by Fr Aristelo Diez Miranda, MI

On October 13, 2012, the Camillian Disaster Service International (CADIS), the then Camillian Task Force (CTF), launched a commemoration and celebration to honor the victims of natural and human-made disasters. Why the victims? Borrowing from the words of the former superior general Renato Salvatore, MI - the celebration “emphasizes the human costs involved in disasters since they affect people as well as the society which endanger their destiny and their right to life. […] let this day awaken our awareness that any disaster is an injustice, which needs to be corrected through relief work, of course, but also through preventive measures and restoration of equality among human beings.” (R. Salvatore). In every disaster and the statistics of disasters, there is always a human face at stake whose ultimate design (divine purpose) is the “fullness of life,” the essence and finality of human existence here on earth.

However, these people impacted by the disasters are more than victims and beneficiaries of aid and assistance; they are stakeholders, active agents of change, and defenders of our “common home.” The fact is that they survived various types of disasters despite meager resources and the condition of vulnerability. They are survivors! They can share their skills (competence), knowledge (capacities), and wisdom (insight). More can be achieved for their survival if they are accompanied by the agents of humanization (humanitarian actors). Both stakeholders (survivors and humanitarian actors) will bring difference into our lives and the world (common home) where we live. They can impact the transformation of the ailing world.

“The year 2020 rivaled 2016 as the world’s hottest recorded year despite the absence of a strong El Niño effect. Apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, the year was dominated by climate-related disasters. These were largely responsible for the 389 recorded events which resulted in 15,080 deaths, 98.4 million people affected, and economic losses of at least US$ 171.3 billion.” (CRED). Moreover, “the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which by the year’s end had claimed almost two million lives, resulted in more than 90 million confirmed cases, trillions of dollars in economic losses, and “extreme poverty back up to levels not seen in a generation.” (UN Secretary-General). If we compare the human impact of disasters in terms of deaths in 2020 with its ten-year average (2000-2019), a tremendous increase is observed from 6,170.9 per year average between 2000-2019 to 15,080 deaths in 2020; and in terms of the number of persons affected it rose from 20 million annual average (2000-2019) to 98 million in 2020 excluding Covid 19 victims. (cf. CRED & UNDRR. 2020: The Non-COVID Year in Disasters. Brussels: CRED; 2021.) Above all, the disproportionate impact of disasters falls on the people and communities who have meager resources (human and material) available for survival.

The figures above demonstrate the motivation why CADIS wants to relaunch the celebration of the World Day of the Victims (nuance: survivors) of Disasters (WDVD) every October 13. The date coincides with the declaration by the United Nations of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR) but with a different emphasis - the human-ecological costs of disasters. Disasters endanger human life and all other forms of life in our ecosystem; they are all intrinsically interconnected. This year’s theme is a spiritual and cultural revolution for integral ecology, a theme primarily encouraged by Pope Francis in the Laudato Si Action Platform (LSAP) and the Synod of the Catholic Church.

The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Here I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. (Laudato Si, 13)

Why do we celebrate? The commemoration aims to (a) promote awareness on the global disasters with special attention to the themes of social justice and health, (b) awaken and inform the members of the Camillian international charismatic family and the local partners about disasters and reading of the signs of times, (c) raise funds for CADIS emergency fund and its ongoing interventions worldwide, (d) sensitize and mobilize local volunteers, (e) share the Camillian charism and spirituality of integral health, and (f) most of all accompany the survivors in their struggle for development and well-being.

The WDVD celebration began on October 13, 2012, as introduced by CADIS. In 2018, CADIS introduced another celebration on May 25 – the feast of the Camillian Martyrs of Charity. The former emphasizes the sensitization and accompaniment of the survivors, while the latter emphasizes the accompaniment and support of the humanitarian actors. Both celebrations envision building a fully resilient community in places impacted by disasters.