Before a disaster

Image: SPR
Before a disaster & our work throughout the world

The eradication of extreme poverty by 2015 is one of the UN millennium goals. This target cannot be achieved without decreasing the risk of disasters and improving the capacity to survive in case of disaster.

In 2010:

  • almost 300,000 people were killed in disasters
  • disasters affected the lives of 208 million people
  • damage caused by disasters amounted to almost $110 billion USD.


“The Red Cross aims to support the autonomous survival of communities in case of disaster. In a country prone to natural disasters, this means surveying the risks, developing alert systems, education and information campaigns, amongst other things”, says Pepe Salmela, FRC delegate.

Disaster preparedness is worthwhile both from a humanitarian and economic perspective. Disasters disintegrate a country's economy without exception and usually lead to deaths if there are no evacuation and early warning plans, search and rescue teams and stockpiles.

The most important help is near

The Red Cross preparedness programmes target areas whose inhabitants suffer from lasting or repeated disasters.

The goal of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement is to save lives and support healthy and safe life across all levels of the society. Local Red Cross volunteers, employees of international Red Cross organisations and delegates sent on assignments are all a part of a tested chain of aid.

Disaster preparedness work carried out at a community level is the most important as when disaster strikes, neighbours and nearby helpers such as Red Cross volunteers are the ones to arrive on the scene first. Next, help arrives from the Red Cross departments in the nearby cities and provinces. If necessary, the central office of the national organisation located in the capital of the country can request additional help from the neighbouring countries or the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

In Finnish Red Cross programmes, disaster preparedness is always developed in terms of the community itself. Reducing risks and preparedness for disasters is always built on site and from the inside out, taking the needs and skills of local people into account. This creates a sustainable basis for the preparedness.

At both community and national organisation levels, the disaster preparedness programmes of the Red Cross aim to:

  • improve the ability to survive disasters
  • reduce risks and prevent disasters
  • strengthen the ability to help by developing comprehensive response and preparation plans
  • slow down environmental change and thereby reduce the risks resulting from it
  • decrease vulnerability.


Vulnerability + threat = disaster

The preparedness work of the Red Cross aims to decrease the vulnerability of communities, increase their ability to prevent natural disasters and recover from them as well as to improve the ability to respond to disasters.

“Many natural threats, such as annual floods or storms, are known before they actually take place. The Red Cross works to bring this information to even the most remote areas", SPR delegate Heikki Väätämöinen

The Red Cross disaster preparedness projects train communities to become aware of risks, survey vulnerabilities and risk factors as well as the existing survival mechanisms of communities and develop a plan with the communities of how to increase their ability to respond to disasters.

Examples of improving disaster preparedness and reducing risks in villages:

  • Implementing a village-specific vulnerability and capability assessment (VCA) and preparing a village action plan for disasters and disaster prevention.
  • Evacuation drills organised by Red Cross volunteers.
  • Building dams to prevent flooding or building a bridge over a flooded river.
  • Planting mangroves to protect against surge floods or planting trees to prevent landslides.
  • Kitchen gardens to increase the diversity of nutrition in regions suffering from draught.
  • Warning rounds of Red Cross volunteers on bicycle or moped when a typhoon is approaching (developing early warning systems).
  • Organising information campaigns at schools.

Important support from the authorities

According to the 2009 disaster report of the Red Cross, preventing natural disasters is a lot more economical and efficient in the long run than repairing damage.
The Finnish Red Cross supports the development of disaster preparedness and reduction of risks in countries where preparedness operations of the Red Cross or the Red Crescent are included in the national preparedness plan. In such cases, the national organisation also has a role in assisting the authorities.

Efforts of the authorities are vital in predicting disasters and recovering from them. Prevention requires, for example, good roads and a disaster resilient critical infrastructure, more resilient crops and cultivation methods, regulation of land use and building and implementing such regulations.