Disasters not only pose a humanitarian disruption, but also a developmental challenge. Among the destruction, displacement and chaos, it can often be difficult for development and relief agencies to efficiently disburse aid. Typhoons like Haiyan are especially difficult, as the scope of the damage done is still unknown.
A report by the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition named the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as one of the worst disasters in terms of international response. Relief agencies showed the greatest weakness in understanding cultural complexities, catering to the local context and working with local communities and organizations, states the development agency called Devex.
Luckily, Haiyan respondents have the opportunity to learn from past mistakes. Roger Yates of Plan International presents his list of 10 tips for NGOs engaging in disaster response, many of which focus on a piqued awareness of local context. His recommendations, as reported in Devex, are as follows:
1. Focus on priorities.
There is too much to do at once, so it is crucial to start with the most pertinent tasks and work from there. Flexibility is also important, as priorities may change as the situation develops and circumstances change.
2. Understand the role of the military and government.
It is important for NGOs to understand how the military will contribute to relief efforts, such as transportation and security oversight. NGOs should provide complementary assistance, but not override governmental directives.
3. Work with local elected officials and other community leaders.
Locals will have a valued knowledge of the disaster location. NGOs should work closely with grassroots organizations and community leaders to tailor their relief efforts.
4. Keep the public in affected communities informed.
NGOs should disburse messages concerning when and where to receive aid, public health information and notices concerning missing persons. TV, radio and notice boards are all good resources.
5. Work collaboratively, not independently.
NGOs are only one part of an international effort and must behave in this manor. Other actors will bring a diverse set of skills that can be utilized in conjunction with NGOs.
6. Go the extra mile;find the most vulnerable and worst affected people.
Disadvantaged groups, such as women and young girls, will need a special set of needs which may require more effort on behalf of relief agencies.
7. Don’t underestimate the importance of mental health.
Disasters create mass amounts of trauma. NGOs must work with individuals to reduce stressors and provide mutual support.
8. Support local markets and move to cash transfers as soon as possible.
NGOs should work to support local markets and reinstate stability. Purchasing local goods and giving money directly through cash transfers will help to restart the economy.
9. Build up two-way communication with the local public.
NGOs must be transparent about their efforts and utilize media outlets to communicate with both the local population and other agencies. Also, NGOs should welcome feedback from the local community.
10. Building permanent houses is difficult.
It may take many years before it is possible to construct quality permanent houses, but it is better to keep temporary housing than to hastily rush into building permanent structures. NGOs must be patient and accurately assess the situation before moving forward.
Plan International operates in more than 50 countries worldwide to promote children’s rights and alleviate poverty. The organization has already raised more than $13 million to Haiyan relief and has several programs at work on the ground in the Philippines.
– Mallory Thayer