Posted on October 17, 2014

World Disasters Report (WDR) 2014, which saw its global launch yesterday in Katara, underscored the importance of understanding culture for effective disaster risk reduction and management, said The Peninsula. This was the first time in 22 years the Report was launched in a GCC country.

“The argument of the book is that culture is a major factor affecting how people and organisations deal with disaster and yet it is often ignored. It is very rare in disaster risk reduction organisations that we hear discussions about culture,” said Terry Cannon, WDR Lead Author. There exists a clash between cultures of organisations and the people they are trying to help which makes disaster preparedness less effective, he said. The book focuses on what changes to make in order to improve disaster risk reduction especially preparedness for climate change that is going to make disasters worse, explained Cannon.

“Millions of people in danger zones are affected by floods, cyclones, earthquakes and volcanoes and for many of those people it is their religion, beliefs and culture that enable them to live with danger, they pray to protect them from danger and they assume there’s little they can do,” he said. Matthias Schmale, Under-Secretary-General of National Society and Knowledge Development at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), cited the Ebola crisis in West Africa as an example of the importance of taking culture into account.

Schmale said the IFRC suddenly became ‘massively involved’ in funerals in the affected areas. “That is a bit strange for us because we are not in the business of burying people; we are in the business of saving lives. In Guinea for example in West Africa, 97 percent of funerals are being handled by Red Cross and the reason which took us sometime to understand is that funerals are a major source of spreading the disease because the culture there is to give the dead the last embrace or the last kiss, but we know scientifically that dead bodies are ten times more contagious,” he said.

Qatar Airways flies daily to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

The volunteers do not only help in burying the dead but use funerals for further preventive work engaging in dialogue by explaining why it is risky to embrace the body of a loved one, he said. It is not enough to only look into the physical and natural factors contributing to vulnerability; social, economic, institutional, political and cultural factors must also be considered, said Fadi Hamdan, the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (Mena) Senior Adviser for Disaster Risk Management.

“Exposure, vulnerability and risk are very much affected, if not determined, by power relations. All over the world including our region, unequal access to power and decision-making process related to the use, production and distribution of resources in the concept of disaster risk reduction and management leads to unequal distribution of benefits and risks arising from the various economic and human activities.” This, he said, implies that vulnerability, risks and disaster losses are often concentrated on the poorer and more marginalised communities.

Reconstruction process in several instances in disaster stricken areas is reintroducing risks “as we are still unable to rebuild our housing and infrastructure in a manner that is free of risk.” He stressed the need to develop recovery plans to be implemented in times of disasters. “We in the World Bank are partnering with several GCC countries to work with them to develop risk management system including more recently in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and we hope to continue this,” he said.

QRC Secretary-General, Saleh bin Ali Al Mohannadi cited the role of QRC in the country’s humanitarian efforts “in all regions affected by natural disasters or armed conflicts around the globe, from relieving Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraqi Kurdistan to helping flood-stricken communities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India’s Jammu and Kashmir, and yet to lending a hand to the displaced people due to armed clashes in Central Africa, Iraq, and Yemen.”