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disaster relief Tag

Six months have passed since the deadly earthquake and tsunami that devastated the coastal city of Palu on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. 4,340 people were killed and more than 200,000 were displaced from their homes. Our Indonesian staff and church partners lost friends and loved ones.

Thank you to everyone who supported our emergency appeal.

Your donations allowed our partners in Indonesia to provide necessities for people struggling through the crisis: food and clean water, milk for infants, sanitary supplies for women, shelters, mattresses, mosquito nets and cooking equipment for 86 families.

One of the many families displaced from their homes

Your gifts also helped our partners be able to provide health care and psychosocial support to people traumatised by destruction and loss. Using local church buildings, our partners ran training for Sunday school teachers to help them understand post-traumatic reactions and be better able to offer care for children.


Our staff and partners provided health checks for 123 people in an affected community

Our partners also provided handicraft activities for refugees who couldn’t return to their destroyed homes or jobs right away, giving them a small source of income and something else to focus on besides the destruction.


Resources used by Sunday school teachers to provide care to children after the disaster

Our local church partners also helped restore clean water and sanitation to affected communities in the remote Kulawi Regency, an area largely overlooked by the government response.


Our church partners (MBM and GPID) praying together before going into the field

The disaster response was church partnership in action, with churches from Bali and Sulawesi working together to help vulnerable people who’d lost everything – made possible by the support of people and churches in Australia and Indonesia.

Thank you so much for being part of this transformative partnership!


You can help vulnerable communities be disaster ready

We’ve launched an appeal to help our partners be better prepared to respond to disasters like Sulawesi. The key to saving lives in a disaster is preparedness, and we want to help vulnerable communities be disaster ready. Find out more.

Your donation will go a long way. Every $1 invested into disaster preparation saves up to $15 in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Donate now

Your gift can help vulnerable communities build resilience to disasters, equip and train disaster response staff and volunteers, prepare shelters and evacuation plans and increase the capacity of our partners to provide emergency support and pastoral care.

Kina Somare* is wanted throughout the Highlands of Papua New Guinea on numerous counts of violence. Leader of a well-known gang that frequently clashes with others in the region, his face is both known and feared. So when he walks into a peace workshop one still afternoon in October, amidst the rubble of Hela Province’s worst earthquake since 1922, everyone in the church stands very still. 

Somare walks out a changed man. He speaks with local police. He wants to become an ambassador for peace personally and to influence other young people to bring healing to the community. His transformation is staggering.

“The Bishop of the United Church in PNG (UCPNG), who was taking part that day, found Somare’s presence particularly unnerving,” says UCPNG Disaster Office Project Manager Stella Vika. 

“He’d been held up by this man at knife point not so long ago. They met, reconciled and Somare gave his life to Christ. Our partners up in Hela Province are really blown away by this story. To have someone of such notoriety undergo such a change is incredibly encouraging.

UCPNG leaders at the Mendi Counselling and Peacebuilding workshop

The United Church of Papua New Guinea, in partnership with UnitingWorld, has been running peace workshops and counselling for people impacted by the recent earthquake. Like other aid agencies, UnitingWorld was on hand with sanitation kits and practical items, but the long-term work of helping people recover emotionally and psychologically is incredibly important.

“Disasters frequently damage infrastructure and livelihoods but they can also increase vulnerability and conflict,” says David Brice, Disaster Relief Coordinator with UnitingWorld.

“Giving people access to counselling and the tools to navigate conflict has a significant impact on how quickly these communities can heal and recover.”

It’s one of the unique ways your donations go further with UnitingWorld. Your support doesn’t just address the practical problems of clean water and repaired roofing – it builds people’s resilience to tackle issues that accelerate after disaster. And men like Somare are changed in the process. Given the skills not just to rebuild their homes but their lives, they embrace the opportunity to bring change. 

HELP US BE DISASTER READY.

