Strengthening Red Cross Red Crescent responses in water and sanitation during emergencies

Published: 11 June 2014 10:43 CET

By Susan Onyango and Chelsea Giles-Hansen, IFRC

Water and sanitation needs consistently rank among the most critical during disasters and crises across the eastern Africa and Indian Ocean Islands region. Basic needs for health and dignity such as access to safe drinking water, distribution of buckets, soap and hygiene items, sanitation - including safe disposal of human waste and disease control - are core areas of intervention for many National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Regional Disaster Response Team (RDRT) is one tool for emergency response managed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Skilled and experienced staff and volunteers from National Societies are trained in a specialized area, such as water and sanitation, health, disaster management, or logistics. Trained RDRT members are then deployed within 48 hours to support other National Societies in their emergency operations. Being from neighbouring countries, RDRT members are readily available and already have a good understanding of local contexts and circumstances.

Saïd Mhoudine, from the Comoros Red Crescent, has been deployed as a water and sanitation RDRT member to neighbouring countries of Madagascar, Seychelles, as well as outside region, to Mauritania. “What I like is the work to strengthen the capacity of National Societies through training volunteers,” said Mhoudine. “By training volunteers in water, sanitation and hygiene promotion in emergencies, thousands of people affected by the disaster can be reached.”

In the last ten years, IFRC has deployed 33 RDRTs within the eastern Africa region, 24 of whom (or 73 per cent) were water and sanitation specialists. While on RDRT deployments, members provide technical support to emergency operations. Because of their unique skills, RDRT trained members are also often used to facilitate trainings aimed at strengthening National Society disaster response teams.

Babajee Bajee Ram, a 28 year old volunteer with the Mauritius Red Cross Society, has been deployed as a water and sanitation RDRT member to Comoros and Burundi.

“I was happy to be informed of my selection, as this was another opportunity to assist vulnerable people and to acquire field experience and increase my knowledge of the water and sanitation sector,” said Babajee.

Given the high demand for water and sanitation related RDRT deployments, IFRC recently brought together 19 participants from nine National Societies for a refresher training to strengthen the existing pool of water and sanitation specialists. Supported by the Norwegian Red Cross, the training, held in Nairobi, Kenya, focussed on conducting assessments, plan of action development, the role of the RDRT and standard operating procedures, and facilitation skills, along with theory and practical sessions in water, sanitation and hygiene components.

The RDRT complements the National Disaster Response Team and branch level teams that many National Societies in the region are also strengthening as part of disaster preparedness and risk reduction initiatives.

For more information on Regional Disaster Response Teams, visit