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Archives for Disaster Relief

World Humanitarian Day 2013: Honoring Those Who Serve

World Humanitarian Day logoWorld Humanitarian Day is August 19, 2013.

Exactly 10 years ago, on August 19, 2003, a bomb exploded at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. Twenty-two people died that day and dozens more were injured—men and women who dedicated their lives to help and care for people affected by the war in Iraq.

A decade later, this tragic event has become a time for the international community to recognize the sacrifice of aid workers around the world who face danger and adversity to help others. On World Humanitarian Day, we pause to remember those who died, as well as celebrate the commitment and passion of those, who, at this very moment, are saving lives in some of the most dangerous regions around the world.

It’s a day to remember the doctors, nurses, and medical staff providing assistance on the frontlines of the conflict in Syria. It’s a day to remember our teams working in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, where violence has displaced approximately 100,000 people to remote areas where they lack the most basic necessities.

It’s a day to highlight the efforts of unsung heroes across the globe: our USAID colleagues, our dedicated partners, and the global community, who are tirelessly responding to crises that are growing in complexity and magnitude. For three consecutive years, annual economic losses from disasters have exceeded $100 billion, according to the U.N.  And last year, the number of people displaced within their own countries by conflict and other violence skyrocketed to 28.8 million—the highest figure every recorded.

This World Humanitarian Day, the U.N. is kicking off a one-month campaign called The World Needs More to inspire governments, companies, and individuals to turn words into action and raise awareness of humanitarian needs around the world.  It’s a global movement not only to mobilize critical resources for the millions affected by disasters around the world, but to remind us of what we can achieve by working together.

Bringing the Private Sector into Disaster Risk Reduction

In this century alone, disasters killed approximately 1.2 million people and affected 2.9 billion people, almost half the world’s population. Furthermore, disaster risks continue to grow every day due to population growth, poverty, weak governance, rapid and unplanned urbanization—especially in hazard-prone areas, climate change, and a general lack of awareness on disaster risks and losses.

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)’s third Global Assessment Report (GAR13) was launched this month in the U.S., revealing how transformation of the global economy over the past few decades has led to an increase in disaster risks globally. The report, ‘From Shared Risk to Shared Value: The Business Case for Disaster Risk Reduction,’ highlights disaster losses in the past and also explores potential future disaster losses in business-as-usual scenarios.

Direct economic losses from disasters during this century—including the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami —are estimated at $2.5 trillion. Photo credit: Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock/U.S. Air Force

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) seeks to save lives and alleviate suffering caused by disasters overseas—and significant progress has been made so far. However, challenges remain in mitigating the economic impacts of disasters and building resilience in communities and countries, a goal USAID/OFDA works toward and the reason why the Office lends support to the GAR13’s research and findings.

Recent major disasters, including the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the 2011 floods in Thailand, and last year’s Hurricane Sandy in the U.S., showcased how truly devastating disasters can be to businesses. Direct economic losses from this century are estimated at $2.5 trillion, a figure that is largely underestimated.

However, indirect losses are even worse. For example, if a factory is destroyed by an earthquake and forced to close for a few months, not only is its output stalled but its workers also lose precious time while out of much needed work. If a flash flood demolishes a bridge, both small and large businesses are affected. A small local farm may become isolated, for example, preventing it from delivering its goods. This in turn will disrupt the supply chain for larger corporations. Even businesses in safe locations can be affected by disasters that impact their counterparts and suppliers in other parts of the world.

It is clear that the benefits of disaster risk reduction efforts extend to businesses as well as affected individuals, and that incorporating the private sector into the process of reducing disaster risks in hazard-prone communities is necessary in today’s world. Disasters don’t recognize boundaries, and USAID/OFDA will continue to search for opportunities to engage the international community—including the private sector, public sector, our partners, and the people we seek to help—as we strive to save lives, alleviate suffering, and mitigate the economic and social impacts of future disasters.

Increasing Economic Growth without Increasing Emissions

Growth requires energy, and the Philippines, one of Asia’s fastest rising economies, foresees an ever greater need for more energy to maintain the pace of development for its 94 million residents.

