions, listen to the discussion, and share experiences. The shows involve teaching and learning in a two-way dialogue, which builds local knowledge and support for action towards resilience.
Nepal: Dinesh Joshi on community radio discussing earthquake safety. India: Lalrinpuii Tlau on local TV news discussing mitigation for landslides.
We also go to people where they are. Communities at highest risk from disasters often receive little attention if they lack political influence. Through in-person workshops and person-to-person outreach—in churches, markets, health facilities, and homes—we directly connect with people who have been underserved, poorly served, or overlooked.
Dominican Republic: Hands-on workshop on earthquake and hurricane resilience, which included first aid training, in a community that has been historically underserved. Southern Haiti: An Outreach Team member at a local market after the 2021 M7.2 earthquake, answering questions about frightening aftershocks.
5. Elevate local knowledge and diverse perspectives. Building disaster resilience requires more than bringing in the latest science, engineering, and technology. Experts with local knowledge can advise on feasible solutions that consider the local context. Diverse perspectives come from working across disciplines—technical practice, research, planning, and policy—and drawing in local, national, and international experts. This co-learning approach enables a team to better address challenges. As a result, more people trust the process, and efforts are locally-owned, locally-led, and sustainable.
Thank you to our many supporters! Your commitment allows us to stay on the journey to support resilience for ALL. How do you #BreaktheCycle? We would love to hear from you.
Veronica Cedillos, President and CEO
Bhutan · Dominican Republic · Haiti · India · Nepal · U.S.A.