disasters

Building resilience: Why preparing for crisis is common sense

© Matt Percival/BRC

© Matt Percival/BRC

What links earthquakes in Nepal with HIV in Lesotho, and cholera outbreaks in Sierra Leone with the health problems affecting mothers in Myanmar? The effects of all these crises can be reduced by making people and communities more resilient.

Resilience is the ability to prevent, withstand and recover from disasters and emergencies. The British Red Cross is building resilience across the world and in the UK. We’re highlighting that work by putting the spotlight on four very different programmes helping some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Each one is run in partnership with that country’s Red Cross or Red Crescent National Society.

Why does resilience matter?

We think building resilience is just common sense. We shouldn’t just sit around and wait for floods, fires or outbreaks of disease – by taking action beforehand, we can make sure the impact of risks and crises is drastically reduced. This idea has been guiding our work for decades, and we think it’s more important than ever.

Even simple steps can save lives and livelihoods, protect homes and put people on the path to a better future. Giving people the power to prevent and prepare is a great investment too. A little time and money spent now will often prevent the need to give much more when a crisis happens. More

How people in Nepal live with the threat of disaster

 George with colleagues from the Nepal Red Cross

Georgina Cooper, British Red Cross community engagement manager, recently visited our project in Nepal’s Kathmandu valley, where we’re helping people prepare for disasters. Here, she reports back:

My security briefing before going to Nepal – one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world – gave me plenty to think about on the plane: what to do in an earthquake, the dangers of traffic, and other hazards that may arise.

It was still fresh in my mind when I stepped off the plane and the Red Cross driver handed me a lanyard with emergency details and a whistle (in case I were to become stuck in rubble), which I dutifully slipped over my head.

Arriving at the hotel, I glanced around to see where I would ‘drop, cover and hold on’ should an earthquake strike, before going to sleep wondering how people live at this level of awareness.

It didn’t take long to dawn on me – they don’t. More

Photo story: disaster risks in Uganda

Children in Uganda

With a rapidly growing population, disease outbreaks, environmental degradation and climate change, people’s overall levels of risk to disaster in Uganda are steadily increasing. The Uganda Red Cross, supported by the British Red Cross, has launched a new programme to help communities be better prepared for a range of risks, saving both lives and livelihoods. See photos from the programme below. More

Welcoming the government’s response to the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review

At the British Red Cross we cherish and are ever grateful of the public to offer support regardless of any consideration other than the desire to help fellow humans in distress.

Amongst all the factors to be considered in responding to humanitarian disasters – value for money, efficiency, political convenience or national interest – it is humanitarian need which must be paramount above all others.

This is why we welcome the government’s response to Lord Ashdown’s Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR). We support the drive for more efficiency and accountability in humanitarian aid so that the most vulnerable can be helped more effectively.

For example, reducing the need to deploy teams from overseas by building local resilience and capacity to respond is absolutely key in improving disaster response. It’s an approach the international Red Cross Movement through its global network grounded in local communities has championed for years and will continue to support.

We don’t want excessive bureaucracy in a system that must be fleet of foot, but it is right that any funding – whether taxpayers’ or donors’ money – can demonstrate success.

Read DFID’s statement on the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review

Full text of the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (PDF)

The many shapes of disaster aid

Throughout this year, the TV news has been filled with images of aid boxes arriving in countries that have suffered a major disaster.

But disaster relief doesn’t just come in the form of non-perishable food and bottles of water. It’s also the calm and caring voice of a person who can tell you where to go to get help, and how to sign up for long-term support. It’s someone who will lend you a mobile phone so you can contact family. And it’s people with specialist skills who risk their lives in the most dangerous situations to help survivors.

This year has been a stark reminder of the many forms disaster relief takes, and that anyone – anywhere – can be vulnerable to crises. As part of a global network that has specially trained local volunteers in 186 countries, the British Red Cross has been supporting massive relief operations after four major disasters in 2011.

New Zealand Red Cross volunteers loading lorry

© New Zealand Red Cross

On February 22, an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, reduced homes and businesses to rubble. At least 160 people lost their lives and 2,500 were injured. Some survivors were left stranded in damaged homes with no electricity, no running water, no sewerage, and no way to contact anyone.

