The global community observes the International Day of Disaster Reduction every year on October 13th as well as International World Food Day on 16th October. This year the focus lies on target B of the Sendai Seven campaign; to reduce the number of people affected by disasters by 2030. This is no small statement and no achievable goal unless we, as the international community, unite to provide innovative solutions to those in the most vulnerable positions and subject to the most devastating disasters. The theme for World International Food Day is tackling poverty across the world, with millions going daily without food/water daily.
As the global humanitarian crises worsens, those that are more inclined to experience disaster are those who simultaneously suffer from a cycle of poverty, inequality and marginalisation. Disaster takes form in many diverse ways, from natural to accidental or deliberate, subsequently affecting all in its path differently. Considering the current climate (literally), this article will concentrate on natural disasters.
The natural disasters we have witnessed unfold over the past few months, be it hurricane Harvey in Texas or storm Nate, Mariah and Irma in the Caribbean, or the droughts engulfing East and Sub-Saharan Africa to the floods and mudslides in Sierra Leone, Bangladesh and India. The list appears never ending. Although the communities, infrastructure and livelihoods destroyed by these unforgiving forces of nature are all diverse, there are two threads of commonality that tie these disasters together.
The first is that of poverty or marginalisation. The majority of communities suffering the consequences of these horrific disasters are attempting to navigate routes that relieve them from the poverty trap. This low-income, usually under-educated strata of developed society, or those in the developing or underdeveloped world, lack stable infrastructure, resourceful innovations and the knowledge necessary to resist, recover and rebuild their communities.
The second lies within the root of the ever-increasing occurrence and intensifying nature of natural disasters; none other than climate change. From the droughts that ravaged Somalia earlier this year, to the rising sea level in an already vulnerable Bangladesh and truly catastrophic storms and hurricanes in the Caribbean and Southern states of the US, we can no longer deny or remain ignorant to the extreme effects of climate change. The rise of climate refugees further exemplifies the gravity of this problem.
As innovators, scientists and technicians continue attempts at sustainable solutions and resistance models, it is critical that our community channels its efforts into these pressing domains. Saline-resistant rice, for example, pioneered in Bangladesh as a response to the rising sea levels destroying crop yields through high concentrations of salt. Such innovative models of resistance are becoming increasingly inadequate as the concentration of saline contamination is worsening, ultimately reducing the effectiveness of this proposed solution. This example is intended to highlight the pure urgency of disaster reduction.
The role government’s play in disaster reduction is critical. As the UK Government pledges a further £2.5 billion to reduce its carbon emissions and deal with climate change, leading economies around the world have a responsibility to invest in strategies and ideas that are working directly to reduce the impact of disasters and challenge misconceptions around climate change.
Both economic inequality and climate change act simultaneously as agents fuelling the flames of disaster. In order to truly reduce those affected by disaster, we must form hybrid solutions that tackle these problems at their core. Although this may seem too big of a problem to tackle as everyday citizens, we are able to change our wasteful habits and provide aid to prevent large scale disaster from ravaging vulnerable communities. The emphasis of environmental sustainability, equality and the reduction of poverty in both the Quran and the Seerah necessitates agency within our Muslim community. Agency can take shape in all forms, be it pre or post disaster, be it Zakat or recycling, no problem is too big for humanity to fix.
Now more than ever it is necessary to be proactive, rather than reactive. Let us take all the steps required to prevent and reduce the horrific implications of disaster. Lest we continue the path of destruction to our Earth. Lest we contribute to the unequal burden of disaster on those who are most vulnerable. Lest we allow our humanity to crumble in the face of an uncertain future.