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#43 Pretending to Like Disaster Mitigation

April 8, 2011

Submitted by MoreAltitude who blogs at Wanderlust: Notes from a Global Nomad. Follow him on Twitter: @morealtitude

Illustration by Manu -

Share coordination meetings with a bunch of Expat Aid Workers long enough, and sooner or later the conversation will swing around to Disaster Mitigation. It can be called a bunch of things- disaster preparedness, community resilience, disaster risk management… the EAW will be fluent in the lingo and know what you’re talking about, and will probably be able to drop in their own organization’s patois.

Any EAW worth their weight in local beer and/or ethnic jewellery will, of course, voice immediate enthusiasm for disaster mitigation. A dollar spent on mitigation saves ten dollars in response funding, one will say. Think of the needless deaths you can prevent, another adds with passion. Some will use it to show how much of a bridge they’re trying to build between short-term relief workers and the mob of long-term development professionals all baying about ‘dependency’ and ‘sustainability’.

Others will explain with righteous indignation that if only those self-same development workers would do their job properly and incorporate disaster mitigation into their work, disasters wouldn’t keep being such a big deal and all the disaster relief Expat Aid Workers wouldn’t have to keep rushing in to clear up a mess that should have been prevented in the first place [insert theatrical sigh here].

This is, of course, about as honest as a Burmese ballot box. The disaster relief EAW doesn’t give two billion Zim Dollars about disaster mitigation. It’s just that, until plied with sufficient ‘social lubricant,’ EAWs won’t admit to it for fear of making themselves a target of slurs by development colleagues consisting of nouns such as ‘junkie’, ‘cowboy’ and ‘adrenaline’.

Illustration by Manu

The disaster relief EAW understands that disaster mitigation is BORING. It involves sitting around with villagers for days and weeks on end, talking about something that may happen at some distant point in the future, but probably won’t. While it’s a great opportunity to practice facipulation, spend long hours driving to communities in shiny white Land Cruisers, and go native, when you compare it to the fun of handling food aid distributions, armed escorts, and EAW house-parties, disaster mitigation just doesn’t cut the durian.

Secretly, the disaster relief EAW likes nothing better than to rush in and clear up someone else’s mess. So much the better if she or he can go in and blame somebody for not doing their job properly- that’s all part of the fun too. Getting called a ‘relief cowboy’ or ‘adrenaline junkie’ is, deep down, one of the highest compliments in the EAW lexicon, and will leave the EAW with a warm fuzzy feeling seconded only to taking part in personally offloading GIK shipments from the back of a C-130. In a dark and rarely-trod place, the disaster relief EAW quietly believes that development is just a waste of time anyway.

After all, if development EAWs did their job properly and there were no more disasters, the disaster relief EAW would be out of a job. She or he would become one of those seedy travellers you see on 3rd-world street-sides, selling handicrafts they’ve taught themselves to make so they can keep funding their travels at the expense of local crafts-people. Or worse, they might become a development worker.

So go ahead. Next time you’re in that OCHA meeting with a bunch of disaster relief EAWs, try bringing up the topic of disaster mitigation, and see how many eyes drop quickly and awkwardly to their Motorola Handsets before the enthusing takes off.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Miserable Bugger permalink
    April 8, 2011 7:38 am

    Perfect and depressingly spot on!

    See also this very funny blog post illuminating us on the ground-breaking finding that “DRR types are now, and always have been, a bunch of miserable buggers”


  1. Meanwhile… « WanderLust

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