Last week, an 8.6 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia’s most western situated island, Sumatra. The island, which sits near the meeting fault lines of the Indian-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates, has experienced several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including the quake that sparked the 2004 tsunami.
The extreme earthquakes, hurricanes, and natural disasters that are occurring with increasing frequency are frightening and make us all wonder: are we actually prepared to handle them?
With increasing alacrity, the international NGO and humanitarian community has been assessing the damage of natural disasters, addressing the devastated communities in the aftermath, and providing long-term reconstruction efforts. However, these efforts are strengthened by the funding, equipment, and trained personnel of national governments and government agencies. As natural disasters increase in severity and frequency, so does the criticism of how relief and reconstruction efforts are organized and executed. What is certain is that the international response to recent earthquakes is both necessary and welcomed.
In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude quake hit Haiti, killing over 200,000 people and leaving 1.5 million homeless. From the aftermath of the earthquake until the present, the international community is committed to building a better Haiti. Although the lack of coordination among the NGO community has been questioned, causing many to examine the actual effectiveness of NGO’s and their work, the rapid mobilization, use of crowd-sourcing techniques, and awareness of issues such as sexual violence in IDP camps is largely attributed to humanitarian groups.
Shortly thereafter, an 8.8 magnitude quake and tsunami struck Chile, killing several hundred people and damaging personal property in costal regions. Originally, the Chilean government miscalculated the extent of the damage, causing a delayed response to the most affected areas. As such, a great deal of the initial humanitarian effort was supplied by the military. Once the damage was assessed, the Chilean government asked for outside help, and the NGO community and foreign governments were quick to respond with necessary provisions, including water filters, generators, and field hospitals, as well as monetary donations.
In 2011, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, killing nearly 20,000, wreaking havoc on cities, and causing radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In the immediate aftermath, nearly 100 countries and several international aid organizations pledged relief. Several countries supplied rescue teams as well as rescue equipment, food deliveries, and medical supplies.
The ability to assess and address natural disasters is becoming central to government agencies and NGO’s emergency preparedness plans. However, the most efficient and successful responses to natural disasters and recovery and relief strategies have been achieved by a concerted international effort. While it is imperative for national governments to improve their emergency preparedness and response capabilities, it is also necessary for the international community to work together in addressing the needs of those most affected by natural disasters.