Thursday, February 15, 2007

Preparing against future threats in the Maldives

Text by Azza Hameed, International Federation Information Officer in the Maldives.

The Red Cross Red Crescent is supporting communities across the Maldives to prepare for and reduce the impact of future threats such as natural disasters and disease outbreaks.

In December 2006 the International Federation held a 'mock' emergency drill on Muli Island in the Meemu Atoll. Twenty-one community representatives from 11 islands attended the exercise, organized in cooperation with UNDP and the Maldives' National Disaster Management Centre, with the event seen by many as an important step towards being prepared for future natural calamities.

For Ibrahim Mufeed, 60, the importance of such an exercise couldn't be more real. “This is the shirt I had on the tragic day when the tsunami destroyed almost the whole eastern side of this island,” he says, tugging at his bright yellow shirt. “I hope and pray it never happens to us ever again.”

Following weeks of preparation, the mock drill allowed the islands' newly formed Emergency Management Committee (EMC) to test their response capacity. The EMC was able to quickly implement procedures for rescue and evacuation as well as establish safe shelter areas and perform basic first-aid and counseling.

“This is very emotional for me and I'm so grateful that we are now getting prepared for such a situation,” says Ibrahim.

However, communities in the Maldives are not just threatened by natural hazards. Enza Mancuso, the International Federation's disaster management delegate in Malé, the capital of the Maldives, says that communities are also highly vulnerable to outbreaks of disease.

“The Federation's community-based disaster management programme addresses disaster preparedness and response, but it also looks at community health promotion,” she explains.

“The programme was developed following a vulnerability capacity assessment which identified, amongst other things, the importance of dengue and chikungunya prevention and control.”

Outbreaks of dengue fever and chikungunya fever pose an increasing threat to many people across the Maldives. Dengue is endemic in the Maldives and over 6,000 cases of Chikungunya fever have been reported since December 2006. Both are transmitted by mosquito bite and neither can be vaccinated against. Preventative measures are therefore the key.

The International Federation has developed a community based approach for Dengue and Chikungunya prevention, the first step being a 'training of trainers' workshop. Community members from six atolls, as well as representatives from the Department of Public Health, the Vector Borne Disease Control Unit and the Red Cross Red Crescent took part in the five day training session.

The workshop stressed the importance of education and awareness raising within communities about how the diseases work, how they are transmitted and what can be done by way of prevention, with particular emphasis placed on the importance of clearing potential mosquito breeding sites.

“The next step now is for participants to take what they have learned back to their communities and to ensure that everyone knows what to do in the face of disasters or disease,” says Enza.

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