Every dollar donated before disaster strikes doesn’t just save countless lives – it saves significant amounts of money. Every $1 invested into building better homes, preparing evacuation plans and protecting communities can save as much as $15 in the aftermath of a tragedy. Please, if you’re able, add to our disaster-ready fund.

Click here to donate now.

*Name changed to protect identity

At 3:44am on 26 February 2018, Papua New Guinea experienced a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, with its epicentre in the Southern Highlands.  The initial quake and landslips resulted in 160 deaths and many more injuries.  In the days and weeks that followed, severe aftershocks and landslides caused many more deaths. 

The quake caused widespread destruction of property and infrastructure; including roads, houses, rupturing of tanks and pollution of fresh water from underground oil and gas leaking into streams from below. The human cost was immeasurable. Along with the loss of housing, shelter, water and food supplies, people were deeply shaken emotionally.  Aftershocks left people afraid to sleep in what was left of their homes and communities. Already facing poverty and lack of resources, in the aftermath of the massive earthquake social fragmentation and tensions quickly reached boiling point.

Even today, the Papua New Guinea highlands are very remote. After a plane flight from Port Moresby to Mount Hagen, it took nearly three hours by four-wheel drive on heavily damaged roads tracking through rainforests, mountains and villages to reach the township of Mendi.  On arriving there I was given a tour of the town.  It is a beautiful place with lush, tropical growth, surrounded by banana plantations and you can see mountain tops hidden in mist.  Even so, signs of the earthquake were clear. 

Dark stripes on mountainsides showed where the earth had slipped. Houses were sitting squat and bent on the ground where their piers had collapsed and the local hospital still had walls missing.  There were signs of human-caused damage as well.  I was shown where the police station and courthouse had been razed by arson and where a passenger plane was destroyed; all this during riots in the town that had followed the earthquake.

Mendi was a fitting venue for UnitingWorld to organise joint training courses for pastors from the Highland provinces, where the church is at the forefront of social integration and care.  Following the earthquake, churches worked alongside government and not-for-profit agencies to help cater for basic needs and continue to be the prime provider of psychosocial support and mediation in conflicts.

The earthquake struck while I was working with UnitingWorld supporting our partners in Tonga following Cyclone Gita.  For some time, access was too restricted, and priority was given to basic human and social needs across Papua New Guinea.  It took months of logistical challenges (including access, funding and people involved) to bring everything together for the workshop in September. This turned out to be good timing, as any earlier it would have been difficult for primary pastoral carers and leaders to get away from the needs of their people.

 

 

The workshop was attended by over 25 participants, with the week divided into two segments: disaster recovery and trauma counselling, followed by sessions on peacebuilding.

The Disaster Recovery and Trauma Counselling was facilitated by myself and Lua Alu, a counsellor who works throughout Papua New Guinea and specialises in counselling on stress, conflict and sexual violence.  I was able to bring a framework to the workshop with input on disaster dynamics, trauma, critical incidents and debriefing.

The second part of the week focused on peacebuilding and was led by the United Church in Papua New Guinea (UCPNG) team, an extraordinarily gifted group of people with extensive first-hand experience in negotiating warring groups to lay down their weapons, find forgiveness and extend peace.

These two elements melded seamlessly, with the first giving an understanding of post-traumatic reactions, symptoms and care, and the second giving a platform on practical ways to move forward in reconciliation. 

The workshops were a time of great refreshment for all involved.  They provided an opportunity for pastors to come away from situations of ongoing stress in the provision of pastoral care and share with brothers and sisters in Christ; being equipped and affirmed, ready to return to the difficult ongoing work of supporting their people.

I came away blessed by the kindness, hospitality and warmth shown by our local partners to a stranger from Australia.  I learned a great deal as I taught and shared with these dedicated people.  As I prepared to leave, many urged us to thank the people of UnitingWorld and the Uniting Church in Australia for this time, and to ask the church to remember them, recognising that – even now – they continue to face enormous challenges in caring for communities still fragile from the impact of the earthquake.