After the earthquake, New Zealand Red Cross volunteers worked in teams going door-to-door looking for anyone who needed help. Among the people they discovered was a 19-year-old woman and her toddler son living in their car in their driveway. Their home was uninhabitable and they didn’t have enough petrol to drive to a petrol station. The volunteers filled their tank and helped them get to a welfare centre where they would be safe.

When a massive earthquake struck Japan a few weeks later, the Japanese Red Cross responded immediately, carrying out search and rescue, and providing first aid for survivors.

Around 14,000 people have been confirmed dead and some 13,000 remain missing.

Since the disaster struck, the Japanese Red Cross has been providing healthcare, food and water to the many thousands of people left homeless or displaced by the earthquake, tsunami and ongoing problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

But just as importantly, they’ve been providing psychosocial support for distressed people. In one shelter, for example, an elderly man visited a Red Cross nurse and told her felt unwell. She could tell he was holding back information, so she chatted with him for a while. He finally admitted that he had a colostomy bag, and he was too embarrassed to change it in the shelter. By taking the time to talk, and to make him feel comfortable, the nurse was able to help him find ways to manage his complex health needs.

Someone to help you find family

Ivory-Coast-refugees-flee to Liberia

© Reuters/Simon Akam, courtesy Trust.org - AlertNet

In the Ivory Coast, violence erupted at the end of 2010 after election results were disputed. More than one million people fled their homes, including over 180,000 who crossed the border to nearby countries. The majority of refugees are now being hosted in villages and camps in Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world, where food and water supplies are running out and there are not enough shelters or latrines.

In the chaos of fleeing their homes, many displaced people have lost contact with their families. They have no idea whether their husbands, wives, children, parents managed to escape as well. The Liberian Red Cross has volunteers working in camps along the border, registering people who have been separated from their loved ones so they can be reunited.

Emergency healthcare in danger

Libyan Red Crescent workers treat injured man

© Libyan Red Crescent

Emergency responders and local Red Cross or Red Crescent volunteers are usually the first on the scene to help survivors of major disasters. But the conflict in Libya reminds us that they’re just as vulnerable in disasters as the people they’re rushing to help.

The Libyan Red Crescent and its partners are delivering aid to thousands of displaced people in Benghazi, Misrata and around Tripoli, as well as people living in shelters or with relatives in the western mountain areas.

They’re also running a camp in Misrata and distributing food to people who have been displaced. Volunteers are providing first aid and have provided blood bank services to those injured in the conflict. Doctors and nurses from both the Libyan Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are treating people wounded in the fighting.

But those ambulance drivers, first aid volunteers, doctors and nurses are as vulnerable as the casualties they’re helping. Ambulances have been hit, one nurse has died, and several volunteers have been injured.

How you can help

Successful disaster relief operations depend on many things. Volunteers can contact the Red Cross or Red Crescent National Society in their own country to find out how to be prepared for disasters in their communities. For example, the British Red Cross has emergency response and first aid volunteers who support the statutory emergency services in the UK.

Many disaster relief operations also rely on trained professionals who are ready to use their skills anywhere they’re needed.

But none of this work is possible without generous donations from the public

Find out more about the disaster relief operations you can support through the British Red Cross.

How digital media is changing the way we respond to disasters

Twitter won’t last long, I wouldn’t bother with it.

This was the advice I remember receiving a couple of years ago at a communications conference with a speaker from a respected PR company.

Pro-government supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and anti-government demonstrators clash in Tahrir Square

But as the current situation in Egypt demonstrates; social media is fast changing the way we engage with each other on a personal, national and global scale. Less than an hour ago I did a Twitter search to find out the latest about the Jan 25 revolution and since then there’s been almost 10,000 new tweets.

If you want to get real-time information about events going on around the corner or across the world, Twitter is where it’s at. Hmmm, I wonder how that PR woman’s career is going these days…

Where social media started off as a great new way to network in our personal lives, its value is being increasingly harnessed by businesses – and the business of humanitarian work can’t afford to be left behind.

