Natural Disasters – the Need for a Smart Response

The barrage of natural disasters in recent months has been nothing short of catastrophic. For many who saw coverage dominating every major news station, both the frequency and severity of the hurricanes, earthquakes and flooding that upended communities in Texas, Florida, Mexico, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and the Caribbean seemed shocking. But research conducted over the past three decades by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters shows that the number of natural disasters has been steadily increasing for years and even doubled since the 1980s. Today, not only are more people in harm’s way than there were fifty years ago, but building in flood plains, earthquake zones and other high-risk areas has increased the likelihood that a routine natural hazard will become a major tragedy. The study also shows that lower-income countries bear a disproportionate burden of natural hazards and at the same time have the least ability to recover from them.

Fortunately, campaigns to benefit victims of natural disasters can, and often do, quickly raise significant funds for emergency response in the days and weeks that follow. And while first responders play an incredibly critical role in helping to deliver clean water, medicine and other immediate needs, what happens to the hardest hit communities ─ and especially the children ─ when this short-term support inevitably ends? The next phase of disaster relief, the rebuilding of infrastructure, often does not begin for another two to eight years. At Happy Hearts Fund, we call this “the gap period,” a reference to the absence of meaningful services to promote long-term revitalization.

For more than a decade, we’ve been stepping in during this time to rebuild safe, resilient schools that had been damaged or destroyed by natural disasters. When a safe, resilient school is rebuilt, the ripple effect is tremendous on many levels. It provides education for the children and a sense of renewed hope and uplifting for the future. Students learn important skills that enable them to become change-makers in their communities, parents are freed up to get back to work and support their families, and future generations are empowered.

But to truly make a difference and bring long-term stability and recovery to children and their families, we must invest in smart, sustained response that integrates not only education into disaster relief but a full scope of strategies for providing and funding comprehensive rebuilding. Otherwise, communities will languish in the aftermath of the disaster for years. As the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters also finds, “the loss of education and health infrastructure can in some cases slow economic and social development for generations.”

That’s why Happy Hearts Fund, along with longtime partner All Hands Volunteers, has made a two-year commitment to stay on the ground in Texas and the U.S Virgin Islands (USVI). We are currently on the ground in St. Thomas mucking and gutting two schools so that 1,700 children can get back to the classroom!