What images does the news of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique conjure up for you?

Charity emergency teams giving out supplies to people who fled their homes? Aid workers with food for hungry children?

All of this does happen. But for every emergency worker on the ground, many more work behind the scenes.

Their role is vital in making sure all the emergency supplies and equipment get to the right place at the right time.

As a logistics officer based in the UK, Gemma Blakey’s job is crucial to relief operations.

A self-confessed spreadsheet lover, she uses her meticulous planning and organisational skills to spring into action.

“I immediately check our stock and start talking to colleagues about who is available to respond, and what information we are getting about the needs on the ground,” she said.

“Then we can decide how the British Red Cross can best support the people in crisis.”

Gemma was already getting ready to help just a day after Cyclone Idai hit southern Africa.

Our toilets save lives after Cyclone Idai

At the British Red Cross emergency logistics warehouse, a Red Cross worker uses a forklift to load relief supplies into a truck.

Loading supplies onto trucks

Cyclone Idai’s storms and floods drove thousands from their homes across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Once the immediate search and rescue efforts finished, it became clear that the dirty water could bring serious disease to people who had already lost everything.

The British Red Cross team quickly realised that our Mass Sanitation Module could help stop the spread of waterborne diseases.

The Mass Sanitation Module contains all the equipment that the Red Cross team needs to set up a field office and sanitation centre to safely dispose of human waste.

“We sent 50 flatpack latrines with different types of ‘squat plates’, as well as moulds which can be used locally with concrete to make more plates and reach lots more people,” Gemma said.

“Sanitation might not be the first thing you think of in disaster response, but it is really, really key.

“Without good sanitation, we could see outbreaks of cholera, hepatitis or malaria, and then we risk losing more people to disease than to the disaster itself.

“Our team of experts assembled in London to pick up their kit and deploy to Mozambique as quickly as possible,” she continued.

“At the same time, me and my team headed to our equipment warehouse in the countryside near Corby, Northamptonshire.

From Birmingham to Beira

A close-up photograph of a sign on a truck that says "British Red Cross Logistics Emergency Response Unit".

Getting supplies to the airport

“I had to organise trucks and staff to get the sanitation equipment loaded up, and a freight agent to make sure everything would arrive safely and get to where it’s needed.”

This time the team was in luck: the airport at Beira, closest to the flooding in Mozambique, was open and accessible. So, it was going to be fairly straightforward to get the gear to its destination.

It took three trucks to carry everything from Corby to Birmingham airport.

Glitter can help keep people safe

“We’ve also sent them hand washing stations and hygiene promotion boxes,” Gemma said.

“These include glitter that can be used to demonstrate how germs can linger on the hands and spread around, and highlight the importance of thorough hand washing.”

Gemma’s team also loaded the trucks with 20 ‘vector sprays’ used to combat mosquitoes that spread deadly diseases like malaria.

Tents, a power generator, office supplies, food and camping equipment for the Red Cross team completed the shipment.

“It was a long day, but we were pleased to hear that everything arrived safely and see photos from the team in Mozambique setting everything up,” said Gemma.

“It helps us here in the UK see that our work will have a real impact on people’s lives.”

Gemma helps in UK emergencies, too

Gemma Blakely wears a British Red Cross high-vis vest and stands against a truck loaded with relief supplies for Cyclone Idai in Mozambique

Gemma Blakely at the British Red Cross warehouse

 

As well as working in logistics for the British Red Cross, Gemma also volunteers for our emergency response team in London, where she lives.

She’s helped people after the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Finsbury Park mosque attack and the Croydon Tram derailment, as well as many smaller-scale emergencies.

“I’m just so proud to be part of the Red Cross Movement,” Gemma said.

“Time and time again we all pull together, whether that’s locally or internationally, and combine our skills to help people through times of crisis. It really is like a family.”

All photographs © Jonathan Cherry/British Red Cross