 

Rev. Dr. Stephen Robinson
National Disaster Recovery Officer
Uniting Church in Australia

 

You can support the work of UnitingWorld and our local partners, helping communities be better prepared for disasters, saving lives and providing critical care in the aftermath. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation today.

 

UnitingWorld acknowledges the support of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

On 28 September, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck the Donggala District in Central Sulawesi, triggering a tsunami that has devastated coastal areas including Palu city.

At least 1,500 people have been confirmed dead and 70,000 people have been displaced from their homes. The death toll climbs daily.

The Indonesian Government and United Nations estimate at least 190,000 people now require urgent humanitarian assistance, and that the lives of more than 1.5 million people have been affected.

Donate now

 

UnitingWorld launches appeal

UnitingWorld launched an appeal this week to support local churches in Sulawesi who are responding to the crisis with emergency shelters, food, water, clothing and fuel.

Our partner organisation, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) has been coordinating the emergency response activities of their member churches in Sulawesi: the Indonesia Protestant Church in Donggala (Gereja Protestan Indonesia di Donggala – GPID) and the Protestant Church in Central Sulawesi (Gereja Kristen Sulawesi Tengah, GKST).

Initial funds raised by the Tsunami Crisis Appeal have now been sent to support relief work coordinated by PGI. More funds are urgently needed.

 

Local churches act quickly

Immediately after the crisis, churches in non-affected areas around Donggala began collecting donations and emergency supplies to take to Palu and coastal areas that were hit. Travel was near impossible for days because roads were destroyed by the earthquake.

The GKST quickly opened an emergency shelter in one of their high school buildings near Palu. Relief efforts are being coordinated by three local ministers. They report that the people being served at the centre have been so traumatised by aftershocks that they prefer to sleep outside the buildings.

Many GKST and GPID buildings have now become emergency centres being used by church leaders and volunteers. They are asking for supplies and medical aid. The PGI is preparing to send a health team from Jakarta to support the emergency centres.

UnitingWorld partner church, the Evangelical Christian Church in Timor (GMIT) also has a presence in Palu through their development organisation, Tanaoba Lais Manekat (TLM), which has been running a large-scale microfinance project there for many years.

Up to 4,000 of their clients have now lost their homes and many gains made by the project have been lost. TLM staff in Palu have nonetheless been at the forefront of the disaster response work in their community.

(Below photos via TLM)

TLM staff and volunteers resting in a makeshift shelter

Road damage has severely restricted relief efforts

70,000 people have been made homeless by the earthquake and tsunami

 

More aid needed

We are continuing to work with our partners on rapid needs assessments and determining how to best support them in the short and long term. They have indicated the initial needs they are aiming to address are food, water, clothes, fuel for transport and cooking; tents for refugees and help with burials.

Your donation will support local churches to help and serve their communities.

Click here to donate now.

 


 

Pray for Sulawesi

Please join us in prayer

For our courageous church partners serving the people of Palu and Donggala;

For the people still missing and those trying to reach them;

For those bringing urgent relief supplies to those suffering;

For those grieving the loss of loved ones;

And for those who’ve lost everything, including their homes.

 


All photos via Gratia Djami Jusuf, Tanaoba Lais Manekat.

In the wake of the devastation of Super Typhoon Mangkhut, Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer has called on UCA members to pray for the people of the Philippines and our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).

Dr Palmer has written the below prayer in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Philippines.

 


God of mercy and comfort,

We pray for the people of the Philippines, whose lives, homes, food and water supplies and sources of income have been devastated by the impacts of Typhoon Mangkhut.

We pray for comfort for all those who are grieving, for those who have lost families and friends and whose communities have been severely impacted.

We pray for strength and support for all those responding to this disaster.

We pray for our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

Thank you for their faithful and compassionate embodiment of your Gospel as they respond to the needs of those affected by the Typhoon.

May they know your sustaining love and our solidarity with them as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Through Christ we pray,

Amen.


 

UCCP has asked for support from their international partners. Your donation will make a huge difference, helping provide essential food and relief supplies to struggling families, many who’ve lost everything in the landslides.