Yet increased energy use comes at a cost, in the form of increased greenhouse gas emissions, which puts the country in a conundrum: How can a country continue its economic growth yet make it both equitable and sustainable in the long term?

The Philippines is especially conscious of global warming and climate change. An archipelago of more than 7,107 islands, it is ranked the world’s 10th most vulnerable countries to climate change, with Manila the world’s second most at-risk city. Typhoons batter the country regularly, so the Philippines in particular is keen to avoid the prospect of more extreme weather and rising sea levels.

Eric Postel delivers remarks at a recent meeting with climate change and economy officials from the Philippines, EC-LEDS partners and the Department of State. Photo credit: Caryn Fisher, USAID Asia

Mitigating climate change provides the international community then a chance to at least reduce the risk of such disasters. As the Philippines Deputy Chief of Mission to the United States Minister Maria Andrelita S. Austria said, “The more we work on climate change, the less we’ll need to work on disaster assistance.”

Since 2010, USAID, through efforts such as the Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategies (EC-LEDS) program, has been partnering with countries such as the Philippines to find alternative development pathways that lower greenhouse gas emissions trends and increase the resilience of communities and economies to climate change impacts. These programs are part of the U.S. Government’s continuing commitment to encourage developing economies to move towards a low carbon economic growth pathway, which is integral to long term, sustained development. Under EC-LEDS, the Philippines is partnering with the United States in strategizing on how to enable low emission economic growth.

“This program is an important diplomatic priority for the U.S. government. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern views this as an opportunity to enhance key diplomatic relationships with partner countries, furthering our global goal of limiting temperature increase to no more than two degrees Celsius,” said Assistant Administrator Eric Postel of USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment to a Government of Philippines delegation visiting the United States recently.

The climate change and economy officials from the Philippines met with EC-LEDS partners at USAID and the Department of State, who both lead the program, as well as experts from other U.S. Government interagency partners, think tanks, and industry organizations. 

Greg Beck, USAID’s Asia Bureau Deputy Assistant Administrator, said, “While we in the United States and the Philippines both work together to improve the Philippines’ international competitiveness, it is equally important that the Philippines pursues its economic targets through a low carbon pathway. The United States government is committed to providing the necessary technical assistance in enhancing capacity for low emission strategies.”

For the Philippines, EC-LEDS focuses on three areas: 1) supporting the development of the country’s greenhouse gas inventory, which will help determine where emissions are coming from and provide a baseline to measure any increase or decrease in emissions over time; 2) building the in-country capacity to use analytical tools to choose the most cost-effective actions to reduce emissions; and 3) helping Philippines take actions that address climate change, such as identifying promising sources of renewable energy, improving forest management, and supporting local Eco-Towns.

EC-LEDS builds upon a long history of partnership between the United States and the Philippines, which was solidified when the Philippines was chosen to join three other countries (El Salvador, Ghana and Tanzania) under President Obama’s flagship Partnership for Growth, or PFG. Under the PFG, both governments are working hand-in-hand to address the most serious constraints to economic growth and development in the Philippines.

The partnership theme carries over to EC-LEDS, as the partner countries themselves drive the process. “By design, a LEDS is a country-specific strategic plan to promote climate-resilient economic growth and reduce long-term greenhouse gas emissions trajectories. U.S. support and technical assistance is tailored to those development priorities identified by our partners,” Beck said.

The noteworthy Philippine commitment to this partnership is fueled in part by having seen the lasting devastation climate change can have after weather-related disasters move on. The country’s government created a Climate Change Commission in 2009 after discovering that typhoon-related costs that year amounted to 2.9% of the Philippines’ GDP, according to Mary Ann Lucille Sering, the Commission’s head.

