Disasters are one of the most significant causes of poverty, and poverty is one of the key factors that lead to disasters having a devastating impact. The majority of poor communities around the world are vulnerable to disasters of one kind or another. 

Crises and emergencies are growing in complexity, frequency and duration around the world. It is becoming difficult for local organisations and aid agencies to keep up with the level of humanitarian need, especially when it involves protracted conflict and economic insecurity. We do not believe that ‘natural’ disasters or complex crises are solely a ‘humanitarian’ issue that can be separated from development work. As far as possible, the underlying reasons for disasters and crises must be addressed at the same time as assisting in life-saving activities.

Our approach integrates resilience and risk reduction activities into the heart of our relief as well as our development work. If an emergency does occur, we seek to ‘build back better’ during the time of recovery, addressing not only physical loss, but through the restoring of relationships, supporting recovery from psychological trauma and long-term wellbeing.

Disaster risk reduction 

It is beyond our power to avert or reduce most natural hazards – extreme events that occur naturally and can cause harm to humans and the environment – but a natural hazard alone does not automatically lead to a disaster. A degree of vulnerability must exist for a hazard to have an impact on people, and disaster risk reduction (DRR) recognises that we can reduce the impact of disasters by reducing that vulnerability. For example, making buildings quake-resistant can prevent a hazard (an earthquake) from becoming a disaster (homes destroyed and people killed).

Reducing the risk of disaster is a key aspect of building resilience, and should be closely integrated with work to mitigate climate change, environmental degradation and conflict, as these are often key drivers of people’s vulnerability to disaster.

The disaster cycle

Illustration of the disaster cycle

The disaster cycle shows how people react and adapt when a crisis comes

Exploring what happens when people experience shocks and stresses can help us understand resilience. Every day, communities are adapting to the shocks and stresses of life without falling into crisis. But what happens when they do fall into crisis?

The disaster cycle shows how people react and adapt when a crisis comes. Their behaviours fall into one of three categories: stress management, crisis management and risk management.

Learn more about the disaster cycle

Preparing for disasters and crises

Being prepared saves lives, livelihoods and property, and it helps people to feel less vulnerable. When preparedness activities are also done in combination with risk reduction activities, the impact of a potential disaster is also reduced.

This is why Tearfund works with and invests in the capacity of both local organisations and churches in at-risk communities – to help them understand the risks they face, and develop plans to respond to any anticipated crises or disasters. Preparedness involves forward-looking activities that can increase people’s ability to predict, prepare for, respond to and recover from the effects of a hazard (for example, a storm) or crisis event (for example, local tribal conflict).

Explore our resources on preparing for disasters

Responding to disasters and crises

Tearfund and its partners respond to disasters of every scale, from small-scale disasters that can devastate a few households or communities, such as local floods and landslides, to large-scale protracted crises that affect millions, such as the crisis caused by the conflict in Yemen.

Tearfund works to international standards with integrity and transparency.

The design and delivery of emergency response should be as locally led as possible. We work with other organisations as part of networks and alliances because we believe that working collaboratively enables us to be more effective and efficient in our response. 

Needs assessments 

Identifying and targeting the most vulnerable, irrespective of ethnicity and religion, is vital, and we ensure our needs assessment resources are inclusive of marginalised groups. Assessments help to identify the most appropriate options for responding to an emergency, and what added value Tearfund can bring to an emergency response. The information gathered by our partners is sometimes the only source of data on the needs of that community, whether that be from the local church or via coordinated UN needs assessment. Information-sharing and knowledge management ensures that support is targeted to the right people at the right time. 

Needs assessments resources

Localisation

We believe in the role of faith leaders and faith-based organisations, and the part they must play in emergency response. We are working with other agencies to promote the work of local and national organisations.

Communities themselves best understand the needs of people in their own area. That’s why we always build up local organisations and churches, and support locally-led responses to disasters.

Tearfund is part of Charter4Change, a global initiative to enable more locally-led humanitarian response. We want to see more funding for local and national organisations and to amplify local voices so they have greater presence and influence. Tearfund is also part of the Start Network, which enables local decision-making, supports the growth of innovation and develops local capacity. 

