Preparedness is a coping strategy | Mission East

Preparedness is a coping strategy

By Andrew McEwan, Mission East volunteer. February 2008

On a snowy morning in Kulyob, a young man is throwing a coiled rope across the yard of the Committee of Emergency Situations (CoES). With great promise, it travels five meters in the direction of the opposite ‘river bank’ before becoming tangled and jerking short of its destination. The man gives the rope a bemused look and begins re-coiling it. By the look on the instructor’s face, this is not unexpected. He gives a smile and a nod and shows the group how to coil a rope properly, so it will unwind neatly in mid-air.

The man gets it right the next time, reaching his teammate on the other bank and signaling him to fasten the rope's end around a tree there. He then sets up a traverse and creates a 3:1 mechanical advantage with carabiners and pulleys to yank it tight. The entire team comes together to pull on the rope until the instructor, rope bending under his weight as he leans on it, deems the tension adequate for traversing.

Giving people the means to cope by themselves
This is the MoES training for members of the new Village Rescue Groups (VRGs) of Kulyab and Vose districts in southern Tajikistan's Khatlon region. Present today are four of these VRGs, each consisting of five members; they are practicing the rescue skills they will need in Tajikistan’s flood-prone south. All are from villages that lie on the flood plain of the Yoksu River, which flows through a wide, flat valley that separates two rows of tall mountains. Every spring, melting snow from the mountains turns the Yoksu from a meandering trickle into a vigorous, muddy force that overruns the increasingly ineffective Soviet dyke system and threatens the lives and property of those who live beside it.

Mission East has focused on twenty four villages in this vulnerable area for its Flood Management Project. The challenge is to give the people of this region the means to cope with their disasters by themselves, recognizing that there is little the government can afford to do to help them. Mission East's efforts include installing an upstream early warning system, refurbishing structures outside of the flood zone to be used as evacuation points, training women in post flood hygiene measures, and establishing the VRGs to contend with the floods in the absence of government assistance.
With a volunteer's enthusiasm
Members of the VRGs stand in the snow, attending to the lesson; wheelbarrow sized chunks of snow occasionally fall from the roof of the run down MoES building. Their ages, backgrounds, and professions range greatly. What they have in common are local forms of employment, an important factor that makes them more likely to be available when they are needed.

They are volunteers and have a volunteer's unseasoned enthusiasm towards their new responsibilities. Their instructor does not want to discourage their enthusiasm, but he reminds them that the first rule in any rescue operation is to dispassionately survey the scene for possible dangers to a rescuer; it's critical not to blunder onto a scene and create a second victim. They all get a laugh when the instructor makes his argument by pointing out that half of them are now standing in the imaginary river.

Later on, as the day's training wraps up, the trainer talks about the trainees;
"They may forget some of the details that we covered today, but what's important is that they know the principles of rescue. These they will not forget."

For as long as Tajikistan is burdened by poverty and insufficient management ressources, the villages of the Yoksu Valley will have to rely on themselves in times of disaster. The principles of rescue and first aid that they are learning here will go a long way towards making that possible.

This project is funded by the European Union

Andrew McEwan is a world class whitewater kayaker, expeditionist and certified rope technician. He currently serves as a technical advisor on Mission East's DRR program.