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After a very, very long blog absence I’m happy to report that I do actually have quite a good excuse. We’ve been a bit busy setting up EDV’s first deployment in Haiti. Check out what we’ve been up to on our sparkly new website.

In addition, our Executive Director, Andy Chaggar, has been named on the eight Vodafone World of Difference winners. More than 2,500 applied for the award, so for our director to  have won is a huge honour and a massive boost for EDV.

The offshoot of all this good news is that this blog has fallen by the wayside. Andy is blogging for Vodafone, so you can keep up with EDV’s work in Haiti by check out his blog here. We’ll also be blogging on Civil Society’s website and on NewStart Magazine’s website.

So if you’re interested in finding out more about EDV, you can check out any one of these blogs, or our website, but this blog is not being updated frequently.

Thanks for your interest and if you want to get in touch, don’t hesitate to email me – Media@EDVolunteers.org

Assessment Pictures

After delays during Tet, we’ve spent the last two weeks in almost consecutive meetings and assessments. Here are the initial photos of what we’re seeing here in Vietnam. Even five months after the typhoons struck the coast, there is still obvious damage around every corner. This is stark evidence of the difficulties of long-term disaster recovery in the developing world.

These photos were taken in Da Nang, Quang Nam, and Phu Yen provinces. Da Nang and Quang Nam are in central Vietnam, and were severely affected by Typhoon Ketsana. Phu Yen is a coastal province about nine hours sough of Da Nang. It was affected by Typhoon Miranae. The pictures I haven’t posted can be found on our Flikr.

Six people live in this temporary house - the family can't afford to rebuild a suitable structure. This house is unlikely to survive next year's floods and storms

This house, located in the city of Da Nang in central Vietnam, was completely destoyed by Typhoon Ketsana.

This is a photo of the flood damage in Phu Yen province.

This man lives in a temporay house that he built after Ketsana struck the area and destroyed his house. He can't afford to build a home that will withsand the yearly floods which affect the area.

This used to be a school. It was so badly damaged in Typhoon Ketsana that it had to be demolished.

The children who used to attend the school that Ketsana destroyed now study here - in their teacher's living room.

After just over a week in Vietnam, I’m finally getting the hang of stepping into traffic regardless of the sea of motor bikes streaming our way (they’ll never stop for you, but will go around), the honking horns (which mean nothing except “here I come!”) and the constant calls of “Hello!”. I’ve also starting to develop a knack for eating a bowl of lovely fried rice using chop sticks without spilling 75% of my dinner on the floor.

Leaving the US has me reflecting on my first trip abroad to Argentina more than two years ago. When I arrived in Buenos Aires I fully expected to immediately jump into an experience straight out of Rolf Potts’ “Vagabonding” full of warm offers of hospitality from locals, spontaneous adventures, and a world that would simply open to me as soon as I left the US. The reality was, of course, very different and I was soon cured of my illusions. For the first day I couldn’t muster the nerve to order lunch in my broken Spanish and I went hungry for hours until I found a MacDonald.

I was equally unprepared for the “what do I do now?” feeling  and profound disorientation probably common to all first time independent travelers. Completely contrary to my expectations, being without a purpose or set goal actually inhibited by experience of a new country. It wasn’t until I settled into my volunteer work in Peru that I felt that I really dug into South America. Of course, having your expectations challenged, in fact being challenged in general, is at the heart of independent travel.

I can’t speak for others, but those challenges are what prompted me to go on the road, so I’m not complaining about the experience. It was inevitable, and (I hope) not unusual for someone who had never before left the US.

That was more than two years ago, when I was straight out of University. Now, navigating Ho Chi Minh’s endless sprawl and manic traffic on my way to shops to price power tools and meetings with NGO heads, I can’t help but look back on Argentina and see how far I’ve come. With the purpose of setting up EDV’s deployment, I immediately find my way off the tourist track. The purpose makes me braver, more willing to confront and overcome the inevitable disorientation that comes along with being in a new culture.

Now that I’m not actually traveling – now that I’m here to work – I immediately find what I was looking for when I left for Argentina. The trick to getting what I was looking for in South America by traveling  seems to be to not travel.

In more concrete news, we’ve just arrived in heavily Typhoon affected Danang in central Vietnam after the delays of Tet – the lunar new year celebration here in Vietnam. While the flower shows, parades, and frequent calls of “Happy New Year” from passing motorbikes have been wonderful, the delay was frustrating to say the least. We came to work, and Tet delayed us a full week.

