13 October 2011
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Focus on reducing disasters: "One way we are making a difference"
By Chris Herlinger
ACT Alliance/Church World Service
Yogyakarta, Indonesia view today and this month as just steps in a long journey.
The need to focus on reducing the risks of disasters takes on special meaning on the International Day for Disaster Reduction (13 October) and throughout October.
Similarly, such a focus united some 40 participants in common purpose during a recent ACT Alliance global workshop on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
The 5-9 September meeting, held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, allowed staff of ACT Alliance members that respond to disasters and are now dealing with the new challenges posed by climate change to come together, discuss common concerns and worries and work on solutions.
A key element for the workshop were field visits to Pangandaran (West Java), Temanggung, Sragen and Solo (Central Java) and in Gunung Kidul (Yogyakarta), which allowed participants to meet with those at the grassroots who are dealing with the problems posed by tsunami, floods landslides and drought -- some in the same geographic region.
Take for example, the climate adaptation project by ACT member Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, Germany near the coastal areas of Pangandaran in West Java.
Farmers in the region have seen their crops decimated since the December 2004 tsunami, largely because salt water from the Indian Ocean has continued to affect and damage crops, with many farmers experiencing total crop failures.
Salt water has continued to seep into rice fields, while climate change has presented a new threat -- rising sea levels. Many farmers have left farming altogether, with deleterious effects for their families and communities.
The ACT/Diakonie project introduced salt-tolerant rice varieties, from India, and a system of rice intensification in which planting minimizes the amount of seed per acre and reduces the demand for water during the growing season. Farmers have joined together to learn about the concept, experiment and share knowledge at a "Sekolah Lapang," a farmersí field school. "Learning by doing" have become watchwords.
The result? A success, according to a Diakonie report. "Land has been successfully re-cultivated over six planting seasons. Out of four kilograms of seed from India, farmers in these villages had produced more than 110 tons of rice seed by early 2009," the report said. "Additional protection of the coastal areas is afforded by the planting of 150 hectares of fruit trees, around two-thirds of which are local coconut trees and about a fifth mangos."
The problems posed by climate change are worrisome, with drought posing a particular concern. But the ability to plant and cultivate rice has given farmers and their families a sense of hope that sustainability is possible.
"We CAN be self-sufficient in rice," said farmer Taiyo, 47, "and that's important -- to remain self-sufficient."
Efforts to reduce the risks of disasters and adapt to climate change requires joint action by humanitarian groups, governments and other organizations.
While a week-long workshop can only do much, Arshinta of the Yakkum Emeregncy Unit, known as YEU, said the reach of ACT Alliance -- a worldwide grouping of 111 churches and church-related organizations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development -- gives organizations like hers some clout when dealing with local and government bodies.
"The fact that we are part of a global network gives our work added value beyond local capacities," she said.
As does the fact that ACT members are prepared to work on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation as long-term problems, requiring a large vision and sustained commitment.
"This is long-term engagement, long-term involvement," said Sigit Wijayanta, executive director of YAKKUM Christian Foundation for Public Health, Indonesia. "Disaster risk reduction isn't just emergency work tied to a crisis. It's a development issue, and it's one way we are making a difference."