Support our partners as they respond to this crisis.
Donate now

Relief goods ready for distribution to 300 families in Loacan, Philippines. UCCP staff and volunteers are working urgently to get supplies to struggling families. (Photo credit: Mishell Valdez)

Widespread flooding across India’s southern state of Kerala has left up to 400 people dead and close to a million displaced.

Up to 100,000 buildings were destroyed and millions of hectares of crops were washed away in the worst floods to hit the region in more than a decade.

The rains have diminished over the past week, but a huge clean-up operation lies ahead as the floodwaters recede.

Our partners, the Church of South India (CSI) have been assisting people throughout the emergency, distributing relief kits and providing emergency shelter for thousands of people. In the early days of the crisis, the Kerala Diocese of CSI generously opened their schools, churches and parish halls to become flood relief centres.

CSI Moderator, Most Rev. Thomas K. Oommen praised the “fighting spirit” of the people of Kerala and their willingness to help one another through the disaster.

“The active involvement of the people, especially the fisherfolk from the coastal areas of Kerala, [government] rescue operations, and the support of the churches and other religious organisations for the relief work are helping millions of people in this time of grave disaster,” said Rev Oommen.

Amid the crisis, inspiring stories have emerged.

Over the past fortnight, hundreds of fishermen from Kerala and surrounding districts used their boats to rescue thousands of people from the rising floodwaters. They are now being celebrated as national heroes.

Youth have been using social media to share the locations of stranded people and to pass on details of landslides and places where supplies were urgently needed.

UnitingWorld has been in regular contact with our partners in CSI and they have asked for continued prayer.

“On behalf of the Church of South India, we express our deepest sincere thanks for your continued prayers of solidarity, for all those who suffered loss of life and livelihoods in the floods at the State of Kerala and in the district of Kodagu.  Although our words often failed to comfort and console them, we together with all our trusted partners like you, do our best to provide the help for those who are in need,” said Rev Dr Rathnakara Sadananda, General Secretary of CSI.

“Continue to pray for God’s unfailing compassion upon the flood victims and those who are affected by the land slides.  Your prayers of solidarity will be of great strength and consolation to those who are passing through the most difficult time.”

UnitingWorld has sent funds to support our partners as they respond to these devastating floods.

You can support our important partnership with the Church in India by donating here.

Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer has called all UCA members to pray for the people of Kerala and our partner church, the Church of South India. Click here to read Deidre’s prayer.

On 26 February a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the highlands region of Papua New Guinea, decimating the area. Tragically more than 150 people have been killed, and many others lost everything they have.

UnitingWorld responded as soon as possible, working with our partners, the United Church Papua New Guinea (UCPNG), to help them provide thorough assessments of earthquake affected areas. All initial assessments have been completed, resulting in the identification of 12 communities in the region most affected and in need after the initial distributions.

We’ve been in constant contact with UCPNG to help coordinate the response, however there have been significant delays in distributing support to more regional areas as quickly as is needed. This has been an issue across the province, the remoteness of affected areas, and the recent intensification of civil unrest has restricted access for many relief agencies.

In response to this a joint Church response plan has been developed through the collaboration of UCPNG with other Churches in PNG, supported by UnitingWorld and other Australian NGOs. We are now in the process of leveraging significant government funding for an initiative designed to best meet the needs of the communities affected. They include:

Phase 1 Emergency (The next 1-4 months): distribution of vital supplies including water containers, hygiene, sanitation and shelter kits, addressing protection, conflict resolution and psychosocial support.

Phase 2 Early Recovery (4-8 months): semi-permanent reconstruction (houses, latrines, schools, infrastructure) protection, conflict resolution and ongoing psychosocial support.

Phase 3 Recovery (8-12 months): permanent reconstruction (houses, latrines schools, infrastructure), protection, conflict resolution and psychosocial support.