Danang is a wonderful city. Situated near the ocean, it has a wonderful sea breeze that is keeping it much cooler than Ho Chi Minh was. We’ve been eating mostly lovely street food, paying less than a dollar a meal and having very slow phrase book conversations with whomever sits next to us. The residents are very anxious to speak what English they know, and very impressed but our pitiful attempts to speak Vietnamese.

The delay imposed by Tet has made our arrival here in Danang, and hugely positive meeting with the Head of Foreign Affairs here in Danang all the more sweet. It’s early days yet, and far too soon to call our assessment a success, but all signs are positive at this point. We’re very much looking forward to working with our local contacts in the coming weeks to more fully assess the typhoon damage and need for long term disaster reconstruction and risk reduction here in central Vietnam.

I can’t think of a feeling more satisfying than implementing a programme that you’ve spent more than a year setting up. These are exciting days, to say the least, and I look forward to the possibility of a long and successful deployment here in Vietnam.

Hello from Korea

I’m currently five hours into a 14 hour layover in Korea on my way to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam following the typhoons that struck the county.

While we are beyond excited to be looking into our first deployment, we’re also unable to take our eyes off the tragedy that is unfolding in Haiti.

As disaster response workers who have lived in earthquake zones, we all feel the personal pull of Haiti, and for a time we wavered asking ourselves whether or not the Haitian earthquake should change our plans to deploy to Asia. It’s a complicated question, with a complicated answer.

Our immediate response was that we can’t go to Haiti because our funds are allocuted to Asia. But we have a clause on all of our fundraising documents giving us the ability to move funds should we feel it’s necessary. Is it a great idea? No. It betrays the trust of our donors, but it is possible, so this simple answer didn’t wash.

There are also a  host practical reasons for a small charity to stay out of Haiti. Every NGO and its brother are on the ground in Haiti at the moment, and coordinating between organisations is an on-going problem. For a small group like EDV, we have to weigh the good we could do against the added clutter we would cause on the ground. 

We’ve set EDV up as a long term disaster response organisation, meaning that we aren’t set-up to deal with the challenges of immediate response work in a country as challenging as Haiti.

These are all good, reasonable reasons for EDV to choose not to work in Haiti. But there is also a much more basic, fundamental question to consider. Despite the tremendous suffering in Haiti, there are also disaster survivors across Asia who are still living in terrible squalor following disaster that happened several months ago. Their struggle seems less immediate to us as we watch the disaster unfold in Haiti, but it’s still happening. Vietnamese disaster survivors are still living without basic necessities. Sumatran earthquake survivors are still living in the shadow of unsafe buildings that have yet to be demolished.

Of course, the disaster in Haiti is on a much more massive scale than those that struck Asia and its effects are  made worse by Haiti’s pre-existing extreme poverty. It was one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. But when you compare a devastated community of 50 in Haiti to a devastated community of 50 in Vietnam, whose suffering outweighs whose? Should the disaster in Haiti mean that our plans in Asian change?

And perhaps that points to a more general question in post disaster aid work; how do you decide who to help? Resources are always limited, and it’s likely that no aid organsiation will ever be able to help everyone all the time.  So how do you choose? Whose suffering trumps whose?

These caused me a lot of heartache working with two aid groups on the ground in Peru, as I’m sure they cause stress of aid workers across the globe. They have no easy answers.

For EDV, the choice to continue with our plans in Asia rather than respond to Haiti was made out of practicality and our committment to long term reconstruction aid rather than immediate response. We think Haiti is best left to immediate response groups at the moment, and long term reconstruction aid is exactly the kind of help needed in Asia at the moment. But that doesn’t mean we’re turning our backs on Haiti. Their recovery will take years, and long term groups will likely be in Haiti for some time to come. 

Our deployment in Asia will begin with an assessment in Vietnam . While Vietnam did not receive as much press as the Philippines, it was hit hard by a succession of typhoons in September, October, and November. The storms destroyed 24,000 homes and damaged a further 579,000. In a country as disaster prone as Vietnam, long-term recovery is essential to ensuring that the population becomes resilient to the typhoons that often lash the area. And after 18 months of set-up, we’re looking forward to getting our hands dirty.

To follow our progress on the ground, you can follow me on twitter or shoot me an email at Media@europeandisastervolunteers.org

This is a re-print of the blog I just wrote on NewStart Magazine’s page. Read the original here.

In late September and early October, Asia and the Pacific were struck by a nearly simultaneous string of natural disasters. These events have killed thousands and affected over 4 million residents across Asia and the Pacific. All of our hats should be off to the disaster response organisations which have provided survivors with hundreds of thousands of tents, clothing, blankets, as well as tonnes of food aid, medicine, and first aid supplies. These organisations have already saved countless lives and continue to save lives in disaster zones worldwide every day.