Although it’s often the poorest countries who are worst hit by disasters, more often than not, victims of disasters have cell phones and its a resource that needs to be better tapped into, to save lives.

New innovations in social and mobile technologies are having a huge impact on how we deal with emergencies, including early warning and preparedness, as well as disaster and post-disaster environments.

In Haiti and Pakistan we are seeing an increasing number of people using social media to contact the British Red Cross directly. When the Pakistan floods set in last August one Pakistani man left a message on our Posterous blog asking how he could help.

As a result, and within 24 hours of posting his comment, he was volunteering with our logistics emergency response unit providing invaluable help with the distribution of life-saving relief goods.

After the earthquake in Haiti, a hospital ran out of supplies and a local ‘tweeter’ contacted the British Red Cross via Twitter identifying the hospital’s needs and location with GPS co-ordinates. We then contacted Rapid UK who were able to respond quickly to the situation.

Haiti's capital reduced to rubble

When Port-au-Prince was reduced to rubble, lack of information about Haiti’s capital hampered the emergency response. But a collaborative project by OpenStreetMap, two satellite firms and people on the streets in Port-au-Prince provided daily updates to aid workers and rescuers, helping them navigate their way through the city.

As climate change takes its toll and disasters around the world increase in both scale and frequency, it’s important we begin nurturing more productive partnerships between humanitarian actors and the private sector.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is currently working with Voila, a wireless subsidiary of Trilogy International Partners, who have pioneered a new messaging application to help fight cholera in Haiti. It is the first of its kind globally and allows the Red Cross to send customised text messages via SMS to phone users in defined geographic areas – unlike traditional SMS services, which require broadcast messages be delivered to every sub¬scriber on a carrier’s network.

Using the new service, the Red Cross can pro¬vide Haitians with advice and offers of aid that are relevant to their particular circumstances; that capability has driven unprecedented response rates, with life-saving consequences.

Also in partnership with Trilogy International, the Red Cross set up free-phone hotlines for people to be better informed or to register feedback on our service delivery. Our messages have reached more than 360,000 people on an issue as sensitive as sexual violence for instance, with more than 10 per cent of that number responding directly to our offer of support and help – this is a staggering suc¬cess in a 24-hour timeframe with minimal human resources, and demonstrates how mobile technologies are bringing enormous added value to humanitarian operations.

At its core, this approach is about delivering potentially life-saving information into the hands of the people who need it most. Importantly, it is also about enabling populations affected by disaster to channel critical data about their situation and needs to aid agencies, thereby increasing the speed, relevance and effectiveness of aid.

In Haiti, this initiative is being carried out in close collaboration and partnership with Trilogy International, as well as a consortium of non-governmental organisations and media development organisations including OCHA, Save the Children, Internews and BBC World Service Trust.

Pakistani survivor hugging Red Cross delegate

If we want to prevent the huge loss of lives and livelihoods that we’ve seen in the mega-disasters of the Indian Ocean tsunami, Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods then the international response needs to get smarter with all stakeholders working ever closer together.

Ps If you’re still in doubt and wondering could a tweet really help save a life? It can, and it has. Check out this story.

Pps I stole that last line from a great article about social media on the American Red Cross website.

Ppps For anyone who can’t get enough of this subject, here’s a new presentation on digital disasters published on Scribd.

Pppps Please check out our latest video on Haiti by the numbers. Okay, I’m done.

Photo 1 © Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, courtesy alertnet.org

Photo 2 © Red Cross/ECHO

Photo 3 © Olivier Matthys/IFRC

How would you respond to the Haiti earthquake?

haiti blog picHave you ever wondered what disaster response experts do when disaster strikes around the world?

At this very moment the Red Cross along with other aid agencies are in Haiti, where last week’s earthquake has caused massive devastation and loss of life.

Our Haiti Earthquake appeal has raised an amazing £2 million so far, and the Disasters Emergencies Committee  (DEC) appeal, which the British Red Cross is a part of, a whopping  £23 million. Apart from raising these vital funds though we must also ensure we use them wisely and reach those most in need.

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