Last year there were 317 natural disasters worldwide, affecting 107 million people across 94 countries.
The sheer scale of global disasters can be overwhelming to comprehend, yet every crisis creates local heroes: the first aiders who treat the injured, volunteers who get families to safety and run evacuation centres, and ambulance crews who save lives. In fact, these local people save far more lives after disasters than outsiders.
The World Disasters Report 2015 examines the complex and challenging relationship between local and international humanitarian organisations responding to crises. The report calls for greater recognition of local organisations, more equal partnerships and mutual accountability.
The report is an annual, independent study by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Each year it presents the latest thinking on disaster management, as well as global disaster statistics.
Download the complete World Disasters Report 2015.
Disasters in 2014: the findings
(Figures do not include conflict-related disasters.)
Why are local humanitarian organisations so important?
Local humanitarian organisations are the first to respond in a crisis. They have the trust of their communities, the local knowledge and the networks to be more effective than international aid organisations.
Local people made all the difference in this year's worst crises:
- Local volunteers trained in first aid saved far more lives after Nepal's earthquake than international rescue teams.
- The Ebola epidemic was brought under control in West Africa largely by local women and men, who volunteered to bury bodies safely and educate their communities, breaking the cycle of transmission.
- Fewer than a dozen people died in Cyclone Pam, mainly due to local community leaders who evacuated people to safety.
- Local volunteers have been literally on the frontlines in Syria's long-running conflict: driving ambulances, providing first aid and setting up emergency shelters.
What needs to change?
It's time to change the current humanitarian system. There needs to be more investment in local humanitarian agencies so they have the skills, equipment, systems and networks to respond when disasters strike. International aid efforts should complement these agencies when called upon, rather than replace them.
We need a better balance between local and international. It's unfair to expect that all local agencies can manage large crisis responses on their own. The international community can assist them - as needed - to provide surge support, help scale up programs, manage and acquit funds, build up resources and plan for the future.
We want to prioritise resilience to disasters, rather than response to disasters. Local humanitarian agencies are best placed: they can predict risks and help their communities find practical ways to reduce the dangers. Red Cross data shows that for every dollar spent on reducing risks and preparing for disasters, nearly $18 is saved in overall costs.
Disaster law is vital. Australia should support governments in our region to have effective laws in place to clearly define roles and responsibilities in a disaster; respect the role of national authorities; ensure that relief supplies reach those in need; coordinate relief efforts from humanitarian agencies and the private sector; and ensure international aid reflects the needs on the ground.
We stand for local heroes
We're proud that so many local heroes are part of Red Cross, and we're honoured to share some of their stories:
The good neighbour
Sammeer Bajracharya was out in the streets before the dust settled from the Nepal earthquake, helping his neighbours evacuate to safety.
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"As soon as the earthquake started, I knew what was happening," says Sammeer Bajracharya. "I made sure my family was okay, then as soon as the shaking stopped I went out to direct people to safer places."
The 22-year-old engineering graduate was part of the Red Cross team sent out in the early hours after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake collapsed buildings across Nepal. His role was to help the authorities with search and rescue, and provide first aid to the thousands injured.
With roads blocked to trucks and earthmovers, rescuers resorted to digging people out with their bare hands. "There was a rescuer who had cut his finger really badly so we gave him treatment," Sammeer explains.
"In the same area there was a woman who was trapped in the rubble. One of her legs had been crushed by the falling building. We worked with the rescue teams and did our best to give her first aid, but unfortunately we couldn't save her."
Sammeer worked well into the night, helping people in his own neighbourhood.
"We formed a team to make sure everyone sleeping outside was safe. We walked around the area where people were staying to make sure it was secure and provide reassurance to those who were scared and helped keep people calm.
"There were so many aftershocks. I don't think any of our team slept that night."
From the beginning, Nepal Red Cross has been at the forefront of the response, deploying nearly 8,000 volunteers from 50 district chapters across the country so far. Many had completed training in first aid and search and rescue, in anticipation of a major earthquake in the capital.
