The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Faith-Based Organisations’ role in Disaster Preparedness

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on August 8, 2011

Literature on disaster preparedness has highlighted the importance of ensuring effective and coordinated responses amongst various stakeholders. The role played by civil society organisations (CSOs) complements governmental efforts in disaster management. Moreover, faith-based organisations (FBOs), which constitute a segment of CSOs, are  playa significant role in addressing NTS related issues, such as poverty alleviation, social development, health and migration. There have also been efforts by some FBOs in providing assistance in disaster relief, as they are often the first to respond and the last to leave in disaster response situations.

While this is commendable, there has also been an increasing trend for FBOs to play a greater role in disaster preparedness rather than just disaster relief. Indeed, disaster preparedness has increasingly been emphasised in international discussions as an important phase in the disaster management cycle; so as to reduce the risks when a disaster strikes. Moreover, FBOs facilitate the implementation of disaster preparedness policies amongst communities and thus fill in the gaps which often exist in translating policies at the local level.

Southeast Asia, which is highly vulnerable to disasters, has and continues to benefit from increasing engagement of FBOs in disaster management. Indonesia provides many examples of this, especially since the 2004 Asian Tsunami, after which both local and international FBOs rendered assistance.

Engagement with FBOs has primarily been a means of creating greater awareness and precipitating action amongst local communities when disaster strikes. For instance, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU – one of the country’s two major Muslim organisations) has since 2004 sought to address flooding and landslides as a result of deforestation by setting up a community-based disaster risk management body. NU has also worked with the Australian Government via AusAID to enhance disaster awareness and preparedness amongst children and teachers in NU Boarding schools, as well as strengthen cooperation between community and local authorities on disaster management. In recent developments, NU has formalised its working relation with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in environmental protection, which includes community measures of adapting to flooding and the effects of climate change.

A primary factor leading to the success of such FBO initiatives is that the FBOs’ support and membership base puts them in a good position of influence to reach out to various sections of society. These NU initiatives, as well as other faith-based projects, have gained traction to the point that even Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment has recently initiated its own faith-based environmental program. There is clearly a growing role for FBOs and their influence on local communities should not be underestimated.

That said, however, two important factors must be considered to ensure that such initiatives are fed into national disaster management efforts. Firstly, these initiatives need to be up-scaled and sustained overtime so as to be accessible to wider section of society. Secondly, such local initiatives must be mapped and incorporated into governmental policies, so as to fortify collaboration across various stakeholders in disaster management. Through such two-pronged approaches, FBOs would be better able to influence policy and improve the lives of communities.

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