Helping each other: Personal experiences from Southeast Asia’s Regional Disaster Response Team members in Nepal

By Kate Jean Smith, IFRC

On 25 April 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. In the worst disaster to strike the country since 1934, more than 8,000 people lost their lives and thousands more were left in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Within 48 hours the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched a 33.4 million Swiss franc emergency appeal to support a major response.

Highly-trained Red Cross and Red Crescent staff mobilized from around the world to carry out the relief efforts. Among them was the Asia Pacific Regional Disaster Response Team, comprising of 58 highly-skilled professionals from National Societies across Asia Pacific including Indonesia, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Singapore, the Maldives, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, China (Hong Kong), Myanmar, Sri Lanka, South Korea and New Zealand.

The regional disaster response team joined the IFRC emergency response and assessment teams active on the ground in Nepal, supporting a range of needs including logistics, water and sanitation, health and shelter.  By mid-May, the Nepal Red Cross Society-lead response – supported by IFRC, ICRC and National Societies of 25 countries – had reached 42,600 families (213,000 people) with non-food relief, emergency shelter and medical assistance.

Maximizing regional expertise for disaster response

Since 1998, the IFRC has trained over 1,000 Red Cross and Red Crescent staff across Asia Pacific as part of the regional disaster response mechanism. Given the increasing rate of disasters over the years, the objective is to build on the strong local knowledge, expertise and capacity, as well as proximity of National Societies, so they are able to respond quickly when required.

In Southeast Asia, where countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Viet Nam are disproportionately affected by natural disasters each year, National Societies have wisely increased investment in the development of the regional disaster response team members.

“In February this year during the leadership meeting with National Societies in Southeast Asia, there was a strong consensus that the regional disaster response team is one of the strongest regional cooperation tools today,” says Anne. E Leclerc, head of the IFRC South-East Asia regional delegation. “We also learned a lot from the time of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.”

As a result of the Haiyan experience where only six regional disaster response team members deployed from a roster of 350, there have been significant efforts to fine-tune the process and the qualifications for candidates. Since 2013, the criteria for selection, the training curriculum, deployment process and tools, have being updated and adapted.

Currently there are 100 highly-skilled members for the disaster response team from Southeast Asia. When the earthquake struck Nepal, staff from National Societies such as Singapore, Palang Merah Indonesia, Philippines and Timor-Leste were ready and were deployed within the first month of the response.

“The regional disaster response team mechanism has proven to be a real strength for our work in disaster response,” Anne continues. “The investment for its development paid off when the earthquake struck Nepal. The deployment was quick, smooth and effective, more so than ever before.”

Vijay Kumar Ummidi, the disaster response team leader for Nepal, agrees. “The deployment for Nepal was a great success. We contributed to the earthquake relief efforts, and the hard work, dedication and ability of members to adapt to the new and challenging field conditions was visible,” he says.



To read about the first-hand experience of the regional disaster response team members click on each profile below.