“We believe that the twin goals of economic prosperity and environment protection are achievable and LEDS is the effective mechanism to reach those goals,” said Beck.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on South Asia Monsoon Flooding

As South Asia approaches the start of monsoon season, let’s take a moment to learn more about these seasonal winds and the rains they bring. In this installment of USAID’s Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we explore how monsoon rains are both a vital part of life and a potential source of floods. When the hazards a community faces and the underlying causes of disasters are understood and addressed, a community can better withstand negative events. To this end, USAID is supporting a range of activities in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka that help keep people safe and minimize damage from potential flooding.

Benjamin Franklin is famous for the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Today, we are faced with great challenges brought about by increasing population and urbanization, a changing climate, and a demonstrated increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters. To continue to tackle these challenges, what has become clear is this: We need more than an ounce of prevention; we need pounds of prevention!

Photo from Robert Friedman, USAID.

U.S. AID Supports Disaster Risk Reduction, Resiliency and Climate Adapation Engagement in Asia Pacific

Originally featured on The Center for A New American Security‘s blog

The Center for A New American Security is currently hosting a working group series ‘Climate and Security in Asia’ the purpose of which is to explore opportunities to advance U.S. security and foreign policy in the Asia Pacific through climate engagement, particularly projects that seek to reduce risks of natural disasters, improve disaster planning and response, and enhance infrastructure resiliency.

USAID is funding the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center’s Disaster Monitoring and Response System (DMRS) through the Pacific Disaster Center to develop a multi-hazard early warning and decision support system. Photo Credit: CNAS

Last month, we were honored to have Greg Beck, deputy assistant administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), visit the group to share details about USAID ‘s on-going  disaster risk reduction  (DRR), resilience, and climate adaptation related-engagement in the Asia Pacific and the related State-USAI Joint Regional Strategy for East Asia and the Pacific.

As Beck shared, USAID recognizes that environmental degradation and resource scarcity can undermine a country’s efforts to achieve economic security and political stability. Like those in the security community, decision makers at USAID acknowledge that climate change is a ‘threat multiplier.’ Beck noted that these emerging conditions and threats are recognized within the State-USAID Joint Regional Strategy for East Asia and the Pacific, which is a part of the U.S. Government’s efforts to rebalance our foreign policy focus to reflect the growing prominence of Asia in the world. The State Department and USAID recognize that addressing climate change is critical to mitigating non-military threats to the U.S. and to reducing regional instability which can undermine democracy and economic stability.

Interestingly, just a week prior to Beck’s visit to CNAS, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) and the Australian Department of Defence (A DoD) gathered 85 delegates representing 18 countries at the 2013 Pacific Environmental Security Forum, the goal of which was to build military readiness in response to impacts of extreme weather events on regional peace, security and prosperity. The takeaways from the conference were the need to improve information sharing across countries and to build partner capacity (BPC).

Based on Beck’s summary of what USAID is doing in the region, it is clear that USAID is making great strides in the Asia Pacific Region doing just that –building local capacity to reduce risk to natural disasters and improve disaster planning and response, and promoting collaboration and information sharing among partner nations. In FY2012, USAID provided $481 million for Global Climate Change of which of which $96 million was for the Asia Pacific region.  Below, we highlight some of USAID’s ongoing efforts in the region.

Building Capacity around Disaster Risk Reduction and Resiliency (DRR)

Currently, USAID is funding the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center’s Disaster Monitoring and Response System (DMRS) through the Pacific Disaster Center to develop a multi-hazard early warning and decision support system. The DMRS will compile and transform information from national and international hazard monitoring and disaster warning agencies on events such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and other natural disasters into a regional, event-tracking and decision-support tool that utilizes maps and modeling applications. The Centre is critical because it seeks to coordinate activities with the national disaster management offices of all ASEAN Member States.

USAID provides assistance to 12 Pacific Island nations (Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu), which are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts including more frequent and extreme weather events and sea level rise. To build capacity around disaster risk reduction and resiliency, the USAID is collaborating with two of the South Pacific’s regional organizations: the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP). USAID works with the SPC to strengthen food security among farming communities in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu. Specifically, USAID support enabled Fiji, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tonga to develop GIS data and land-use/vegetation cover maps for to identify food security hot spots, inform stakeholder engagement, and assist in identifying adaptation measures. USAID also supports the SPREP to improve the resilience of water resources in Kiribati’s outer island communities and promote healthy ecosystems in the Solomon Islands.

