West Africa to benefit from disaster response teams

Published: 11 June 2003 0:00 CET

Tope Akinwande in Accra

In a bid to strengthen and support the relief response capacity of Red Cross Societies in the West African region, the International Federation has brought together over 30 Red Cross volunteers and officials in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to create Regional Disaster Response Teams (RDRT).

The Red Cross volunteers and staff, with experience in the areas of telecommunications, logistics, information, finance and health were given special training to prepare them for a possible expanded crisis in West Africa.

This included honing their skills in technical areas such as field assessment, camp selection, planning and management, procurement, warehousing and distribution, media relations as well as emergency health issues.

“The objective of the training is to help the National Red Cross Societies in West Africa to provide efficient disaster response,” says John Watt, the Federation’s senior relief officer and convenor of the training. “It will also lead to the formation of multi-sectoral and multicultural disaster response teams deployable to different parts of the region within a short notice.”

Following the training, a database containing all the necessary information on members of the RDRTs will be kept by the Federation’s regional delegation and made available to any Red Cross Society that might be in need of specific expertise during disasters or crisis.

This is a region prone to conflicts and epidemics, and for the participants, this specialised training and the creation of RDRTs could not have come at a better time.

“With all the humanitarian problems in Liberia, this timely training will provide us with the necessary skills to further meet the needs of the thousands of vulnerable people on our hands”, says Varfey Dorley, disaster management coordinator at the Liberian Red Cross.

“We are also sure of getting assistance from sister Red Cross Societies should we lack the necessary manpower,” he points out.

“The Federation initiative will be of great benefit to my country and to West Africa,” adds Edward Abu Sahid, disaster preparedness and information officer at the Gambian Red Cross. “It will help us to be more effective and efficient in our assistance to the Casamance refugees.”

Adekunle Aderanti, health co-ordinator at the Nigerian Red Cross sees this training and the creation of West Africa disaster response teams as “one of the best gifts the Federation has given to the region”.

He believes it is a golden opportunity for different Red Cross Societies to work together, share their skills and experiences and above all, foster regional unity. “I wish everybody in the region would emulate this Red Cross spirit of working together to serve Humanity,” he concludes.

According to Stephen McAndrew, Federation’s Disaster Management Delegate in Latin America and member of the Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU), the Federation’s West Africa RDRT is very feasible. “We have tried it in Latin America and it has helped our region to create an environment of mutual assistance. That is our wish for West African Red Cross Societies.”

For John Watt, the region’s Red Cross Societies stand to gain more from the creation of RDRTs. Quoting Dr. Vimala Ramalingam, Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross, he concludes, “Regional Disaster Response Teams allow all national Red Cross Societies to become donor national societies with human resources and technical capabilities”.

In other words, they may not have the money, but they have people who can get things done.

Related links:

West Africa appeal - operations update
Other regional documents from West Africa
Disaster reponse
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