All photos courtesy of Gloria Chan: 'With the migration of young men to cities, quake-affected villages have the most vulnerable people left: women, children and older people.'

Preparing for Disaster

Natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region often deliver a double whammy: it is the most disaster-prone region in the world, and  poverty and resource scarcity in a number of countries makes people particularly vulnerable to the havoc wreaked by events such as April 2015 Nepal Earthquake.

But preparing for disasters can limit the damage when the next quake or tsunami strikes, and the Collaborating Centre for Oxford University and CUHK for Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Relief (CCOUC) aims to build resilience in disaster-affected communities from the bottom up. Last month, CCOUC’s Professor Emily Chan and her colleagues travelled to some of the worst-hit quake regions in Nepal, to find out what local communities needed from humanitarian relief agencies – and what they can do to prepare for the next big quake.

‘We deliberately waited until after the acute phase of disaster relief was over, partially because we didn’t want to distract from the immediate relief effort, and partially because the real work begins once a major disaster is off newspaper front pages,’ said Professor Chan, who is also a member of the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford University. 

'These children's school was destroyed in the quake, but it is being rebuilt. In the meantime, they still attend makeshift classes for a short time each day.'

‘Many relief agencies have left at this point, having dealt with the many deaths that a major disaster creates. We instead concentrate on empowering communities who are affected by the disaster to build emergency health risk resilience.’

Carol Wong leads a community meeting.

The CCOUC team visited Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, as well as villages near the quake epicentre in the Lalitpur and Gorkha Districts. They met local people and organised training and community workshops on the design, monitoring and evaluation of post-disaster public health and medical interventions. 

The workshops was well-received by the nearly 60 local and international relief agency staff who attended.  Even though many of the participants were involved in providing humanitarian relief, several workshop participants had no previous access to relevant technical support channels, such as international relief standards and guidelines.

Emily Chan talks to the village headman, outside his now uninhabitable house.

 The CCOUC’s unique multidisciplinary public health team aims to gather evidence from such field trips to provide evidence-based practical guidelines for disaster preparedness, as well as future relief and response efforts. Building on their previous experience assessing disaster and humanitarian relief in China, the Centre also develops multi-national education and capacity building resources for humanitarian medicine. 

These resources include free online courses with global reach, on topics such as public health principles in disaster and medical humanitarian response.

86 year old Laxmi Devi Bhattacharya in the temporary structure that she and her 14-member family now call home.

CCOUC took advantage of the fact that many of the previous attendees for this course were based in Nepal, and they got in touch with them before their field trip to Nepal.

‘This was the chance for our students to actually go out and put their training into practice in the field, to get their hands dirty, and to learn from the challenges that they face’, Professor Chan said.


‘We will be back several times over the next 12 months, long after the international interest in the Nepal earthquake has gone. But we hope that the lessons that we learn about what works and what doesn’t will help inform good practice for disaster relief for years to come, in many other parts of the world.'