UCPNG are committed to providing support to these communities, and have already helped agencies to distribute emergency supplies to many of the communities most in need through the information gained from the assessment. We understand that the need is great and are working closely with UCPNG to help speed up processes, with the procurement and logistics planning for the first phase now underway.

Our partners have been directly affected by this disaster. They are not only working to access to the communities most affected by this tragedy, they ARE part of these communities.

To make a donation to the relief efforts please visit: https://www.unitingworld.org.au/pngearthquake

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) state the most efficient and cost-effective way of helping those affected by this disaster is with your donation. We ask you to please refrain from sending physical items. For more information please click here

Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson
National Disaster Recovery Officer
Uniting Church in Australia Assembly

As the plane lifted off from the Kingdom of Tonga, I had a familiar twinge of the heart as the island left my line of sight. While I was returning to the comfort of my own home with reliable power, phone and internet, and clean water, there are so many people in Tonga that won’t have access to these things for some time.

On Monday 12 February, Tropical Cyclone Gita devastated the islands of Tonga, with winds of 230km/h whipping the Southern Coast of the main island of Tongatapu. Locals had taken warnings seriously and prepared as well as they could, but lightly built houses were no match for the monster storm. The fact that it struck at night probably saved scores of lives, as people were bunkered indoors and avoided injury from flying roofing iron and falling trees. The negative is in the lasting memory of families who huddled together through the terror of a sleepless night of pitch darkness and screaming wind, hoping and praying their place of shelter would hold together.

With the dawn’s light, people ventured out to assess the damage and found this particularly confronting. Many houses lost all or part of their roofing, torn metal and splintered wood, thousands of trees felled and palm fronds scattered. Rain continued to inundate many houses that had escaped the worst of wind damage.

Power poles leaned precariously or snapped off completely, and power lines lay across muddy roads. In the centre of the main city of Nuku’ Alofa, the walls of Parliament House were blown out and the roof crumpled to the ground, a state of emergency was declared which included curfews to keep people from the CBD as many shops were emptied of ruined goods.

There are no cyclone shelters in Tonga so while most people remained in their homes during the storm, the most solid gathering places are in the church buildings that play a prominent role in Tongan community life. The people’s faith in their church communities means there is a place to come together and share their experiences of loss and hope.

Red Cross, Caritas and other groups are doing important work in delivering supplies to the most affected – food, water, and temporary shelter, but it is the churches that are at the forefront of bringing the community-building psycho-social support which will restore hope.

I flew into Tonga two weeks after TC Gita with Rev. Nau Ahosivi. Nau is a Tongan-born minister in placement at Concord Uniting Church. It had been our second trip together; the first – in 2015 – also had Rev. Alimoni Taumoepeau. This first trip was an initiative of UnitingWorld, at the request of our church partner, the Free Wesleyan Church Tonga, to train a network of chaplains to support people in the event of disaster or crisis.  From this first training course, which included a ‘train the trainer’ component, the Tongan Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network (TDRCN) was born.

The training course is an ‘islander’ variation on that used in NSW/ACT and South Australia. It has also been used in supporting the churches in Fiji and Tuvalu. It covers a range of subjects including: the nature of disaster, how it affects communities and people, how people react and are affected by critical incidents and trauma, calming and communication techniques, vicarious traumatisation (how the carer can be affected by the work) and self-care.

After TC Gita hit, the Free Wesleyan church deployed the chaplains we had trained in 2015. Valuable work done by Michael Constable of UnitingWorld had assisted them in pre-disaster preparedness, mapping the areas of need and making assessments. Chaplains were able to respond to people who needed them most, but this was not easy for them as conditions were far from ideal. The weather this time of year is hot and steamy. The cyclonic winds had dropped to dead calm and the heat and humidity from the water brought with it discomfort and the threat of mosquitoes bearing Dengue Fever and the Zika Virus. The chaplains spoke of how shocked they were by the damage to both the natural environment and the villages they visited, of talking to people as they sat under plastic tarpaulins or in the tents in which they now live. The chaplains themselves have stresses in their lives, many having endured the cyclone and having their own homes flooded, before leaving to care for others.

