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The need for sustainable disaster relief

Posted by Chad O'Connor  September 19, 2013 11:00 AM

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At the smallest level, we know not to use a bath towel one time before we toss it in the laundry. We teach our kids to turn off the faucet when they brush their teeth. As a society, we readily embrace the need to recycle our soda cans and water bottles. The same effort to conserve limited and fragile resources needs to be applied to disaster relief, so that we don’t continually increase our carbon footprint by helping victims of the very same elevated carbon footprint.

Now is the time to invest in and nurture an environmentally sensitive disaster response ecosystem, so that invaluable necessities (shelter, fuel, water, clothing) can be used and reused whenever and wherever they are needed.

We live in a world with a seemingly increasing number of natural disasters. From devastating tornados to hurricanes to earthquakes to tsunamis, we never know when disaster will strike, but we do know it will strike, again and again. Sadly, the effects of increased occurrence and ferocity of events are disproportionately felt by the poorest and most vulnerable members of our global population. One thing is certain: we need a sustainable, reusable disaster relief plan and this plan needs to be the brain child of not one parent, but three: the public sector, private enterprise, and creative citizens.

Regardless of one’s own political belief, to expect Federal and State government to be solely responsible for disaster relief is simply improbable. Due to sequester and budget cuts in Washington, funding for thousands of domestic first responders has been dropped. As communities continue to face and recover from these natural disasters, it is clear that the aid effort should not be limited to one pipeline, but a recurring, renewable water-wheel of relief.

Fifty-one deaths and 230 injuries were recorded during the Oklahoma tornados of May 2013. The Red Cross provided 880 disaster workers and 45 emergency response vehicles that provided nearly 400 people refuge in Red Cross shelters. However, more than 13,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, affecting approximately 33,000 people. More than 700,000 Americans became homeless after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This is unacceptable, but until more companies and individuals participate in disaster relief, the vast majority of affected individuals and families will go unsupported.

The UN estimates that over 24 million people were displaced this year alone due to natural and man-made disasters and the number is expected to grow throughout the next decade. In addition to our own innovative, renewable shelter systems, organizations like Innovations for Poverty in Action that are creating safe water delivery systems and INEOS biofuel for renewable energy (among many others), apply creativity and energy to help displaced people.

In addition to private enterprise, many motivated individuals help fill the disaster relief void. America Recovers was founded by Suzanne Novak after Super Storm Sandy. She had envisioned building an organization that would change the way America recovers from disasters and as such, would impact preparation and response efforts, which ultimately will improve overall resiliency within communities across America.

Twenty years ago, “green” wasn’t considered profitable; now it is a matter of economic and literal survival. If you have an idea, a product, or a service that focuses on sustainability and reusability, please consider its application in humanitarian relief and assistance. The need for your help may be only one storm away.

Tina Newman and John Rossi are Co-Founders of VisibleGood. Connect with them on Twitter @VisibleGood.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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