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BLOG: Donating in response to a disaster is the second-best thing we can do

Dom Lester-George – from Appco’s worldwide fundraising provider, Global Fundraising Services – explains why ducks are better than chickens, and why the generosity of regular-giving, monthly donors saves lives, livelihoods and money.

Bangladesh village

Charities like the British Red Cross use regular donations to support their long-term disaster-preparedness projects such as those in Bangladesh.

Sadly, when it comes to natural disasters, we know that it is not a question of “if”, but “when” the next cyclone, earthquake, or tsunami will strike.

This is why charities, such as the British Red Cross, work every day with local staff and volunteers in exposed regions around the world: to prepare for the “when”.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, £1 invested in disaster preparedness today is as effective as more than £5 spent on disaster response tomorrow. What’s more, the huge benefit to this approach goes beyond cost effectiveness: it actually saves lives!

In 1991 a category 5 cyclone ripped through Bangladesh. Its effect was devastating: 138,000 people perished – most of them women and children. Many died in their homes, unaware of what to do as the floodwaters rose.

In 2007, Bangladesh was hit again by a similarly ferocious cyclone, with winds tearing through villages at over 260kph. This time around 5,000 people lost their lives. Although this was still a significant and regrettable loss of life, what had changed 16 years later to blunt this storm’s impact?

The answer is that the Bangladesh Red Crescent, supported by the British Red Cross and other societies from around the world, had spent the intervening years working in partnership with other agencies and government bodies to make sure they were better prepared for the next disaster.

1,800 cyclone shelters were built in coastal areas and early warning systems were devised and implemented. Emergency drills were conducted regularly in vulnerable communities. Red Crescent trained thousands of volunteers in evacuation, first aid and response. Municipal and religious elders were engaged, resulting in a newly empowered generation of female community leaders who went house to house, educating women and children in cyclone response procedures.

How regular donations fund long-term disaster preparedness

As the 2007 cyclone approached, alarms were activated and 40,000 Red Crescent volunteers mobilised to evacuate over 600,000 people. Although the death toll was still significant, it is believed that the planning and response saved in excess of 100,000 lives.

The recovery was swifter too because flood-resilient livelihoods had been encouraged. For example, ducks were raised instead of chickens – ducks could swim and survive a flood – resulting in much-needed food and income in the immediate aftermath.

All of this was possible because organisations such as the British Red Cross could use regular income to support the planning and implementation of such long-term projects. Around the world, when natural disasters hit, countless lives depend on the investment that went before, on the resilience that those communities were able to build.

We are a generous nation. The scenes of devastation on our screens during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami provoked shock, disbelief and an unprecedented outpouring of public kindness. In the UK, the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal alone received £392 million; money used to help woefully underprepared communities pick up the shattered remains of their lives and begin the long path to recovery.

Today, many at-risk communities are preparing for what tomorrow might bring. Donating now, before the disaster, could be the best way to help them do that.

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