03/06/2013 - "It is not the earthquake that kills you, it is the house collapsing on you". With these words, Álvaro de Vicente, the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department's (ECHO) South America office boss, is trying to illustrate how "natural disasters" are not as natural as they may seem.
Disasters are triggered by natural phenomena such as heavy rains or an earthquake, but their devastating consequences have much to do with how vulnerable and exposed the affected populations are. "We cannot prevent these phenomena from happening but we can change the ‘human factor’ of the equation, taking preventive measures to be less exposed, training response teams to react quickly and save lives, teaching the population how to evacuate before it is too late, and growing crops adapted to drought so as to avoid being left with nothing when the rains don’t come", De Vicente explains. This is the philosophy behind ECHO’s disaster risk reduction programme (DIPECHO). New DIPECHO and drought resilience programmes for South America were launched on 20 May in Lima, Peru and 28 May in Bolivia.
After Asia, the Americas are the region in the world most prone to disasters, but suffering the highest economic losses globally resulting from disasters. There is much to gain from preparing better. A recent study conducted in Ecuador shows that each dollar spent on disaster preparedness to floods saved 9 dollars in subsequent relief response and rehabilitation. ECHO's main goal though is to really make a difference for the most vulnerable communities, the poorest, living in dire conditions. For them, losing the only crop they have in a flood is losing everything.
Previous ECHO-funded disaster preparedness programmes in South America have shown encouraging results: the last action plan reached more than 500 communities, carried out more than 400 drills, trained 7 000 public workers to improve the way they respond to emergencies and contributed to develop more than 25 laws, policies or protocols that included risk reduction or contingency plans.
With the new DIPECHO programme, ECHO stays at the forefront of humanitarian action in terms of investing in resilience and risk reduction. While globally only less than 0.7% of humanitarian aid goes to disaster risk reduction, ECHO in South America has devoted more than one third of our funds to prepare communities and institutions for disasters.