04/11/2013 09:46 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Resilience in the Face of Disaster

Some of you may remember the images of young Indonesian children fleeing their homes after Mount Merapi erupted a few years ago. Mount Merapi is one of the most active volcanoes in the world but, as it is situated in central Java, it is surrounded by densely populated villages. In late October 2010, the volcano started spewing hot ash around from its mouth, while lava crept across the nearby villages, destroying homes and businesses.

The October eruption was the start of a series of increasingly violent eruptions that took place over the following three weeks. In the end, more than 350 people were killed and hundreds more injured. Eventually, the surrounding areas were almost completely evacuated. 350,000 people were moved away from the area; some sought shelter with friends or relatives, while others were moved to temporary settlements.

The people of Kaliadem village on the slopes of Mount Merapi were part of that migration. Fleeing their homes in Kaliadem, villagers joined others from neighboring villages in a temporary settlement called Gondang Shelter, situated in a safer part of the region. Located on the southern slopes of Merapi, villagers in Kaliadem were used to making their living primarily through cattle breeding. When they were forced to move to the temporary settlement, they not only lost their homes but also their main source of income.

Thanks to the efforts of the government, local and international NGOs, private sector partners, and key stakeholders in education for sustainable development, the people of Kaliadem were able to rebuild their lives. With the help and guidance of these partners, villagers learned new, sustainable methods of income development. Researchers at Universitas Gadjah Mada, the oldest and largest university in the country, taught villagers how to sustainably produce cassava and sweet potato crackers, creating a completely new economic stream for those living in the shelter. Other alternative sources of income generation, such as catfish breeding, strawberry farming and mushroom farming, were combined with more traditional efforts like cattle breeding and vegetable farming. Together, these efforts helped villagers not only meet their subsistence needs but, in many cases, exceed them.

Not long ago, a group of young researchers and scientists attending the ProSPER.Net Young Researchers' School visited the Gondang Shelter and met with the Kaliadem villagers and other temporary residents. The work that is being done in Gondang represents a highly successful model for building a resilient society in a context of post-disaster management. It is a model of action that is becoming increasingly important, as our world faces more and more manmade and natural disasters. The young researchers shared their thoughts on the visit and on wider issues related to sustainable development and building resilient societies in the video below. I encourage you all to view it if you have time; it is an excellent example of how all of us -- government, private sector, NGOs, UN agencies and local communities -- can come together to help teach individuals and communities how to prepare themselves for when disaster strikes.