But while these groups tackle the immense challenges of meeting survivors’ immediate need, there is another area of recovery to address – long term regeneration in disaster affected communities.

At European Disaster Volunteers (EDV), we believe that in addition to the immediate aid supplied by these extraordinary organisations, disaster survivors need long term assistance to rebuild their homes, communities, and lives. What’s more, survivors need to be given the tools to direct their own recovery so that reconstruction does not become something “done to” survivors.

This probably sounds like common sense, but long term recovery is sometimes overlooked. The immediate and more visually striking effects of a disaster, such as destroyed buildings, downed bridges, and displaced persons camps tend to get the lion’s share of the attention, and often become the focus of fundraising campaigns and international attention.

Our tendency to focus on these aspects of disaster is reinforced by the prevalence of what we call ‘disaster pornography’ – graphic photos of, and stories about, the immediate effects of disaster – followed by very little coverage or on-going interest in the later stages of recovery.

Needless to say, these immediate issues do need to be addressed before long term recovery can move forward, but that doesn’t mean they’re the whole story. What doesn’t photograph well are survivors’ lingering feelings of helplessness, the long term damage to livelihoods, and the undermining of community capacity.

These injuries are less visible than the immediate after-effects of disaster, but no less damaging, and they can continue to do harm long after the rubble has been cleared.

On an even more basic level, when we think only about immediate, post-disaster needs, there is a subtle shift in how we approach the individuals living in disaster zones. When we focus short-term, we tend to place disaster survivors as victims who need to be given things rather than survivors capable of doing for themselves if given the tools. In effect, we tend to see them as helpless.

As any community regeneration worker the world over knows, nothing can be accomplished without empowering communities and individuals, so this kind of mindset toward survivors can be damaging – to say the very least.

I’m certainly not minimizing the visible damage of a disaster or saying that we shouldn’t hand out what’s needed to survive after a natural disaster. Of course we need to address physical damage and make sure survivors have what they need to stay alive and healthy, but we also have to address the long term scars left by disaster.

To accomplish both goals we have to move beyond the hand-out stage as quickly as possible and mobilise disaster affected communities to participate in their own recovery. We must enter disaster zones thinking about long term recovery and regeneration rather than just disaster response, even when communities are still housed in temporary shelters.

Just as domestic community regeneration professionals must understand the needs of an underprivileged community in the UK before they can begin constructive work, we have to work with disaster survivors to develop post-disaster regeneration programmes that empower communities to meet their own needs long after we leave.

At EDV, we plan to take our long term approach to disaster recovery to Asia in early 2010 and have recently launched our Asia-Pacific Disaster Recovery Fund. You can also read a summary of EDV’s deployment strategy.

If you’re interested in learning more, donating, or simply having a chat, we’d love to hear from you. Please email media@europeandisastervolunteers.org or visit our website EDVolunteers.org. (*Note, we’re currently redesigning, so our current website is very basic. Keep checking back!)

Our official recognition as a registered charity couldn’t have come at a better time. The situation in Asia and the Pacific continues to evolve, and we are looking forward to launching our fundraising campaign in the coming weeks with an eye to deployment early next year.

The dates are still tentative and will largely depend on money, but we don’t see how we can call ourselves a disaster response organisation and not contribute to Asia-Pacifics recovery. There is no excuse for remaining on the sidelines.

With damage stretching from Vietnam and Cambodia through Indonesia and extending to Samoa, aid organisations are stretched thin. The extent and range of the damage means there will be work to do for years to come. An organisation like ours, which focuses on long term, community based recovery, is well suited to provide relief once immediate response organisations have had a chance to run their course. And that is exactly what we’ll do if we can raise the funds.

In the meantime, if you want to follow how events are unfolding in Asia and the Pacific you can use the breif outline I’ve provided here. More information on events in Asia and the Pacific and EDV’s official campaign launch, to follow.

Typhoon Ketsana killed hundreds in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It was quickly followed by Typhoon Parma. Parma’s effects would have been worse if not for “preemptive measures“, but despite the initial positive reports 184 people in the Philippines have since died in landslides. Overall, there are concerns over whether or not more could have been done to save lives.

As the death toll in the Philippines from landslides and flooding triggered by two typhoons in two weeks topped 600, experts said better weather forecasting, a rigorous early warning system and careful urban planning would have saved more lives in one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. (source)

Many of the inundated areas are expected to remain flooded for months to come, raising serious questions as to where survivors will live in the intervening time.  Disease is a serious threat in the coming months, and with some affected regions still cut off from aid, survivors’ ordeals are far from over.

