Skip to cookie consent
Flooding in Pakistan in 2010 affected 20 million people. Photo: Ashraf Mall/Tearfund

From: Managing disasters – Footsteps 88

How to prepare for disasters and reduce the risk of them occuring

Although protecting people’s lives in disasters is top priority, protecting their livelihoods is nearly as important. If people lose the ability to feed themselves, their long-term survival is in question, and they will be much more vulnerable to the next disaster.

First we need to understand what people’s livelihoods are – all the ways they produce food, earn an income and secure the necessities of life. Then in discussion with the community, we can look for ways to:

PROTECT VULNERABLE LIVELIHOODS

In Bangladesh, people who live on river islands have come up with many ingenious solutions to protect their livelihoods during floods. One is the “floating garden.” Instead of cultivating vegetables on the ground, they grow them on a platform made of water hyacinth plants stacked together and covered in dirt. During a flood, the platform floats on the water and the vegetables survive. You can read more about floating gardens in Footsteps 77.

In Malawi, small farmers are very vulnerable to drought. Tearfund partners have taught them soil and water conservation, including applying manure, composting, water-harvesting, agro-forestry and building contour ridges across the slope to slow down water run-off. These techniques reduce erosion and help the soil hold more water, allowing more crops and farmland to survive dry spells.

Tearfund partner talking to local people in Malawi about farming practices





Tearfund Partner, Eagles, works with local people in Malawi to improve farming practices. Photo: Marcus Perkins/Tearfund

IMPROVE DISASTER RESILIENCE

When we discuss disasters with communities, they will often be able to identify a particular livelihood that is less vulnerable to disaster than others. We can then try to help them to make that livelihood more productive.

In northern Afghanistan, two severe droughts in the past four years have hit farmers hard. But there was one important local industry that did not depend on rainfall: carpet weaving. The yarn that goes into Afghan carpets is spun by local women from imported wool. Even in a drought year, wool spinning can provide significant income in these northern villages.

In this case, Tearfund looked for ways to strengthen that disaster-resilient livelihood and successfully introduced foot-pedalled spinning wheels in areas where the women had previously spun wool by hand. The wheels helped women produce four times as much yarn to sell to local vendors.

Three ducks on the bank next to the water

Illustration by Amy Levene

INTRODUCE ALTERNATIVE LIVELIHOODS

If people rely completely on one or two ways of making a living, they will be very vulnerable to disasters. It is important to help them experiment with new opportunities so that they will have diverse livelihoods.

In Bangladesh, Tearfund partners have encouraged people in flood-prone areas to start raising ducks (which swim) instead of chickens (which drown).

In Malawi, partners have introduced farmers to new crops that tolerate a wider range of climate and soil conditions: sweet potato, beans, cassava, groundnuts, soya and pigeon pea.

To get ideas for new livelihoods that might be appropriate to suggest to communities in your area, you can contact us at

footsteps@tearfund.org

Joel Hafvenstein is Disaster Risk Reduction and Environment Advisor at Tearfund.

Similarly Tagged Content

Share this resource

If you found this resource useful, please share it with others so they can benefit too.

Sign up now to get Footsteps magazine

A free digital and print magazine for community development workers. Covering a diverse range of topics, it is published three times a year.

Sign up now

Cookie preferences

Your privacy and peace of mind are important to us. We are committed to keeping your data safe. We only collect data from people for specific purposes and once that purpose has finished, we won’t hold on to the data.

For further information, including a full list of individual cookies, please see our privacy policy.

  • These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

  • These cookies allow us to measure and improve the performance of our site. All information these cookies collect is anonymous.

  • These allow for a more personalised experience. For example, they can remember the region you are in, as well as your accessibility settings.

  • These cookies help us to make our adverts personalised to you and allow us to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.