(Center) Yovanna Troansky, UMCOR’s disaster risk reduction executive, assists a team working on mock assessments of disaster risk during the UMCOR International Disaster Response training in Grenada, Feb. 22-26, 2016. The training provided disaster planning skills to UMCOR’s Caribbean partners.
Partners from 13 Caribbean islands gather for UMCOR’s fifth International Disaster Response training in Grenada
By Leigh Rogers*
March 15, 2016—In order to better equip regional Caribbean entities with tools to respond to the next disaster, 26 United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) partners and potential partners gathered in Grenada for the fifth UMCOR International Disaster Response (IDR) training, Feb. 20-25, 2016.
Participants, with roles as diverse as government employees, United Methodist pastors, Global Mission Fellows, architects, and retired meteorologists, came from Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Antigua, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Guyana, Dominica, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, and Barbados.
The training was designed to prepare Caribbean participants to design and implement humanitarian assistance and disaster risk reduction projects in their geographical areas to reduce the impact of disasters. It also was an opportunity to strengthen relationships among Methodist churches in the region and with UMCOR.
UMCOR works closely with partners to help them ensure that what they’re doing is consistent with humanitarian standards with disaster assistance. “Church partners assume they know how to help people” because of the nature of their work, said Jack Amick, director of disaster response for UMCOR. But, he said, even the church can improve how it engages with people affected by disasters.
Previous UMCOR IDR disaster response trainings have been held in Chile, Philippines, Zimbabwe, and Germany.
Disaster Risks in Caribbean
|(From left) Vernon Blackman, Lauren James, and Alice Walter-Jeffers, participants in UMCOR’s International Disaster Response and Disaster Risk Reduction Training, work as a team in assessing disaster risk in a simulation exercise. Photo: Leigh Rogers
Like many areas around the world, the Caribbean is facing increasingly severe disaster events. To many local responders, natural hazards such as hurricanes are becoming more severe and more frequent, with an extended hurricane season.
“We are now getting storms as early as May and as late as December, but they’re not calling them hurricanes, even though they are just as strong and damaging. Let’s call it what it is,” said Sherell Gumbs, a former government employee from St. Vincent. Flooding usually results following hurricanes and strong storms, and can be more damaging than the hurricane itself.
Other less frequent, but equally devastating disasters that occur in the region include volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. In 1995, the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted on the island of Montserrat, which, according to Al Jazeera, destroyed two-thirds of the island and displaced thousands. Twenty years later, many still live in temporary shelters built after that event. A study last year also determined that the Caribbean has high risk potential for tsunamis below the Puerto Rico Trench.
The most recent and obvious example of a high-impact disaster in the Caribbean was the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The earthquake compounded damage for the already-risk-prone country, as it is the poorest nation in the Caribbean and did not have the infrastructure preparedness or capacity to sustain itself from the effects of an earthquake.
“UMCOR's relief activities with the [Methodist Church of Haiti (EMH)] in Haiti have shifted to long-term development initiatives over the past three years,” said Lauren James, the UMCOR Haiti liaison to the EMH. The church is matching emergency funds for a microcredit program, and offering financial training.
James continued, “The EMH Youth are being targeted in [disaster risk reduction] activities, including first-responder training. All EMH teachers will be trained and receive certification by the end of 2017, when EMH celebrates 200 years of Methodism in Haiti.”
Substance of the Training
|During the training, work groups were provided with various disaster risk reduction simulations to strategize desired outcomes. Photo: Leigh Rogers
Over the five days of training, participants learned the core standards in disaster response. As a humanitarian aid organization, UMCOR follows best practices outlined in The Sphere Project’s Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response, often referred to simply as the Sphere Standards.
The training emphasized working with disaster-affected communities. Participants learned how to adapt the information to their own cultures and situations, and were encouraged to take advice from the disaster-affected themselves. In fact, participants represented many organizations and churches who, at one point or another, have directly responded to disasters, including two representatives from Dominica, who most recently dealt with Hurricane Erika in August 2015.
In addition to applying and adapting standards, they learned the importance of disaster risk reduction, a process of seeking proactively to address the underlying causes of disaster risks that are rooted in the low levels of resilience of local communities.
Partners also simulated UMCOR’s grant application process and received feedback. “We help partners take a good idea and make it a great project,” said Amick. IDR develops grants with implementing partners on specific disaster response and risk reduction activities. Participants were encouraged to focus on the areas of their competencies and experience when looking at project strategy and development.
To participants, the training helped them navigate disaster response and preparedness at home. Vernon Blackman of Antigua said, “As a property steward, project manager, and architect, I am perfectly positioned to share and integrate core humanitarian commitments in relief efforts conducted via the Methodist churches in the [Antigua] Circuit and to share this knowledge with our partners for the development of our community as a whole.”
Michael Graham, a Methodist pastor from Jamaica, said the UMCOR training will “strengthen the capacity” of the already existing subcommittee in his district of St. Thomas. Similarly, John Shughart, executive director of Bahamas Methodist Habitat said, “I learned a lot about UMCOR’s disaster risk reduction projects, and I hope to take it back to implement with our organization.”
“When I go back [home] we will resuscitate the disaster preparedness committee we started,” said the Rev. Roosevelt Papouloute, bishop of the Belize/Honduras District. “Belize is a disaster-prone area and the more we are prepared, the better for all of us.”
Your gift to UMCOR International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, supports UMCOR’s work to respond to disasters, reduce the risk of future disasters, and help local communities to do the same.
*Leigh Rogers is the web content associate for UMCOR.