Africa: Playing Your Way Out of Climate Danger

Doha is due to be hit by a huge dust storm in four hours. We must spring into action to protect the Qatari capital's population. What do we do?

We decide we need people to stay indoors, close their windows, make sure they have clean water supplies, and tune into radio and TV broadcasts. We are going to send out an SMS alert through telecoms providers, shut down the airport, and warn hospitals to switch on their back-up power systems.

In this disaster preparedness game, called Ready, we are asked to write down our actions and rank them by priority and level of difficulty. Then, racing against another team, we're given a couple of minutes to roll dice that match the numbers allotted to our emergency plans, 'completing' as many as possible before the storm hits.

The activity leads to an animated group discussion about whether we've made the right choices, what infrastructure or other preparation would have needed to have been in place to make the right things happen, and what we had missed out.

It left me wondering whether I shouldn't try this out back home in France, where we seem to be getting more droughts, forest fires and fiercer storms.

The game, devised by a professor at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City and her students, has been used around the world from Namibia to the United States, and is adaptable to local contexts.

PUSH TO THINK AHEAD

It is only one of a growing number of games climate experts are using to get poor and vulnerable communities in developing countries - from illiterate farmers to government officials - thinking pro-actively about how to reduce the rising risks of disasters such as floods and droughts.

Since the idea started catching on four years ago, ever-more creative games have been developed to deal with an expanding set of challenges - from deciding whether to grow different crops, to preventing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and understanding how disasters affect men and women differently.

The games need to be tweaked to fit cultural sensibilities and local views, experts said at a gathering on the sidelines of the U.N. climate talks in Doha. In some places where board games aren't played, for example, dice are thought of as little more than gambling tools, and could put people off.

But in the main, the games are being welcomed as a cutting-edge method of breaking down traditional barriers and getting people excited about disaster risk reduction - a topic that doesn't always engender excitement.

AlertNet's Megan Rowling spoke with Pablo Suarez, associate director for research and innovation with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, about how the games are being put into practice by aid agencies.

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