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Our Approach to Disaster

Disasters aren't just natural events — they are natural events interacting with vulnerability. Consider the effects of the earthquakes that struck Chile and Haiti in 2010. The 8.8 earthquake which struck Chile was 500 times stronger than the quake which devastated Haiti. 

Yet, in Chile, fewer than 300 people died, while the Haitian earthquake killed more than 220,000. Further, in Chile, recovery was rapid, while Haiti has yet to fully recover from the 2010 earthquake. The difference is vulnerability.

Chile is a prosperous country with strong education programmes teaching people where to go in the event of an earthquake, strong building codes, and the resources to ensure buildings meet those standards. These factors made Chile very well prepared for an earthquake.

In contrast, Haiti had already been weakened by years of poverty that left it without strong building codes, education systems, or any other means of protecting its citizens. In other words, Haiti was much more vulnerable to disaster than Chile.

The impacts of vulnerability are visible worldwide. In fact, Oxfam reports that, 'in rich countries, an average of 23 people die in any given disaster, in least-developed countries, the average is 1,053'.(source)

When we take the effects of vulnerability into account, it becomes apparent that disasters are not just destructive natural events that we can't change or control. They are natural events working in conjunction with pre-existing vulnerability. Simply expressed:

Disaster = Natural Event + Vulnerability

Vulnerability is the force that often drives or prevents long-term disaster recovery. If we don't understand and address the vulnerabilities of a particular community, recovery is likely to address only the visible scars of the natural event, not the vulnerability that plays such a crucial role in creating a disaster. But if we educate ourselves, we can address these issues and leave communities stronger post-disaster.

IDV and Vulnerability

IDV's approach to disaster recovery keeps vulnerability at its centre every step of the way. We work closely with survivors to ensure that our work addresses the issues which make them vulnerable and evaluate projects based on their potential long-term impacts.

In some cases, this means that our projects don't appear to be linked to disaster. Our English programme in Haiti is a perfect example. Fewer than 1 in 50 Haitians has a steady job, and the lack of gainful employments traps many in poverty. Community members sited the need for work as a key concern throughout our time in Haiti.

In response, we organised the English programme. English is a key vocational skill in Haiti, where many rjobs are reserved for English speakers. While making English students more employable is not directly linked to the earthquake, it is directly linked to vulnerability.

By addressing the need for vocational training in Haiti, we not only help earthquake affected survivors get back on their feet, but support them as they seek to create a less vulnerable, more resilient community.