Allison Ali in Trinidad
The Solomon Islands Red Cross (SIRC) has been sharing its disaster response and recovery expertise with other Red Cross societies at a recent workshop in the Caribbean.
The three-day event, which was held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, looked at how the Red Cross and other key organizations can work together to plan and implement effective post-disaster recovery programmes in the Caribbean, which is prone to natural disasters. The workshop was hosted by the Caribbean regional representation office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
SIRC Deputy Secretary General Nancy Jolo described the workshop as a great opportunity to share experiences with fellow Red Cross Red Crescent societies.
Disaster recovery is a very important topic, Jolo said, but the distinction between relief and recovery must be made clear.
“What is recovery? We need more advocacy on this issue and I think that the sharing of experiences is a very good idea because we can help each other and learn from each other’s mistakes. It will also allow us to plan better for activities that may arise out of any future disaster,” she said.
She noted that, before the tsunami, the SIRC did not have much experience in dealing with recovery, but soon had to adapt to the changing needs of the tsunami-affected communities.
“We looked around the place and realized that we could only do so much with relief and that we could not just provide relief for the years to come,” she said. “So we looked at our capacities and resources and started to provide recovery assistance to targeted communities on a trial basis with the help of the IFRC and other agencies.”
SIRC started providing tools and guidelines to help persons start rebuilding their homes. Jolo explained that they made the most of the SIRC’s volunteer base, as well as resources in the communities themselves, to assist in the reconstruction of houses.
“We started using materials such as timber that were available in the communities, and we provided the tools and expertise necessary to start rebuilding homes. We went into the communities and said we are willing to help but [asked them to get involved in the process] and we got them to start chopping trees and milling timbers to build their own homes.”
She explained that in this way the SIRC was not just providing “hand-outs” but building a coping mechanism as well as equipping people with different skills that may help them in the future.
Following the success of the housing programme, SIRC decided to pursue a water and sanitation project in the communities to start restoring local water distribution networks. Again, they encouraged villagers to assist in the repairing of stand pipes and dams so that everyone could have clean, potable water. Jolo said this project is still ongoing and is strengthening with the assistance of a number of agencies that are currently on the ground in the Solomon Islands.
“We are also integrating a lot of our programmes to provide training such as first aid and health promotion, and building the capacity of our volunteers since they too come from the villages that were affected.”
Jolo said that partnerships were essential to the whole recovery process. “It is important that we work with all partners when it comes to planning and activities. When you talk to other agencies and partners you ensure that there is no duplication and wastage of resources, and that the needs of the beneficiaries are met.”
She offered some advice to Red Cross Red Crescent societies engaging in recovery work. “You need to ask yourselves the following questions: Are we prepared to do recovery after a disaster? Do we have the capacity and resources? Do we have good assessments and adequate information? Who are the other agencies involved, and can we work with them?”
Additionally, she said, recovery has a major impact on communities and as such the Red Cross Red Crescent needs to look at existing coping mechanisms.
“Get a holistic view of the entire situation,” she advised. “This will ensure that your activities and strategies address the issues that are important to the affected communities. The plans you make should be culturally sensitive and flexible to accommodate your Government’s plans as well. We need to meet the needs of the beneficiaries.”