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International aid: The need to help others

While first world economies continue to agonise how about getting growth into the economy and overcoming the debt crisis, international aid charity Care will be helping the much more vulnerable population struggling to get life’s basic necessities.

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Help for Haiti: Since the earthquake Care has distributed 2,550 temporary shelters to families, as well as supplying 20,000 reinforcement kits

Operating in 87 countries around the globe Care fights poverty and injustice to help the world’s poorest people find routes out of poverty.

The charity’s head of emergencies Colin Rogers says one of the biggest challenges for Care next year is responding faster to emergencies. But he concedes the nature of some disasters mean they are inherently difficult to predict.

“People do not have a huge availability of cash. It does make if difficult when launching an appeal”

Colin Rogers, Care

“With earthquakes you can play a role to an extent but ultimately you do not know when and where they will strike,” says Rogers.

In an effort to try and make the charity more responsive Care is building up a “surge capability” of staff that is ready to rapidly respond to emergency situations.

Rogers says this will focus on Care’s four core areas of providing shelter, water and sanitation, sexual and reproduction education and providing food security.

“We are building up our roster for emergency deployment,” says Rogers. “We have a core staff who are deployable 60% of the time.”

Next year will see Care continue to help distribute shelters following the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Since the earthquake the charity has distributed 2,550 temporary shelters to families, as well as supplying 20,000 reinforcement kits containing wood, rope tarpaulins and tools to help strengthen existing shelters.

“It helped that we were in Haiti before the earthquake so we had the local knowledge,” says Rogers.

It also helps that over 90% of Care’s 13,000 plus staff are hired locally, he adds.

Next year will also see Care “keeping a watching brief on Syria”, according to Rogers. “We are not currently there,” says Rogers, “but once the situation changes we want to be able to quickly scale up.”

Care has an office in nearby Jordan but similar to most Western charities it has not been able to gain any access to the war-torn country.

Another area that Care will be heavily involved in 2013 will be its on-going work in the crisis affecting the Horn of Africa.

Chronic food insecurity has spiralled into a massive humanitarian crisis where over 10M people are in acute need of assistance. Conditions in large parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda are expected to deteriorate in 2013 as the worst drought in 60 years shows no sign of abating.

The crisis was sparked last year when a lack of rain and crop failure caused devastating drought and famine, exacerbated by the on-going conflict in Somalia.

Many refugees have found shelter at the world’s largest refugee camp - Dadaab in Kenya. Care operates three camps providing temporary homes to over 400,000 people.

“We’re providing water and sanitation support as well as helping people come to terms with their traumatic experiences,” says Rogers.

Some 1,300 refugees - mostly from Somalia - are pouring into a site originally designed for 90,000.

Care has distributed food, water sanitation and hygiene information to every member of the Dadaab camp. It has also delivered handwashing stations to schools in the camp as well as sanitation kits.

The massive humanitarian crisis does represent a difficult challenge for Care though, admits Rogers. Unlike a major earthquake or hurricane, there is no media frenzy - and subsequent public donations - to assist the relief effort.

Despite many more people in the Horn of Africa being affected by the drought and famine than say the recent Hurricane Sandy, or even the Haiti earthquake in 2010, there is much less press coverage.

“[The crisis] is not newsworthy until it reaches a certain point,” says Rogers. “We need to raise awareness of these issues - that’s through talking to journalists, politicians, and lobby groups.”

But even raising money for anyevent is becoming more difficult in these times of austerity.

“It is harder to raise money,” adds Rogers. “People do not have a huge availability of cash. It does make if difficult when launching an appeal.”

“But again it’s about getting the stories out there and about we can do and hopefully people will give consideration to donating.”

But Rogers does urge civil engineers to help Care’s efforts, firstly by getting involved with its ever popular Care Construction Challenge.

Humanitarian engineers must focus on the city

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It’s no longer accurate to talk about aid workers working ‘in the field’. Disasters are increasingly hitting major urban centres, bringing destruction to lives, livelihoods and infrastructure. Next year and beyond, the humanitarian community will increasingly find itself in people’s neighbourhoods. And it’s experienced engineers that will be called upon to lead effective responses.

Even in purely natural disasters the impact of climate change can make a difficult situation that much worse. We have had many recent reminders of the destructive power of nature but if that’s not enough of a challenge, growing urbanisation means that the context of humanitarian responses is changing too.

The idea of working “in the field” derived from the fact that most aid workers began doing exactly that. It was in fields that humanitarian response began: drilling boreholes and pit latrines, setting up camps for displaced people and establishing logistics to deliver vital food supplies to isolated communities. But that’s changing.

When the earthquake hit Haiti aid agencies couldn’t speak to a local landowners and set up camps for 50,000 people at a time. There wasn’t the space and ownership was suddenly much more complex. Where people had been living in high-rise dwellings, there was now nothing but rubble. The ownership of land - and rubble - was fiercely debated. Transports systems became non-existent.

Humanitarian engineers couldn’t easily drill boreholes and set up new clean water supplies. They had to provide services to a tightly-packed, disparate population. They had to adapt to what was already there. Their response had to be integrated into existing water supply systems. The experience of Haiti has shown that engineers, particularly water and sanitation engineers but also so many other infrastructural skills , will be vital to future urban responses.

In the water example the future will demand professionals with experience of working with urban water systems, water companies, municipalities and the private sector. Engineers with practical hands-on skills will be needed, as well as those with experience of contractual and procurement procedures.

Cholera outbreaks in urban areas in Haiti and presently in Sierra Leone provide unique containment challenges because they threatened to contaminate existing water systems. Future humanitarian responders will need to learn to work under the same constraints that local water and sanitation companies are under and develop these existing systems for the future. The humanitarian sector is beginning to develop a set of tools to respond to this new context, but it won’t be enough without the planning, coordination, innovation and leadership of the engineering sector.

But it’s not just engineering professionals that are needed. Just as responders will need to work with local infrastructure, they will also need to be integrated into the local response, into people’s coping mechanisms and community relations. Sustainable humanitarianism has to be about building the capacity of local organisations and people to respond, to recover and to prepare themselves for the future.

And that’s what RedR does. We train aid workers in countries hit by disasters around the world. We delivered water, sanitation and hygiene training in Haiti. Right now we’re delivering earthquake preparedness training to communities in Pakistan.

Humanitarian responses of tomorrow will be a process of joining the expertise of the engineering sector with the capacities of communities affected by disasters. It won’t happen overnight. But it has started already. Greater partnerships between the humanitarian community and the engineering sector are emerging. The result is that countries, communities, neighbourhoods and families, can become more resilient to the potential, devastating impact of floods, earthquakes and tsunamis of the future.

Martin McCann, CEO RedR

NCE is proud to be patron of RedR. To support them this Christmas please donate to their Christmas appeal www.redr.org.uk/christmas

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