Our first afternoon with the group involved debriefing these chaplains, allowing them to share their experiences and process them together. The next two days were spent on the training which melded their understanding with the context of their experience.

The church had requested identification vests for the chaplains which allowed them to (as with other aid workers) show who they are and what they are doing. I was able to work with a local Sydney manufacturer who put in extra hours and made these from white cotton (allowing for tropical heat) at less than cost price, donating the cost of their labour to support the effort. The chaplains are out again, working in teams, supporting local ministers as they visit and listen to cyclone-affected people.

My work

I have been working in the area of emergency ministry and disaster recovery for some time now.  Ordained in 1993 and becoming a Rural Fire Service Member and chaplain in 1996, I have worked in in the Welfare area of the state response for many years. In 2007 I helped to establish the NSW Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network which I continue to oversee (this is a ministry of the UCA NSW/ACT Synod). In my role as National Disaster Recovery Officer, I support the development of disaster recovery preparedness and response from the church and its agencies. I work with the Synods in supporting the development of ecumenical disaster response chaplaincy, peer support (looking after ministers working in communities affected by crisis) and supporting disaster recovery long-supply placements with Presbyteries, assisting community recovery.

Sustained support

I am acutely aware that disasters come and go with the nightly news. A cyclone hits, a fire damages a community, an earthquake causes loss and damage, and then something else happens. We may be mindful for a time – but then a new crisis demands our attention. This is an understandable reality.  The problem is that, for the people involved, recovery may take years and their needs actually intensify over the first six months to a year – as their lack of resources and frustrations become more apparent. This is when they need sustained support. How can we best support the sustained effort?

Prayer is mightily important. I had some conversations with people of the church who spoke to me about how important it was to them that they were remembered and supported in prayer by the brothers and sisters in Christ from nations far away.

Giving is vital.  Often our first reaction is to gather goods, clothing and food to send. I believe this comes from a need to send something tangible to people. Unfortunately, this has its limitations: what is sent is not always needed. There is, at present, no food shortage in Tonga, while some crops were damaged, fishing continues and supplies from New Zealand and elsewhere continue to flow unabated. Donated goods may actually damage the local businesses and economy; for every item sent from Australia, a local Tongan business will lose a sale and locals may lose work. Containers cost money to send and fees at the wharf. They also take time to empty and sort. During my time in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam, they spoke of the wastage of time and effort in transporting and emptying the containers.

The greatest need at the moment is cash that can purchase new building materials through local suppliers, employ local workers and support a damaged economy.

Thank you to everyone who has so generously given to support our friends in Tonga as they recover from Cyclone Gita. Below is a letter we received from the President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, Rev. Finau P. ‘Ahi, expressing his heartfelt gratitude.  You can donate here to support the ongoing recovery efforts.

 

6 March 2018

Stuart McMillan
President of the Uniting Church in Australia

Dear Mr McMillan,

Apologies for the late response to your letter of love and prayers, but have only just had computer access due to power failures. Electricity has been on and off almost every day since cyclone Gita visited Tonga.

On behalf of the Methodist Church in Tonga (a.k.a. Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga), I thank you for the expression of your love, prayers and donation of gifts for the rebuilding of the Church and its people life on behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia. Your expressions of love, prayers and partnership with us in this time of bringing life to normal mean so much as you remind us that we do not battle alone. We have partners and supporters like you who are holding the ropes for us and thereby having a direct share in our Church ministry. You are graciously willing to share with us in this practical way and we are already feeling the benefit that your love, prayers and gifts are bringing to our life.

Please continue to pray for us in this time. No doubt we will have many battles ahead in trying to restore Church people emotions and faith that have been lost in this devastating cyclone. We believe as you pray for us we will be able to stand strong in the power of His Might to resist the enemy of doubts and worries and to encourage people to enter into the victory that is ours in Christ. “ Fear not, for I am with you, says the Lord”. My Wife Loukinikini and the family join me in thanking you that you still remember us.

