Fifty-nine year old Jes=FAs Antonio Alas Laíne, a community leader and long time resident of El Mozote, a small fishing village on the southern coast of El Salvador, is the main provider for his family of ten.
He and his family were severely affected by Hurricane Mitch ten years ago and again last year by Hurricane Stan, which caused heavy rains and flooding. The entire town had to evacuate to dryer areas until the flood water receded. Many lost all their belongings.
Because of this threat of disasters, the El Salvador Red Cross is working with the people of El Mozote and twenty-one other communities and schools to identify the risks they face and train them to know what to do in future disasters.
'It is important to prepare the communities and help them organize themselves. The key to effective preparedness is working in coordination not only with the people but also with other national institutions to optimize efforts in disaster preparedness and prevention' says Marisabel Colorado, Project Coordinator of the El Salvador Red Cross.
The community based trainings involve an initial information session given by a Red Cross volunteer followed by a session on mapping risks, assessing vulnerabilities and identifying existing capacities to better respond in a given situation with the participation of all members of the community. The knowledge shared in these capacity building exercises provides skills that can save lives in times of disaster.
'This project has been like a blessing for us. In the time that I have been living here, we have never received this kind of help or seen anything similar before,' says Jes=FAs. 'During the hurricanes in the past years, we didn't have a way of requesting support in the midst of trouble mainly because we weren't organized.'
The activities implemented by the project uses and applies the methodology of vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) 'Learning by Doing' developed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
'We have developed community mapsnd have received basic instructions for using radios as a means of communication with other nearby communities, the National Civil Protection and the Red Cross. Now we know how to respond the next time we are faced with a flood or other disaster,' says Jes=FAs.
According to the 2007 World Disaster Report, thousands of lives and billions of dollars could be saved every year if a fraction of the funds spent on responding to catastrophes went towards minimizing the effects of natural disasters on vulnerable people. Studies by the World Bank, for example, have shown that every dollar invested in risk reduction can save between two and ten dollars in disaster response and recovery costs.
The project: Empowering and Transforming Vulnerable Communities in Disaster Preparedness in El Salvador seeks to benefit 22 communities and 21 schools is being implemented by the El Salvador Red Cross with support from the Spanish Red Cross and American Red Cross and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office.