Home » Stories » Disaster management is not ‘yes’ or ‘no’

Disaster management is not ‘yes’ or ‘no’

Solomon (left), Boyd (center) and Felisberto (left below) together with four other graduates from 2013.
Solomon (left), Boyd (center) and Felisberto (left below) together with four other graduates from 2013.

Disasters are threatening sustainable development- therefore University of Copenhagen offers a one year Master of Disaster Management Course. Felisberto from Mozambique, Solomon from Ethiopia and Boyd from Zambia graduated this year.

Text and photo: Jan Kjær

What did you learn from the Master of Disaster study programme? And how is it to study and live in Denmark?

DFC Newsletter has asked these two questions to three African graduates just after finalizing their one year master studies at the University of Copenhagen.

Felisberto Afonso. Mozambique. Assistant Lecturer of Climatology at the Eduardo Mondlane University , Maputo.

“What I learned is that the disaster management is more than managing resources. It is also about risk reduction and research.”

“Disaster management it is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You also have to understand the underlying factors and the communities. Do they understand what you are saying at all? Right now I have a very good picture of how to deal with not only science, but also social understanding in the communities. Before I came here to study, the social understanding was a weakness.”

How is it to live and study in Denmark?

“It has been very good. Here in Denmark, I don´t have someone to disturb me, because my family is in Mozambique. I live here with my friends.

The crucial point was cooking. In Mozambique I never did that myself. Turn on the stove, washing the dishes. It was difficult in the beginning. After 2-3 months I started getting used to it and felt that I perhaps could manage.”

Studying here in Denmark is very good. We have internet access and I did not have a day without power 24/7. I never experienced that before.

When I return to Mozambique, I could perhaps on Sundays show my friends a bit of what I experienced in Denmark.”

Solomon Tilahun. Works for a humanitarian organization in Ethiopia

“What I learned is that disaster management is not the responsibility of one single organization. It is a multidisciplinary subject involving many different organizations from different sectors. Disaster management is beyond dealing with the events physically. It is about understanding the natural process, the context and coordination mechanisms, emerging theories and principles as a crucial but challenging business in order to provide effective response.

It is also organizational politics, international conventions and roles. I never knew this before.

Furthermore, I came with a narrow experience with slow onset disaster response. This course really broadened my knowledge depth and width to deal with both rapid and slow onset disasters based on various humanitarian principles and practices.

The two way communication during lectures and discussion sessions also enabled us to share our experiences to other colleagues and learn from them, too.”

How is it to live and study in Denmark?

“Copenhagen is a good place to be. But we have also been going to Geneva and Malmø when we have been practicing. It is nice moving around and not only sitting in class.

Life in Denmark is expensive, but Danida paid an equivalent amount, so we were able to live from the stipends.

Here, education is team work and group based. At home it is more individually based. You need to socialize. I was studying with international students so it was also easy to socialize.

The weather in Denmark is a bit terrible between October and May. Therefore, we stayed in our rooms most of the time and studied more.

It has been a good life experience. I came to know Danish culture, saw the efficiency of the government and how Danes have trust in it. Thanks to my good thesis advisor Ivan and his family, I had a chance to visit the museums in Copenhagen and historical places like Roskilde and the Vikings museums. It gave me a fascinating picture of how today’s enjoyable Copenhagen and Denmark came through time. It let me foresee the possible future of Africa in general and my country in particular. This is what I learned, in addition to the regular study program.”

Boyd Siyanga, Zambia. Regional Coordinator for the disaster management and mitigation unit managing the Central province of Zambia under the Office of the Vice President.

“It has been interesting studying Master of Disaster in Denmark. We learned so much that it is difficult to put in few words.

The most pleasant thing for me is not what I learned from the lecturers, but from the fellow students. You work in groups at the university and that type of set up taught me so much. Most students in class were already working, but they have different backgrounds: Nurses, MSF, Danish policemen, and one Danish navy guy.Field research was one of the biggest learning points as well.

Disaster management is not only managing the disaster that just happened. You also need a very robust programme for water and sanitation. If you don´t have good quality water, diseases will spread. It is all interrelated.

In disaster management you need an open mind and to be a good team player in order to utilize the many skills required to handle the situation.

How is it to live and study in Denmark?

“I feel somehow I missed an opportunity to learn Danish because of being in an international class. Most of us were foreigners and English was the spoken language. But we had a Danish guy in class. We visited his home over x-mas. It was amazing meeting his father, mother, kids, and wife. Could have been nice to know more Danish but we were here for a different purpose.

To stay in the hall of residence was a bit of a challenge. The apartment was somewhat small. Most of the time I spent in the communal areas. I missed my big garden and the small dog and I felt so alone. It would have been so different, if I was staying in a house with a garden rather than being surrounded by walls. But eventually I got used to it.

In Zambia, if you meet someone in the corridor, in the bus or in the lift you greet them saying ‘hi’. You start a short conversation to lighten the atmosphere. Here people always have earphones plugged in listening to music which makes me wonder if we are not welcome here. When they start talking they are instantly nice and welcoming. I just wonder why they did not start off like that. It is different.”

One year Master of Disaster

University of Copenhagen offers a Master degree of Disaster Management.

Disasters have increasingly been identified as a major threat to sustainable development and to the Millennium Development Goals. To substantially reduce losses, a holistic approach to disaster management is needed including disaster risk reduction, response and recovery based on academic analytical skills and interdisciplinary reflection.

A bachelor degree or equivalent, and a minimum of two years of working experience are required to apply.

Read more about the Master degree of Disaster Management


Go back to our stories