The Eco-Justice Collaborative, a regional Quaker initiative, is concluding a series of disaster preparedness programs on October 13th, the International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDD). Inaugurated in 1989 to promote a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction, the IDDD celebrates the efforts made by communities to raise awareness about the importance of reining in risks, reducing fatalities and limiting economic losses. The 2019 Theme focuses on reducing disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services.
“Many of the disasters we are seeing locally happen suddenly – severe storms, flooding, loss of electricity, high winds and tornadoes,” observed Janet Zeis, of the Chester County Department of Emergency Services, one of the speakers on the program. “Houses of worship are where many turn for help. They have the buildings, the people and an orientation toward service to help people cope with the practical and emotional side of a disaster.”
Globally, sudden extreme weather disasters exacerbated by climate change displace millions of people every year and create high economic costs. A report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre suggests that seven million people were displaced by extreme weather disasters in the first half of 2019 alone. There has been a dramatic rise of 151% in direct economic losses from climate-related disasters, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. In the period 1998-2017, disaster-hit countries reported direct economic losses of US$2,908 billion of which climate-related disasters accounted for US$2,245 billion or 77% of the total. In terms of occurrences, climate-related disasters also dominate the picture, accounting for 91% of all 7,255 major recorded events between 1998 and 2017. Floods, 43.4%, and storms, 28.2%, are the two most frequently occurring disasters. The greatest economic losses have been experienced in the United States US$ 944.8 billion and in China, US$492.2 billion.
The Eco-Justice Collaborative educational series “Local Solutions to Mitigate Extreme Weather” included programs on understanding what is already in place to help in a local disaster, how to create a congregational or school preparedness plan, spiritual and emotional care, and how to plan ahead to make recovery and resilience more efficient. The series was held in West Chester and Philadelphia and attended by members of a variety of Friends Meetings, other congregations, Friends schools, and local residents.
“We want to draw attention to the theme of critical infrastructure since we all rely on it daily, and even more so in cases of disaster. We are asking our county and state leaders to aggressively look at the best way to mitigate the vulnerabilities of our local electrical supply, the benefits and implementation of alternatives such as solar based micro grids, renewable back-up systems and how to ensure transportation systems remain operational during extreme events to allow emergency response, move people to safety, and transport essential goods. That may mean electric vehicles,” observed Pat Finley of the Eco-Justice Collaborative.
The increased frequency of extreme events associated with climate change means that communities are experiencing increased interruption in the systems supporting their lighting, heating, cooling, and transportation needs, as seen most recently in Texas and the Bahamas.
The program focuses on local risks and presented the results of the PENNDOT Extreme Weather Vulnerability Study. The report states that extreme weather events pose significant and growing risks to the safety, reliability, effectiveness, and sustainability of transportation infrastructure. Pennsylvania, according to the study, has “experienced severe precipitation events that have recently damaged roads, bridges, and rail systems. Since 2006, over 140 million dollars of emergency funds have been obligated on the federal aid system in Pennsylvania. In recent years, tropical storms and hurricanes including Irene, Lee, and Sandy have resulted in flooding that has washed out roadways, damaged bridge abutments, and caused significant traffic and safety impacts.” Heavy rains and flooding affect regional railways and SEPTA. In October 2016 over seven inches of rainfall in northern Pennsylvania damaged several bridges and roadways.
While PENNDOT conducts studies to analyze and develop future bridge and culvert design to be able to manage 100 and 500 year storm events to keep everyone safe, local houses of worship or looking at their own buildings to be sure they will be in a position to help the community.
Strengthening infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events isn’t the only way of addressing disasters, according to the program organizers.
Central Baptist Church in Wayne, which is a kick off site for the Chester County Clean Energy Tour on October 19th is a case in point is what can be done. According to Central Baptist member Chuck Marshall, the church set and achieved the goal of reducing church related emissions to zero. It took them 7 years in two phases. “First we analyzed emissions related to our own infrastructure,” observes Marshall. “By combining the replacement of inefficient lighting and an old heating system with the installation of 48 solar panels, we were very close to meeting our goal.” The purchase of offsets (in the form of wind renewable energy credits) gets them to zero emissions. But, the church didn’t stop there. Home energy audit “parties” were held at attendee’s homes after worship to show how each household could improve their own energy efficiency. And they looked at emissions related to getting to and from church. “By setting annual goals, we were able to reduce emissions over time in a painless way. We continue this program and we share our story with other congregations. It can be done,” affirmed Chuck Marshall.
Participants also heard from Valley Friends Meeting in Dayton, VA. Their clean energy ministry began in 2014, when a they wrote a minute on climate change (which is available on their website (https://valleyfriends.org/testimonies/minute-on-climate-change/). It reads in part:
“Moreover, because climate change disproportionately affects the world’s most impoverished peoples and has contributed to international conflicts and genocide, our commitments to peace and justice, as well as our commitment to care for the Earth, compel us to restorative action.” They started with their old oil furnace, which they replaced with a new and a more efficient heat pump. They funded this project through contributions from the community. Next they committed to transition to powering the heat pump with solar energy. They now have a Power Purchase Agreement and solar panels on their roof.
Quaker social worker, Nora Wright addressed the spiritual and emotional impacts of disasters on individuals and communities. She highlighted the critical importance of having a spiritual care plan and not just an infrastructure plan.
“The involvement of local and faith-based organizations is increasingly important because state and federal assistance will be harder to get as the number of natural disasters rises in the coming years. If a faith community or a house of worship wants to be involved in any phase of a disaster, they will want to get training to be truly prepared. For those interested in learning how to get involved in disaster prevention and preparedness in your community, contact the Southeastern Pennsylvania Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (SEPA VOAD), the Red Cross or your local Emergency Manager,” urged Janet Zeis.
International Disaster Day: https://www.un.org/en/events/disasterreductionday/index.shtml