COVID-19 Complicates Disaster Response, But Here’s What We Can Do

COVID-19 complicates disaster response and recovery. But we can learn from the past year and provide funding that prepares communities for the challenges of natural disasters ahead.


2020 was filled to the brim with equal parts overindulgence and deprivation. I overindulged in baked goods, screen time, and skincare products and deprived myself of much-needed hugs, public outings, and anything that might resemble a respectable haircut. Looking back at the past year, I struggle to remember what life was like before COVID-19 transitioned from a whisper to a scream.

There is debate over whether the pandemic should be defined as a natural or human-made disaster. Natural forces arguably created it, yet human decisions exacerbated the rampant transmission and uncontrolled spread. Regardless of how you define the COVID-19 pandemic, it has resulted in a catastrophic emergency that has caused substantial hardship, suffering, and loss of life. In short, it is a major disaster event and one that is constantly evolving. Today, millions of people across the world are experiencing the worst effects of the virus.

It was difficult—even impossible—to anticipate the challenges last year hurled at us. However, we have an opportunity to learn from the past, anticipate certain challenges, and be proactive. There is no scenario where this practice is more critical than in preparedness measures for natural disasters.

COVID-19 complicates disaster response, in essence, it creates a disaster within a disaster.

Last year, we saw first responders to disasters like hurricanes Laura and Delta face challenges in preventing the spread of coronavirus in shelters during emergency evacuations. We worried about the exacerbating effects wildfire smoke across California and Colorado had on COVID-19 patients with weakened respiratory systems. We watched as medical facilities around the world hit capacity during peak pandemic spread. That left strained health care systems with a limited ability to accept more patients, even those hurt by major disaster events like the explosion in Beirut, where coronavirus cases increased 220% in the month that followed. We should anticipate these very scenarios in the year ahead.

Here’s what climate scientists (and history) tell us to expect:

    • Increasingly intense wildfires across the western United States, the Amazon, and Australia
    • Prolonged heat waves resulting in food shortages across East Africa and the Middle East
    • Super-charged hurricanes and tropical storm seasons globally
    • Severe flooding across South Asia, parts of Africa, and Central America
    • Quick-onset tornadoes in the US Midwest and derechos that wreak havoc with little warning

It’s not a matter of whether these events will happen, but rather when, how intense they’ll be, and how many livelihoods and lives will be lost. Are we equipped to handle recovery amid increased civil unrest, unparalleled economic hardships, and compounded refugee crises? In short—how can we prepare for what we know (and don’t know) is coming, as far off as it may feel?

It’s hard to get ready for something you can’t yet see. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can do difficult things. In 2020, we tested our ability to adapt, cope, and find joy in dark moments. We drove change amid civil unrest. We found innovative ways to stay connected and support families, colleagues, and even strangers. We went head-to-head against a pandemic and have hope for the future.

As COVID-19 complicates disaster response and the next decade brings more challenges, community leaders on the front lines of crisis are counting on us to be prepared.

While I think about that preparation, I also reflect on the generosity of our corporate partners who trusted GlobalGiving with $25 million for COVID-19 relief efforts in 2020 to spearhead programs that addressed the twin economic and social challenges of the pandemic. The funds sent doctors, nurses, and frontline responders to communities in need; delivered lifesaving medical supplies to hospitals and clinics; brought food and essentials to children, struggling families, and marginalized communities; and so much more. A simple thank you doesn’t cut it, but I extend my heartfelt gratitude and that of the GlobalGiving community all the same.

We weren’t prepared to address COVID, but we can prepare for the inevitability of natural disasters in the year ahead, so join us to reduce the effects of future disaster events. To take action that will save lives, you can support projects like this one focused on disaster mitigation and resilience in hot zones across the world. If you work for a company looking to stand out in your philanthropy and support your global employees in disaster-prone regions, here are seven ways you can do that.

Interested in learning more about how you can get involved? Send me an email. We can Zoom. I’ll hide my haircut.


Featured Photo: Haiti Relief Fund for COVID-19 by Care 2 Communities

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