With love and prayers,
Rev. Finau P. ‘Ahio
President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

See original letter here

The first I knew of 16 million people inundated by floodwater were the photos from a friend on Facebook.

Outstretched hands, bare shoulders, muddy torrents: they were the first of what I expected to be a mainstream media deluge. Instead: silence. Families across Nepal, India and Bangladesh have been drowned, buried alive and starving for almost a month now, it turns out, and the media vacuum is profound.

This is South Asia’s annual monsoon nightmare – the natural disaster that no longer makes the news. Yes, we #prayfor the victims of terror attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona, but at the same time a bus full of school children in Nepal is buried alive by a landslide. It’s the second in a week, and these families are just a handful of the sixteen million people in the last month who are losing everything to forces they can’t control. There are no hashtags; only the prayers of the families themselves, who sleep in the rain while their bellies growl for food and their hearts long for the dead.

I guess there are a few factors at play in the world’s collective shrug in the direction of the disaster. The numbers – so huge it’s hard to imagine. The inevitability – South Asia ‘always floods’. The media – it feeds the appetites we offer up, and we have little interest in floods. We don’t even know what we don’t know. We’re preoccupied with family, work stresses and the routines of every day life.

In the midst of it all, perhaps some pray for the less fortunate, a blanket offering for anyone doing it tough, and idly wonder at times why God doesn’t intervene more often in a crisis.

The fact is, God does. I think of my friend who is part of the Church of North India. I’ve not only visited her in the urban settlements where she works beside those who’ve fallen through the cracks in her society, but over the last few days I’ve watched on Facebook as she wades through flood waters to deliver dhal and black plastic to families who have seen their homes washed away. God is present in and through people like Nita, who act out what it means to be God’s light and love within the world.

Although we may not be able to gag Mother Nature, we have been given the means to prevent these disasters before they become sixteen-million-life tragedies. After all, we know that monsoon rains will reliably take the lives of men, women and children in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, year after year, simply because they live in low lying areas, in homes that are badly built, beside rivers that will swell and swallow them whole: they’re too poor to move elsewhere. It won’t be flooding that kills these people and their livelihoods. It will be the lack of evacuation plans, poor communication, homes built on the side of mountains where they shouldn’t be, and outbreaks of disease. In short, it’ll be poverty, and the lack of opportunity that comes with it.

You know what we need to save these lives? We need vision. And if it all looks too hard, too big, too far away and too hard, who better to take on all that but a community who passionately believe that life is possible from death? We can beat this giant. We already know that $1 invested to reduce risks and prepare communities for disaster saves $15 in recovery efforts after a cyclone, flood or earthquake hits. That’s not just lives saved, but good economic sense – an achievable, smart investment.

If there’s anything I believe as a follower of Christ, it’s that transformation is possible. Not just individual lives turned around, but whole systems shaken to their core. Institutionalised human slavery – ended. Children valued and universal education won, wrought from a world where babies where routinely discarded on mountainsides to die. Diseases eradicated. Women’s rights championed. In all of these cataclysmic wins, Christians have been at the forefront with a vision for things that must, at the time, have seemed impossible.

So it is with saving lives before natural disasters strike. As a changing climate increases the severity and frequency of extreme weather, especially in our own Asia/Pacific region, we’ll need to be smarter and more determined about the ways we protect ourselves – and especially our most vulnerable – from tragedy. Allowing sixteen million lives each year to sink beneath muddy waters simply isn’t an option.

When we’re tempted to ask why God doesn’t intervene more directly in natural disasters, perhaps the better question to ask is: why don’t we? Big change, bold vision: this is our call, this is our identity. And as droughts, floods, cyclones, and famines increasingly stalk our world, this is the challenge we’re called on to meet – before disasters become tragedies.

UnitingWorld has launched an appeal to support partner churches in the Pacific as they build critical resilience to disasters and climate change. Donate now: https://www.unitingworld.org.au/stop-disasters-becoming-tragedies/