Tearfund has two distinct approaches to help empower local churches and partner organisations to develop their capacity and skills to respond to local crises: 

Localisation and disasters: Learning from Tearfund partner CRUDAN in Nigeria

Recovering from disasters and crises

In emergency response projects, it is very important to do ‘recovery’ well. For most projects this is the time when the activities end. For protracted crises, this is a very difficult stage if the circumstances that keep populations in a place of humanitarian need have not changed. 

There is no clear point where humanitarian ends and development begins. Rather, there is often a time when peacebuilding, humanitarian response and development all have to operate together. 

Building back better 

Building back better is often associated with ensuring earthquake building codes are adhered to, or a school is reconstructed with better access to toilets. However, ‘building back better’ goes far deeper. We ask ourselves: ‘How can we better target the most marginalised and excluded?’, or ‘How do we ensure protection and gender practices are integrated and adhered to by the community?’

These questions ensure that should another crisis or disaster hit, we have placed the greatest emphasis on those who would be affected most, ensuring that their previous trauma or marginalised status is not compounded further. 

Church and disasters

When disasters happen, the church is often the first place that people turn to for emotional and physical support. It is crucial to help churches and their communities to prevent disasters, reduce their impact when they do occur, and rebuild livelihoods and communities in the aftermath.  

Disaster management is best achieved when local churches and their communities work together with specialist NGOs and relief agencies. Our resources explore the strengths and weaknesses of the church in disaster management, and the potential complementary roles it can play alongside specialist agencies.

Discover our resources on the church and disasters 

Read more about the church and resilience

Advocacy and disasters

Strategic advocacy aimed at local, national and international decision-makers is critical when responding to disaster risk. It can increase funding, see policies being led locally and enable policymakers to take a holistic approach to disaster risk reduction, conflict prevention, climate change adaptation and development.

Research shows that investing in disaster risk reduction prior to disasters saves lives, reduces losses, and is far more cost-effective than funding response after disasters.

At Tearfund, our work in advocacy also includes advocating for the role of faith leaders in disaster preparedness and response to be recognised. 

Explore our resources on advocacy and disasters 

Disasters and conflict

Humanitarian responses often take place against a backdrop of conflict. In many cases, the conflict itself is the source of the humanitarian crisis. The impacts of other disasters, such as natural disasters, can also create conflict as affected populations compete to gain access to the resources they need to recover. In combination, conflict and natural disasters can increase the needs created by each other.

Our approach to disasters in settings where there is conflict is to:

Conflict sensitivity

When responding in any way to crises or disasters in any conflict context, it is important that a project must ‘Do No Harm’. Conflict sensitivity involves understanding the conflict context we are working in, ensuring we minimise negative impacts on the conflict, and identifying opportunities to maximise positive impact. 

Find our tools and guides on conflict

Read more about our work and commitment to promoting peace and reconciliation

The importance of learning 

Learning, reflecting and adapting is a crucial part of our response and recovery process. We are committed to improving the design and implementation of all disaster response projects, as well as providing opportunities and resources for individuals to develop the skills and knowledge they need to serve others effectively.

Across the world, Tearfund and its partners work in very different contexts. In our experience, while every disaster is different, it is still important to bring in the lessons we learnt from past responses. 

We know that to respond effectively in an emergency situation requires people with skills, knowledge, and the right heart and attitude to put people first. With our partners, we are committed to improving their performance both through training and developing skills, as well as reviewing projects to ensure that lessons can be learnt or innovation identified.

Measurement

To support the measurement of disaster response projects, we use Characteristics of a disaster-resilient community at village and community level, which includes indicators of what a prepared and mobilised community should look like. Guidance from ALNAP is used for large-scale international response projects.

Evaluations

External evaluation reports from disaster management projects undertaken by Tearfund’s operational teams and partners are a valuable source of learning and good practice.

As part of our commitment to openness and transparency, we publish evaluations of projects funded, supported and delivered by Tearfund and our partners.

Read our evaluations