More generally, USAID supports the Coastal Community Adaptation Project which aims to build the resiliency of vulnerable coastal communities in the region to adapt to climate change impacts. The program supports rehabilitating or constructing new, small-scale community infrastructure; building capacity for community engagement for disaster prevention and preparedness; and integrating climate resilient policies and practices into long-term land use plans and building standards.

USAID has played an instrumental role helping the six Coral Triangle (CT) countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste) develop a powerful new platform and model of partnership to address the CT’s transboundary environmental resource management and economic security concerns. In 2009, the six nations formed the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) and launched a ten year regional plan of action.  Viewed as one of the most innovative ocean governance initiatives, these nations are working collaboratively to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.
More recently, in the wake of Burma’s political opening, USAID’S Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is working closely with the country’s coastal communities on issues of disaster risk reduction. In FY2012, USAID/OFDA initiated a program that is supporting the creation of village disaster and contingency plans, establishment of village disaster preparedness committees and associated training, and rehabilitation of mangroves, which can serve to mitigate natural disasters by greatly reducing the strength of tsunamis or cyclone waves.

Finally, as part of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), which was created in response to the July 23, 2009 meeting between then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Foreign Ministers of the Lower Mekong Countries (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam), USAID supports several disaster risk reduction and infrastructure resiliency projects. In particular, USAID’s is collaborating with LMI partner countries to advance innovations and international standards in infrastructure development to mitigate environmental and social impacts of major investments in hydropower, oil and gas sectors, and transportation systems.  Central to all of these projects is the emphasis on facilitating knowledge sharing among countries and improving the management of national and transboundary natural resources.

USAID’s focus on disaster risk reduction and preparedness programs makes good business sense. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) released its Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction report last week, which reported that “direct losses from disasters are in the range of $2.5 trillion” in this century alone. The total average loss from earthquakes and wind damage from tropical cyclones is estimated to be more than $180 billion per year. Clearly, investing up front to help countries prevent and prepare for disasters
and inject more resiliency into their infrastructure systems is a good business decision.  However, as a recent Overseas Development Institute (ODI) report notes, historically, only a small percentage of total foreign assistance has been directed to disaster prevention and preparedness. According to ODI, over the past two decades, the international community has pledged more than $3 trillion in aid; of that, $93.2 billion was spent on disaster relief and reconstruction while $13.5
billion was devoted to prevention and preparedness.

Climate related projects can advance U.S. security interests, particularly when the investments and technical assistance help countries reduce risks of natural disasters, improve disaster planning and response, and enhance infrastructure resiliency. The projects that Greg Beck and others at USAID are shepherding serve those ends and will be instrumental in helping U.S. successfully meet the ambitious goals of its Joint Regional Strategy for East Asia and the Pacific.

How Rap Music is Saving Lives in the Caribbean

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

The Caribbean is one of the most hurricane-prone regions in the world, killing people every year and making communities more vulnerable with each and every storm that hits. But it wasn’t a hurricane that put Yen Carlos Reyes at risk.

Reyes’s father dealt drugs in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic and rival gang members routinely raided his home. His mother abandoned Reyes, leaving him to bounce around from one relative’s house to another. At age 17, he was a street fighter in the Dominican Republic, headed for jail—or worse.

Members of the St. Patrick’s Rangers, a voluntary youth club in Jamaica, engage in a map reading session through a disaster preparedness program led by USAID’s partner, Catholic Relief Services. Photo credit: Catholic Relief Services

Reyes’ story is one that resonates with many youth across the islands, where a lack of opportunities leads teens to partake in the crime and violence that plagues their communities. But now, in some of the toughest neighborhoods across the Caribbean, the energy and creativity of at-risk youth are being channeled to help them make the leap from neighborhood trouble-maker to community life saver.

