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Peru: Building Capacity to Reduce Disaster Risk

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UMCOR trains communities in Peru how to protect themselves against future hazards

By David Tereshchuk*

August 16, 2016 — In step with many international aid agencies, UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is putting significant effort into disaster risk reduction, even as it pursues its long-standing mission of alleviating human suffering caused by disasters.

More and more, UMCOR is emphasizing prevention work, aimed at ensuring a hazard does not become a deadly disaster. That way, UMCOR hopes to avoid what United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called “solely continuing the unsustainable cycle of disaster management.”

The Latin America country of Peru offers a telling example. UMCOR’s local partner there is the Methodist Church of Peru. The church is largely present in vulnerable areas exposed to serious hazards. It has repeatedly answered the call to support communities devastated by disasters, and church members have leapt in to help enthusiastically, although often with little professional training.

Now, however, UMCOR is helping the church implement in-depth training sessions in disaster risk reduction and emergency response in three vulnerable areas: Lima, the capital; Nuevo Progreso, a district in northern Peru; and Puno, a region in the southeast that borders Lake Titicaca.

During the first of Puno Region’s three-day sessions, Pastor Eusebio Mondiale, superintendent of the Nueva Esperanza South Puno District, noted that communities in his area regularly face hazards brought on by climate change, cold, drought, and floods.

He said the training sessions were “a good initiative” of the Methodist Church and UMCOR “to build awareness among church and community members and develop their capacity for effective action in preventing and responding to emergencies.”

Mario Apaza, mayor of Tilali District was among the Puno Region workshop participants. “The church is opening its doors and wants to work together with the communities. We want to join in with the church in seeking better living conditions for our people,” he said.

Harmonizing capacities

Yovanna Troansky, executive secretary for UMCOR Disaster Risk Reduction, explained the objective of the workshops. “We are bringing together and harmonizing the capacities of people willing to help others in times of crisis,” she said.

During the Puno Region’s sessions, the pattern was set, as 40 local community leaders, who had volunteered for training, took advantage of the expert knowledge and deep practical experience of the instructors. They all got to share their own experiences of past disasters, work on joint plans for minimizing the risk of future disasters, and consider ways to collaborate whenever a crisis looms.

One important dimension of the training is to encourage people to “unlearn” what may be prevalent but unhelpful ideas about disasters — such as the notion that it is God’s will that a community suffers severe damage.

“We also want to instill best practices in providing help to disaster-affected families,” Troansky said, “including the observance of internationally accepted principles of impartiality and non-discrimination.”

“Ultimately, UMCOR’s work really boils down to encouraging and equipping people to use the gifts and skills God has given them, so that they can transform their lives, their communities, and the world — even in the wake of a disaster,” noted the Rev. Jack Amick, senior director of UMCOR Disaster Response.

“This is an exciting project in which we are using local resources to train local teams of volunteers,” he added. “We are investing in the people of vulnerable communities so that they will be empowered to respond to future disasters.”

Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance # 982450, will help communities like these in Peru to be better prepared to protect themselves against hazards, lessen their risk of disasters, and be empowered to respond when emergencies occur.

*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to