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When exceptional becomes normal

Floods in Central America Floods in Central America

Month 1 blog of the 365 disasters campaign. A personal view of the way the press and authorities ignore those "everyday" disasters that happen every day across the world.  By Jesús Cordero, GNDR Communications Coordinator.

Remember the time you were wading knee high through the murky water across the village. Passing by the dead mule with its eyes still open. Looking at that car up against a tree now camouflaged in mud, as if wanting to climb it. The worst of the heavy rains passed. The worst for the community yet to come. Without a dry place to sleep, little drinking water or food, more than 300 souls crowded the community centre the size of a basketball court.

There is hardly anything that anybody could do but wait until the waters receded, usually in two weeks' time. Sometimes it took up to a month. The smell hit your nose even before you came in through the door. Human sweat, smoke from small cooking stoves, damp clothes, soiled babies and wet animals. You wondered how people hanged around, sitting down or standing and talking casually to each other as if this was the most normal situation. Then you remembered that for them it is. The villagers seeking refuge in that tight space have gone through floods and rebuilt their homes every year for the past 30 years.

Don Silvano has seen them all. He told you that TV crews and media coming from Tegucigalpa used to make a big fuss years ago, but when they come to film nowadays they almost seem disappointed to hear that nobody died. Journalists asking around "how come nobody drowned?" before going back to their desks to report that there was no disaster. But you know why nobody drowns any more. Many volunteers from the community and NGOs like yours have worked hard in the past few years in preparedness. A fancy name for building a community centre in the highest part of the village and setting off a very loud siren alarm that warns families that the river is about to flood.

You may not be from Honduras, or you may not have experienced floods like these. Instead, you may have seen the impacts of massive landslides or avalanches, or watched the scores of people seeking refuge across the border because of instability. But you know I am talking about everyday disasters and how they have become normal for so many. Just part of the life cycle, like the sun rising or the clouds coming and going. And you also know that these disasters do not have to be part of daily life. They can be prevented and their impacts can be reduced. If they happen, they need to be the exception, not the norm.

A few members of GNDR have started the #365disasters campaign to remind governments, donors, institutions and citizens worldwide that there is not a single day in the year when people do not die, suffer injuries or lose their homes and livelihoods for reasons that can be prevented. They have been tweeting a disaster a day from around the world and will continue to do so every day for an entire year. In fact, in just one month, the campaign has reported on Twitter two or more disasters every day. Also, the #365disasters campaign has published a world map with links to photos of these disasters to show they happen everywhere. Floods, tornadoes, instability, epidemics, storms, volcanoes, landslides, storms, all reported in just one month. After a year, the 365 examples of all sorts of disasters happening globally will become substantial evidence to call for change.

Communities can do much to help themselves, but up to a point. If governments and agencies are not constantly reminded about small scale disasters, they will not pay attention to them. Because news agencies have made it normal that only exceptionally big disasters are reported. However, the press should not dictate who is worthy of help and compassion. Whilst the media prioritise the large scale disasters, when Frontline asked communities to prioritise the threats they face, 90% of responses were the small scale recurrent hazards that do not make the headlines. And here is where you can help enormously, because you have the power to tell the world about the disasters that happen in your country every day.

Heavy rain, hurricanes, volcano eruptions, earthquakes: they will all happen again. Because they are part of nature. Disasters, however, are not. Their impact can be prevented. You can join the GNDR members leading this campaign to ensure that these small scale disasters are not ignored, that they are included in national and international databases, and addressed in policies and projects. Only then the next time a community is flooded, no lives will be lost fewer houses will be damaged, and basic infrastructure will not be ruined. You can help the members of GNDR who have started this campaign to reverse the situation.

Let's make reporting about people suffering the impacts of any type of disaster, no matter how big or small, become the norm, not the exception. And what becomes the exception, instead, is people having to go through this every day of the year.To participate in this campaign, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or post the details of disasters in your country on Twitter using the hashtag #365disasters.

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