The Youth Emergency Action Committees (YEAC) program led by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with support from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) is one that transforms teens like Reyes into disaster-preparedness leaders. It teaches young people how to plan for and respond to hurricanes, administer first aid, map out evacuation routes and set up emergency shelters. In dedicating himself to the program, Reyes just may have saved his own life.

Started in September 2009 in four of the most hazard-prone and marginalized neighborhoods of inner-city Kingston, Jamaica, CRS began engaging youth through an ‘edutainment’ approach—education plus entertainment. Teens write music, create skits, and perform them to raise community awareness about disaster preparedness while simultaneously learning life-saving skills. Rap music, in particular, has been a big hit, with the group  coming up with lyrics such as, “Send in the broom and the shovel. Don’t bring the violence, please leave the trouble.” Because the program was so successful, CRS expanded it to the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia and Grenada.

Reyes says his priorities shifted and his life changed when he joined YEAC. With his teammates, Reyes helped build new homes and rehabilitate old ones for families whose houses were not able to withstand natural disasters. When Hurricane Sandy hit Puerto Plata, Reyes and the others on his committee—named El Esquadron, or the Squadron—were ready, helping to relocate 80 families to emergency shelter and implementing a disaster response plan for their community. Reyes says he has a whole new set of goals including going back to school, thanks to the confidence YEAC has given him.

“Little by little, I started to see that I had value and that the other kids weren’t judging me. The work we did within the communities made me feel like I had something to offer and I started to see that my neighbors were looking at me different too,” said Reyes.

Watch this video for an in-depth look on how the program made a positive impact in Jamaica.

 

Helping Others During Hurricane Season

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

The 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially begins on June 1 and is expected to be very active. Preparing your family and home for hurricanes is important.  But what about preparing yourself to assist others–do you know how to effectively help those who are impacted by disasters? The best way to help is easier than you think and works 100% of the time.

The simplest disaster readiness activity is also the most cost-effective and the least time-consuming for donors–monetary donations to credible relief organizations working on-site. Each disaster is unique and affects people and infrastructure differently. Monetary donations enable relief workers to respond to evolving needs as those affected migrate to safety, resettle, and eventually rebuild their communities.

Unsolicited donations delivered to Samoa after the 2009 earthquake and tsunami took up space needed by relief organizations to sort and deliver vital emergency supplies. Photo credit: Richard Muffley, USAID CIDI

Most people react to disaster events overseas by collecting clothing, canned food and bottled water for survivors. While well-intended, many of these items actually remain in the U.S. because of the high fees and cost required to transport the donated goods to a foreign country.  Others items are turned away at their destination because they are not tied to a response organization or are deemed inappropriate. For example, thirty-four countries have banned the importation of used clothing and may decline collections that arrive. In reality, needs of disaster-affected people are carefully assessed by relief professionals on-site, who provide the right goods in sufficient quantities at the right time.

USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information recently rolled out a Greatest Good Donations Calculator, created by the Colleges of Engineering and Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island. This calculator illustrates the costs of sending unsolicited donations. For example, let’s say someone purchases a teddy bear for $19.99 in Washington, D.C., intending to send it to Apia, the capital city of Samoa. According to the calculator, the total cost to send this bear (including transportation and other fees) would be a whopping $273.43! By contrast, the same amount of money could be used by a relief organization to purchase 54,686 liters of clean water locally, helping more than 27,300 people.

Monetary contributions to established relief agencies in affected areas purchase exactly what survivors need when they need it. They support local merchants and local economies, and ensure that beneficiaries receive supplies that are fresh, familiar, and culturally, nutritionally and environmentally appropriate.

For more information on effective donations, visit USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information.

Troubling Trend: IDP Numbers Due to Conflict, Violence at All-Time High

New numbers released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) show a troubling increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world. Today, 28.8 million people are displaced within their home countries due to conflict and violence—the highest number ever recorded by the IDMC.  This is due in large part to the conflicts in Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). More than 6.5 million of these people were newly displaced in 2012, almost twice as many as the year before.  In addition, natural disasters displaced 32.4 million people around the world over the course of 2012.

