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Self-reliance, resilience and survival during a crisis 

Editorial Advisory Panel Member, Christo Motz, provides us with an update of his travels and work in resilience and urban survival.

Today, Wednesday, September 7, I arrived in Stockholm, for an 18- day working visit to the south of Sweden, during which time I will take part in training and a number of meetings on resilience and urban survival during crisis situations.  

This journey is part of a broader operational and strategic research project I started about 15 years ago looking into: how civilians, emergency workers, decision-makers and policy-makers prepared for the unknown?

In January 19 – 21, 2011, in collaboration with my Swedish colleague Harry Sepp, advisor with the Swedish Defence League, I organised an exchange and meeting on self-reliance.

The main reason was to help figure out how the Swedish experiences ('lessons learned') are put in practice on an operational and strategic level and in what way we could integrate these best practices in the Netherlands and other EU countries.

From the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice, led by Mrs Anna Linmans, we met representatives and policymakers from the MSB (Civil Contingency Agency), the Swedish Civil Defence League, the Swedish Parliament and the Swedish Ministry of Defence. We also visited a local volunteer group, a fire station and emergency dispatch centre for the Stockholm area.

Only five days ago,  in Brussels, on September 2,  the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security, based in Bonn, launched its new report 'The World Risk Index 2011: Are disasters preventable?'

The Netherlands is very prone to natural hazards because of global climate change. It is said that extreme flooding in the near future might cause dangerous situations. The report mentions the possible risks of extreme flooding in connection with densely populated areas.

On the world list of 173 countries, the Netherlands is ranked number 69 – the highest ranking country in Europe – as being highly susceptible to these natural disasters.

This makes me wonder how we, in the Netherlands, are prepared for worst case scenarios, especially considering how the current government policy is less and less focused on contributing to civic self-reliance, compared to recent years. Are we prepared at all?

Instead the present government has put most of its energy and financial resources into social security and the threats of cyber-terrorism.

As well as the individual and societal responsibility to deal with worst case scenarios, two fifths of the Netherlands are situated below sea-level, we need to know what strategies and emergency plans our governments have developed.

Flooding is, therefore, part of our common history and collective mindset, like mountain people in the Alpine countries face the danger of avalanches and landslides and are adapted to these threats.

One of the most important questions seems to be the integration of emergency preparedness and urban survival skills into our very complex society, while we in Europe are extremely vulnerable to disturbances in the 'critical infrastructure' (owing to natural and man-made disasters).

Traditionally speaking, volunteer (and professional) firefighters form the security basis of local communities, as I have seen during my four-month hike from the Netherlands to South Tirol in July last year. Almost every small village in Germany, Austria and South-Tirol has its own fire unit of local volunteers.

Firefighters are trained professionally in urban survival skills, which are especially very useful during 'black-outs'. They are able to inform the general public beforehand in the cold phase, and can empower local communities and individuals to take responsibility for themselves and to prepare themselves as much as possible.

Together with local groups and NGOs, this might be a good strategy to implement these skills, knowledge and experience and go some way towards supporting people's resilience, working towards the mutual objectives of safety, health and security.

Last July I visited Estonia for a couple of days and, as an observer, I took part in the 'Porgupohja', a three-day survival competition in the dense forest and marshlands around Eidapere.

As a very young member of the EU, Estonia still has to deal with the aftermath of almost 50 years of occupation and repression by the former Soviet-Russian government.

Estonia was left materially impoverished, with a culturally and spiritually drained culture. It has only one million inhabitants left; the abandoned state collective farms are the visible reminders of brutal colonisation and suppression of the former religious traditions of the Estonian peasantry.

Nowadays huge infrastructural projects, like roads and agricultural and industrial facilities are arranged with EU-funding and this might change the way of life for Estonian citizens. So, besides the calls for resistance and physical survival, what are the lessons they have learnt from all this?

Next Friday morning I will have a meeting with Mr Anders Johansson, the Secretary General for the Swedish Defence League and Mrs Leni Bjorklund, the former state Minister for Defence, to discuss the possibility for further collaboration on civic-self-reliance and resilience between Sweden, the Netherlands and other EU countries.

Afterwards I will be picked up by a group of Estonian survival instructors from the Estonian National Guard; together we will head to Södertalje for a three-day meeting with the Swedish Survival Guild.

Stockholm, September 7, 2011

Christo Motz

Click here for Christo Motz's website at Fylgjur 

Christo Motz, 09/09/2011
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