Making a difference, improving disaster readiness

Ahead of the first International Disaster Response Expo, Philip Ingram shares some thoughts on the show’s origins, discussion points and its role in improving the disaster response arena

Planet Earth is becoming increasingly fragile and climate change has been blamed for the rise in extreme events causing natural disasters across the globe. However, man-made disasters through corruption and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in particular have heaped further misery on people.

The UK continues to show its global leadership by being one of the few countries around the world to meet its commitment under a UN agreement to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on Official Development Assistance (ODA) with much of this coordinated through DFID.

I think it is important to understand where DFIDs priorities lie, and they have been stated in their annual plan as: strengthening global peace, security and governance; strengthening resilience and response to crisis; promoting global prosperity; tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable; and delivering value for money.

This sets a framework for the launch of the first International Disaster Response Expo and gives rationale for the co-location of our new event alongside the well-established International Security Expo. The final bullet point direction is achieved by enabling a platform to help deliver value for money through exposure to best practices and innovation. That is what the International Disaster Response Expo does.

What we have seen over recent years with more storms and hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis that kill thousands, volcanos that close airspace, refugee crisis that turns the Mediterranean Sea into a death-trap for the desperate is that these events are a constant and will always cause suffering.

The content over the two days focuses on all aspects of dealing with natural and man-made disasters from preparation, to responding to resilience building for the longer term. In addition, decision making, the importance of media law and the effects of these horrors on individuals mental health will all be examined.

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Although this is the International Disaster Response’s first year, at the centre of the event is the Government and NGO zone showcasing some of the innovation DFID brings to its approach to disasters, highlighting the coordination between them, the UNHCR, The Cabinet Office Emergency Planning College and the charitable sector, this year represented in the zone by the British Red Cross (BRC).  

As well as things like deployable shelter packs DFID are hoping to showcase some of the newer technologies at the forefront of an innovative approach to providing disaster support. One such device is a 3D printer that in the field can print medical instruments, parts for water pumps and so much more.

At the core of the International Disaster Response Expo is the two-day free to attend conference that is looking at subjects as diverse as the Rohingya Crisis, challenges with setting up Ebola hospitals from scratch in Sierra Leone, to leadership, mental health, legal and media issues all associated with dealing with disasters.

In addition, we have guest speakers covering two passionate areas for Princes William and Harry, that of demining by the HALO Trust and protecting wildlife through the South African mainly female antipoaching organisation, the Black Mambas.

The Black Mambas were founded in 2013 by Transfrontier Africa National Park and now protect all boundaries of the 52,000ha Balule Nature Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa. They follow a philosophy they call their ‘Broken Window’ philosophy where they striving to make their area of influence the most undesirable, most difficult and least profitable place to poach any species. With a passion for wildlife and rhino conservation, these women are the voice in the community through their conservation work.

Critical to their success is the training and mentoring they receive and the International Disaster Response expo is extremely lucky to have Alice Bromage, a former Major in the British Army and now leadership mentor, who has spent six months with the team on the ground developing their skills. The objectives of the Black Mamba project are not only the protection of rhinos through boots on the ground but also through being a role model in their communities. With 32 young women and one man, they want their communities to understand that the benefits are greater through rhino conservation rather than poaching, addressing the social and moral decay that is a product of the rhino poaching within their communities. They are concerned for their children’s sake as the false economy has brought loose morals and narcotics into their communities.

Disasters are not all natural and one of the worst man-made legacies of war is the numbers of landmines and unexploded ordinance that remain long after conflicts have finished and continue to kill and maim the civilian population.

One of the organisations helping deal with this deadly legacy is the HALO Trust founded in 1988 in response to the global humanitarian catastrophe caused by landmines by Colin Mitchell, Guy Willoughby and Susan Mitchell OBE, who witnessed first-hand the devastation caused by landmines and other explosive remnants of war in Afghanistan and they resolved to do something about it.

HALO’s Afghanistan programme employs thousands of Afghans and they expanded the scope and breadth of their work to include explosive ordnance disposal, stockpile security and management, weapons disposal and armed violence reduction, in addition to humanitarian de-mining.  A key aspect of their approach is to use local labour and hence create local employment.

The landmine issue shot to international prominence in 1997 when Princess Diana walked through one of HALO’s minefields in Angola. From small beginnings back in the late 1980s they now employ thousands of men and women from the communities we serve in conflict and post-conflict countries and territories around the world.

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