human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Creating more resilient communities

Floods in May 2014 had been an important trigger to show how vulnerable and helpless we are when nature decides to show its strength and power. At least this is how we perceived it in Caritas Serbia at that time. Natural disasters remind the need to increase awareness and change attitude of people towards the environment they live in. Climate change and careless human behaviour is leading to even more serious, dangerous and frequent natural disasters, causing many lives loss every year. Awareness raising is therefore set as a priority in all international and national conventions, regulations, declarations and laws concerning disaster risk reduction. A well-prepared population can better react and be deployed as a useful resource to support state institutions and civil protection in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Caritas Serbia provides humanitarian assistance to population affected by floods and landslides. During different assessments it has become clear that most citizens are not aware about the environmental risks of the places they live in. In 2015, Caritas Serbia developed a DRR programme to raise awareness about natural disasters and environmental protection, with an emphasis on the preparation and prevention phase. Since then, Caritas Serbia has successfully contributed to making local communities more resilient to the consequences of natural disasters by preparing the inhabitants for when disaster strikes.

Children up to 10 years old are for sure one of the most vulnerable categories. Nevertheless, they are also fast learners, and that is why since 2015 Caritas Serbia has been investing in a DRR programme specifically tailored for primary schools. Since that moment, Caritas has implemented over 100 workshops in more than 60 primary schools all over the country. Posters, picture books and colouring books have been distributed to thousands of classes and videos will be shown on national televisions starting this October 2018.

In the project they talk about fires, floods, earthquakes and storms. They had interesting sessions in classrooms but, moreover, they’ve realized outdoor activities and simulations, planted trees and cleaned river banks. Teachers have also been trained and they can now use Caritas educational materials with their new students and all this was done with the added value granted by the partnership with local units of fire fighters.

When talking about adults, Caritas Serbia has organized awareness raising actions and trainings tailored to specific categories. They involved volunteers, families and communities coming from rural areas as well as people with disabilities, for whom they are now developing a handbook with specific challenges and recommended actions.

Together with that, over 30 round tables have been organized in cities and municipalities in Serbia so far.

In parallel, reconstruction and rehabilitation after a disaster need to be in line with the “Building Back Better” standards to ensure sustainability. With this vision in mind, Caritas Serbia and the affected communities have planted windshield belts out of trees, cleaned canals, removed illegal landfills. Volunteers have been a precious and unique resource on this. Now, more than two years later, the windshield belts have not been cut, the illegal landfills that have been removed are still meadows on which children play, the canals are still being maintained by local people.

Awareness raising about prevention, preparation and reaction to natural disasters, requires continuity. It is necessary to involve all relevant institutions and civil society organizations as well as to work together and share resources. Caritas Serbia has received public praise for its role in disaster risk reduction and the continuing cooperation with government institutions confirms the appreciation and usefulness of the ideas and activities that are implemented in order to reduce the risk of natural disasters. The success of the Caritas Disaster Risk Reduction project is reflected in the interest shown by neighbouring countries in the materials and actions proposed by Caritas Serbia and we look forward to see their work spread around the region.