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Thursday 22 March 2012

World Meteorological Day
World Meteorological Day Aerial view of Gramalote, a town in Colombia that was damaged by landslides in July 2011.

World Meteorological Day marks the anniversary of the World Meteorological Organization's establishment on March 23 in 1950. ShelterBox is celebrating the day by commemorating its partnership with the Met Office.

ShelterBox has been the Met Office's chosen charity partner since 2009. Not only has the UK's National Weather Service raised around £10,000 for the disaster relief organisation but it also has enabled ShelterBox to access the Met Office's global forecasting capability.

The Met Office sends ShelterBox Operations daily updates providing international weather information that can forecast where the next call for help may come from. This access to forecasts has a direct impact on when and how ShelterBox deploys. It can also affect the safety of ShelterBox Response Teams (SRT) that are made up of volunteers, highly trained in the delivery of emergency disaster relief.


Damage caused by landslides in Gramalote, July 2011.

In 2011, Colombia experienced one of its longest rainy seasons in 50 years. Torrential rains, massive floods and landslides caused chaos across the country in April for three months. Tens of thousands of homes were swept away and hundreds of thousands more were damaged, leaving thousands of families in need of emergency shelter. The President said humanitarian assistance to secure people's homes and health would be the government's first priority and ShelterBox was called to help.

Lifesaving decisions

ShelterBox worked closely with Colombia's national disaster relief agency SNPAD (National System for the Prevention and Attention of Disasters) to assess the need and distribute emergency aid to the most remote areas. They were also able to make lifesaving decisions through information provided by daily Met Office reports that alerted ShelterBox to possible risks.

The eighth and final SRT deployed to the disaster were identifying areas of need in Gramalote, a town in the northern part of the South American country that had been hit by a landslide.


The church in Gramalote after the landslides hit it, July 2011.

‘We were operating in some extremely remote areas and at high altitudes,’ said SRT member Joe Canon (UK). ‘We had to deal with the flooding but also scores of landslides that were triggered by the rains.'

The Response Team planned to set up a ShelterBox camp at a football pitch in Gramalote. However, the Met Office warned ShelterBox that a further ten days of heavy rain was coming and there was a very high chance of further landslides in that area.

The SRT informed the families living in the town and they were evacuated to safer higher ground in the mountains, where the team decided to set up camps. Over the next few days, Gramalote was soon piled high with dirt from a landslide.


An evacuated family from Gramalote setting up their new home, July 2011.

'It looked like an earthquake in slow motion and the land was visibly moving everyday,' said Joe. 'We watched half the village, including the second tower of the church, collapse while we were in the town.'

Safe and secure

Through the Met Office forecasts, the Response Teams and beneficiaries were able to remain safe and were moved to secure areas. A total of 109 ShelterBox tents across four different sights surrounding Gramalote became homes for the evacuated families.

Weather information from the Met Office allows ShelterBox to plan ahead and make contingency plans for any disaster that may strike, be it prepositioning stock or alerting the country's authorities. With such a rich heritage in predicting what the weather will do, ShelterBox's partnership with the Met Office has been, and continues to be, invaluable, making a difference to people's lives that have been made homeless by disasters.


Evacuated familes from Gramalote with SRT members Joe Canon (UK) and Sharon O'Keefe (UK) after setting up their ShelterBox tents.
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