This jump in global IDP numbers is sobering and shows the extent to which internal displacement is a significant factor in all the crises that USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) responds to—from Syria to DRC, from the Sahel to Pakistan.

IDPs are a particularly vulnerable population, having been forced to flee their homes and enduring physical and emotional trauma before or during their flight. However, because IDPs don’t cross international borders they are not considered refugees and therefore do not receive the same protection provided to refugees by international law.

Two displaced Kenyan children receive USAID assistance

Two internally displaced children in Kenya receive USAID assistance to rebuild their home. Photo Credit: Anita Malley/USAID

 

A good humanitarian response to internal displacement requires careful analysis and a nuanced approach to assistance, which is why USAID/OFDA supports organizations—like IDMC—that monitor and analyze the causes, effects and responses to internal displacement. The Office simultaneously continues to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of IDPs through providing food, clean water, shelter, health care, and protection services.

Responding to internal displacement situations always has its challenges. Some IDP populations have been displaced not once, but twice or even multiple times as is the case in eastern DRC. To address this type of displacement, USAID/OFDA supports rapid response mechanisms that swiftly identify and assess new displacements in order to provide urgent assistance while avoiding creating dependency.  Humanitarian access can also be extremely limited, such as in Syria, making it difficult to assess IDP needs and provide assistance.

USAID is revising its IDP policy to advance the U.S. Government’s response to internal displacement and to reflect current best practices for IDP assistance. Displacement doesn’t necessarily end once a crisis is over, and this policy also further strengthens USAID’s commitment to help IDPs either return home and reintegrate or resettle in other parts of the country. The goal of this policy is to find durable solutions to ensure that when it comes to the number of IDPs, the global community doesn’t hit another all-time high.

 

Using Science to Warn Countries About Deadly Flash Floods

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer and the most fatal side effect of hurricanes. They kill thousands of people every year and cause millions of dollars in damage by destroying buildings and bridges, uprooting trees and overflowing rivers within mere minutes.

Flash floods occur when excess water caused by heavy and rapid rainfall from tropical storms or hurricanes cannot be quickly absorbed into the earth. This fast-moving water can be extremely powerful, reaching heights of more than 30 feet. But it takes only six inches of water to knock a person to the ground or 18 inches to float a moving car.

USAID responds to more floods than any other type of natural disaster, like this one in Trinidad, Bolivia in 2003. Photo credit: USAID

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance recognizes that while flash floods are deadly in even the most developed countries, they can really wreak havoc in densely populated regions around the world that lack strong infrastructure. Hurricane-prone regions throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are especially vulnerable, which is why USAID works with host countries year-round to help them prepare.

Even though the onset of flash floods is almost immediate, it is possible to give up to a six hour window of advanced notice—just enough time to save lives.

The advanced warning is given through the Flash Flood Guidance System, a scientific method of accumulating rainfall data and analyzing the rate at which the ground absorbs it. USAID works closely with meteorological experts in hurricane-prone countries, training them on how this system works so that they can be on the lookout for potential flash floods. Using the system gives disaster-prone countries the opportunity to use those crucial six hours before a flash flood hits to implement emergency plans and move as many people out of harm’s way.

Six hours may seem like a lot of lead time, but it’s actually not when you’re rushing to alert remote and heavily populated villages—with limited communication—about an approaching disaster. Flash floods can’t be prevented, but USAID is committed to helping people better prepare for and recover from them. Because when it comes to saving lives and alleviating suffering, every minute counts.

Photo of the Week: 2013 Hurricane Preparedness Week

As America saw with Hurricane Sandy, it takes just one bad storm to wreak havoc, kill and injure hundreds and inflict billions of dollars of damages. If one hurricane can do so much damage in the U.S., imagine the impact of similar storms on less developed countries.

Forecasters are predicting an active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. During this week, we will be highlighting USAID’s work—through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—to prepare disaster-prone countries and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean for hurricanes.

The photo above is of children playing in the streets of a camp for internally displaced people in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after Hurricane Tomas made landfall in November 2010. Photo is from Kendra Helmer/USAID.

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