Now, their skills and commitment are being put to the test. And, like Sammeer, they are rising to the challenge.
"I have become more and more involved and I love helping people," he says. "I'll keep volunteering for as long as I can, providing first aid and support to people who cannot go back to their homes."
Offering hope of recovery
Jestina Boyle left her job in Sierra Leone to talk and sing with Ebola patients at a treatment centre, to offer them hope of recovery.
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Meet Jestina Boyle. She's a lifeline. A comfort at someone's loneliest and darkest moment. A connection between families separated by a vicious virus.
Jestina volunteered at the Red Cross Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone. She provided 'psychosocial assistance' - a combination of counselling, encouragement, shared grief and education. It's a role as critical to survival as any nurse or doctor.
"Often when patients are admitted to the centre with a positive diagnosis, many want to give up. But I don't let them," Jestina says. "I tell them to eat, to drink to walk around, to do something. I give them hope."
Many of the centre's patients had already experienced terrible loss: some were the only surviving members of their family, infected while caring for their loves ones; others had unwittingly infected their spouses or children. Needless to say, feelings of guilt are enormous and patients can slide into depression.
There is no cure for Ebola, but the disease can be survived with supportive care. In these circumstances a patient's outlook can make all the difference.
"Treatment is only part of survival," Jestina says. "It makes the body strong but with a weak mind, the person won't survive. Now, when I make the mind strong, the body becomes stronger and people survive."
The fear and stigma surrounding Ebola has strained the ties that normally bind families. Part of Jestina's role was to maintain a connection between patients and their remaining loved ones.
"I get a number from the patient to call, so I can facilitate a conversation with those back home. Although the patients can't hold the phone because of contamination, I speak to the caller and speak over the fence to the patient. That way we keep the patient laughing and joking. The distance between the patient and their home is smaller."
Those who survived the disease had a 'happy shower' - a final rinse in chlorinated water - before leaving the restricted area of the treatment centre. While Jestina shared in the survivors' joy at that moment, she was also preparing the community for their return. "We explain to the community that the person no longer has Ebola, they are not dangerous."
Jestina's work was not without personal cost. "I have had to move three times in Kenema," she says. "Once, when my landlord found out that I worked at the centre, he told me to leave that day. I tried to explain that I do not handle the patients but he would not listen."
She found ways to cope with the human suffering she saw each day. "I sing to keep myself happy. It's what I have to do when I see so many people dying. I see that my work has helped people; more are walking out of this centre Ebola-free."
This special and immensely difficult volunteer role reflected Jestina's heart, history and personality. "I used to work with child soldiers, people no one wanted to work with. I'm a nurse by profession and I care for people. That includes Ebola patients."
Rebuilding shattered homes
Enia formed a working group with her neighbours the morning after Cyclone Pam and together they rebuilt five homes in a week.
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Enia and her family lost their home when Cyclone Pam battered Vanuatu earlier this year. Here is her story, in her words.
On Friday at 7pm the wind started to blow. By 9pm it became very, very strong. Then the house started to fall apart around us and we fled to the evacuation centre, a safer place.
I knew my house wasn't strong enough. It just had corrugated iron walls and a thatched roof.
I left the house with all that I could carry and my four children. Everything else I left behind.
All through the night the wind became stronger and we were not able to sleep. A tree fell on the roof of the evacuation centre and my children were very frightened.
When I came back the next day I found bits of my house scattered everywhere. I felt sad, everything was ruined. On Sunday I started to clean up, we rebuilt the kitchen, and now we have some shelter but we are sleeping with the neighbours together with three other families.
We plan to rebuild. Our community is strong and we have formed a working group, we are helping to rebuild each other's houses. We have already rebuilt five houses. I get strength from my community.
We have enough water, but food will be a problem, we are eating the fruit that fell on the ground, it will last another two weeks. Our garden has been destroyed so we will have to buy food. Luckily my husband has a job, so we will see what we can do.
We are managing. The kids are not at school and I have no idea when it will re-open. There are still people living in the school, it was used as an evacuation centre.