Reclaiming land lost through soil-erosion from floods is a constant challenge for Timor-Leste's farmers.
Asian Development Bank (Creative Commons license)
By David Tereshchuk *
Next Saturday, October 13, may seem a date with little to distinguish it.
Not very significantly, it happens to be the date—220 years ago—when the cornerstone of the White House was laid. But much more importantly, for now and for the future, it is International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR).
It’s a date observed around the world every year since 1989 by the United Nations and by the many international agencies that are dedicated to combating disasters.
The international day is a focal point in the global effort to raise public awareness about disaster risk reduction—in addition to the more generally recognized work of providing aid after disasters. The ultimate aim is to prevent and minimize loss and damage from future calamities around the world.
This work of trying to predict disasters and ensuring that communities are more ready to face them, and better able to mitigate their worst consequences, is, of course, vital. But it can seem a less obvious need than that of reacting to a disaster once it has already happened.
UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, places great emphasis on the need for disaster risk reduction (DRR) as part of its continuing effort to help all whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by disasters.
A prime example of this emphasis is UMCOR’s newly instituted support for a program in Timor-Leste. Aimed at the remote and somewhat isolated community of Oecusse at the western end of the country, the program aims to help vulnerable upland communities respond better to the ill effects of climate change and to increase food security.
The ecology of Oecusse, like much of the higher land of Timor-Leste is fragile and suffers the historic impact of slash-and-burn agriculture. Experts in climate change predict it will inevitably experience more intense, if less frequent, rainfall events, interspersed with periods of lengthy drought, which will worsen today’s existing problems of soil degradation and erosion.
Working with the Oklahoma-based NGO World Neighbors, who are already well established in the country, UMCOR intends that the Timorese of Oecusse will steadily improve their preparedness for weather-related disasters, and increase their community organizations’ capacity for risk reduction, preparedness, and mitigation.
The program also promotes sustainable farming practices and fuller community engagement in order to strengthen food security and also to prepare communities for weather-related hazards and lessen their impact.
With the Oecusse program and its partnership with World Neighbors, and a great deal of DRR work elsewhere, UMCOR is responding to the call made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for International Day for Disaster Reduction: "Vulnerability to disaster is growing faster than resilience. Disaster risk reduction should be an everyday concern for everybody. Let us all invest today for a safer tomorrow."
Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance #982450 will help prevent future devastation of communities by disasters.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor to umcor.org.