Media attention has been focused mainly on the Philippines, but the struggles of typhoon survivors in Vietnam and Cambodia shouldn’t be ignored. These areas are just as hard-hit and also in dire need of aid.

The situation in Sumatra continues to be challenging, as many roads were severely damaged in the earthquake. With aid still not flowing to many of the hardest hit areas, disease is becoming a major concern. Without electricity, basic sanitation, and with necessities being airlifted to isolated villages, Sumatra’s recovery is just beginning.

Samoa is also just beginning to pick up the pieces. In the aftermath of the tsunami, many were afraid to return to their villages, making getting an accurate count of the dead difficult and delivering aid to all those who need it nearly impossible. Another recent tsunami warning was the last straw for some survivors, who have now permanently moved away from their homes and into the hills.

With the populations moving, Samoa’s recovery will be a long, slow process of completely rebuilding villages which have been wiped off the map.

Two organisations which also take volunteers at no costs are currently in their assessment phases. Hands on Disaster Response is currently assessing in Sumatra and American Samoa, after completing their assessment of the Philippines. Burners Without Borders will be in Western Samoa on 10/18 to begin assessing the possibility of a deployment there.

We wish them safe travels and look forward to joining them overseas early next year.

To learn more about EDV, or to donate, please see our website EDVolunteers.org (redesign ongoing!) or email media@europeandisastervolunteers.org

Needless to say, we have been glued to the news. With all our time going into researching a possible EDV assessment and/or deploy in the coming months, I am going to keep this short and to the point. If you’re interested in finding our more about the disasters you can check out the links to further information on each disaster posted here, or follow me on twitter.

Typhoon Ketsana

Typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines on Sept. 26, with the resulting floods affecting tens of thousands of people and forcing the Philippines to appeal for international aid. The storm moved on to Vietnam, slamming into the central part of the country on Sept. 29. By Oct. 1, the typhoon killed 400 people across Southeast Asia and another, even stronger, storm headed towards the Philippines. Government reports said 101 people had died in Vietnam and 18 were missing. More than 350,000 houses were damaged or submerged in Vietnam. In the Philippines, the death toll rose to 277 while 700,000 were sheltering in evacuation centres. Several foreign governments and U.N. agencies have pledged nearly $2 million in rice and relief supplies for the Philippines. (Source)

With another super typhoon bearing down on the Philippines the outlook for survivors in all typhoon affected areas could be further compromised.  The number of people displaced, combined with some of the worst flooding in living memory, has proved overwhelming for local officials, and sanitation born diseases are a major concern. A brief outline of who works where in the Philippines can be found here.

Pacific Tsunami

Tsunami waves smashed into the Pacific island nations of American and Western Samoa on Sept. 29, destroying in minutes a paradise of palm trees, resorts and pristine beaches. On Sept. 30, the death toll stood at 146 in Samoa, but officials said it was rising, with hundreds missing. Some 20 villages were destroyed in Samoa and scores flattened in nearby American Samoa. U.S. President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in American Samoa, where more than 20 people have been killed, and ordered federal aid to help the recovery. (source)

Information has been difficult to come by as infrastructure has been destroyed, but many villages have been completely annihilated and the current death toll of nearly 200 is expected to rise as rescue workers reach rural villages. Furthering concerns in Samoa:

Aid officials have warned of disease outbreaks with more than a thousand people crowded into makeshift camps around Apia and a lack of fresh water and floating sewage. (source)

Sumatra Earthquake

A powerful 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit the Indonesian city of Padang on Sept. 30, trapping thousands under debris. The quake struck the bustling port city of 900,000 people, toppling hundreds of buildings. Telephone connections were patchy, making it hard for officials to work out the extent of destruction and loss of life. By Oct. 1, officials put the confirmed death toll at 529. A second quake, initially put at magnitude 6.8 but later revised down to 6.6, hit another part of Sumatra island on Oct. 1, causing fresh panic. (Source)

The death toll of the Sumatra quake has since jumped to over 1100. Rescue efforts are hampered, again, by the destruction of the infrastructure. Rescue workers have not yet been able to reach trapped survivors, and the death toll is expected to continue rising. The immediate international response to the Indonesia earthquake has been strong, and more aid is expected to be pledged.

We are currently working to decide if we have the funds to launch an assessment. As we are a new group, our funds are limited.  As soon as we know if, and when, we’re going, I’ll post here.

I’ll also re-post with more complete lists of which charities are currently working where as the dust starts to settle and organisations set up their programmes.

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