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By: Dawn Berkelaar
Published: 2014-01-01

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What if you are working in a community when disaster strikes it? What steps toward recovery can you take in such a situation? And what actions can be taken beforehand to minimize the damage from a large-scale, catastrophic event such as Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated large portions of the Philippines in early November 2013?

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 13 million people were affected by Typhoon Haiyan and four million were displaced. The typhoon damaged the main rice crop in areas that were affected, and disrupted planting of the secondary rice crop.

The immediate need after such a disastrous event is for relief supplies, including food, water and shelter. In the case of Typhoon Haiyan, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) also planned to provide farmers with rice, maize and vegetable seeds; tools; fertilizer and irrigation equipment.

After initial relief efforts, the process of rebuilding must begin, as relief shifts into development.

What factors should a local development worker be aware of when it comes to preparing for a disaster? And what interventions can be most helpful in the face of disaster? To gain some broadly-applicable insights, we contacted four people who have experience working with displaced and unsettled people, either after a natural disaster or post-conflict disasters:

R. Darrell Smith is the Executive Director of Global Environmental Relief.

Robin Denney worked in post-conflict situations in Liberia and South Sudan.

Laura Meitzner Yoder worked in Aceh, Indonesia, after the December 2004 tsunami, and in Timor-Leste in the years following independence.

Rhoda Beutler was involved in relief work after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, though she was not physically in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. She also knows many people who were deeply involved in recovery efforts in Haiti.

We share their input below, along with information from presentations and papers.