Strategies to Help Prepare for and Respond to Disaster

Echoes from our Network: Increasing Interest in Chaya

From ECHO’s Seed Bank: Dual-Purpose Cowpea Varieties

Books, Websites and Other Resources

Upcoming Events


Read Online


Strategies to Help Prepare for and Respond to Disaster

Dawn Berkelaar

https://www.echocommunity.org/resources/71356f86-d90a-4032-9775-681c581fa715What 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.

Increasing Interest in Chaya

Recently we read correspondence from Penny Rambacher, R.D., a registered dietician working with Miracles in Action in Guatemala. About eight years ago, ECHO’s then-CEO, Dr. Martin Price, suggested to Penny that re-introducing Chaya could be an important way to address malnutrition within the country. She has since gathered a great deal of information about chaya, and heads a network of people (that she calls ‘Chaya Chums’) who also promote chaya. Penny shared the following.

“Chaya, sometimes referred to as the ‘Mayan Spinach Tree,’ has caught on so well that there have been articles in the main newspapers in Guatemala, and cuttings are in high demand. We have four ‘chaya farms’ sourcing cuttings now, and I still can’t get enough to meet the demand. We have held classes and cooking workshops for NGOs, government social programs, women’s groups, and anyone who will listen.

Cowpea: Spotlight on Multi-Purpose Varieties

Dr. Tim Motis

Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is a versatile legume grown for human consumption as well as for soil improvement and animal fodder. It is the second most-planted grain legume in Africa (National Research Council, 2006). Though cultivated throughout the tropics, and thus familiar to smallholder farmers, there are almost certainly varieties that farmers in a given area are not aware of that could improve the resilience and productivity of their fields.

Most cowpea types cultivated by small scale farmers in the tropics have been either early-maturing varieties grown as a pulse (dry beans) or late-maturing varieties grown mostly for their vines that are cut and used for animal fodder. Some Nigerian farmers have increased their annual income by 25% through the sale of cowpea fodder during the peak of the dry season (Dugie et al., 2009), when livestock have little to graze. Recent years have seen a research emphasis— by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), for example—on dualpurpose varieties with increased production of both grain and vegetative biomass.

Dual-purpose varieties typically have a more spreading or semi-erect growth habit than the erect, bush-type varieties selected for mechanical harvest. As mentioned above, the increased biomass is useful for animal fodder. The extensive vine growth of a good creeping-type variety can also play a key role as a green manure, as long as at least some of the biomass is left in the field. Keeping soils covered is especially important in the tropics, where soils are subjected to intense heat from the sun.

ECHO research in South Africa has demonstrated the beneficial impact of a long-vined cowpea variety on soil fertility. By 6 months after seeding, with no fertility inputs and <700 mm rainfall on a soil with 87% sand, a low-growing cowpea variety (IT98D-1399) from AVRDC/ICRISAT-Niger produced 3.4 t/ha of dry, above-ground biomass when planted at a 50 X 50 cm spacing. That amount of biomass contained 90 kg/ha of nitrogen. When vines were left on the soil surface, soil nitrate concentration—six months after seeding cowpea—increased from 7-8 parts per million (ppm) in bare ground and weedyfallow plots to 14 ppm with cowpea.