Supporting local humanitarian action

The IFRC is committed to supporting humanitarian action that is as local as possible, as international as necessary. Our 192 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are the lead actors in preparing for, responding to and helping communities recover from emergencies. In times of increased need, our global disaster response system effectively supports and coordinates their lifesaving work.

Why are National Societies uniquely placed to support communities before, during and after disasters?

A group of volunteers with the Mozambique Red Cross manage the distribution of food supplies to their local community

Their permanent presence within communities

National Societies are often first to respond because they are already present in affected areas.

Une équipe d'ambulanciers arabes du Croissant-Rouge arabe syrien déplace un patient sur un brancard dans la neige à Homs, vers une ambulance en attente.

Their role as auxiliaries to public authorities

Thanks to their auxiliary role, National Societies complement and support local disaster risk management authorities and other humanitarian actors in their respective countries. National Societies often have access to areas where other organizations do not.

A team of young Nepal Red Cross Society volunteers delivers tents and tarpaulins to households in the remote village of Khalchok following the earthquake in 2015

Their unparalleled reach

National Societies have extensive networks of 160,000+ local branches and 14 million volunteers engaging in local action in almost every country in the world. This unparalleled reach gives National Societies detailed knowledge and understanding of local contexts and needs.

Our global disaster response system

    If a crisis occurs that overwhelms a National Society’s local ability to respond, they can request support from the IFRC’s global disaster response system.

    This includes finance mechanisms and surge services that enable our network to scale up effectively in a crisis. We do so in a systematic and coordinated way that is accountable to the people affected and that helps to strengthen the capacity of National Societies.

    The level of assistance the IFRC provides to National Societies depends on the scale and complexity of the emergency, as well as the needs of the affected populations. 

    Levels of assistance

    Country support

    Our nearest Country Office (CO) or Country Cluster Support Team (CCST) will take the primary role in supporting the National Society. They can help plan, coordinate and deliver IFRC support on the ground.

    Regional support

    IFRC Regional Offices (RO) take the lead in setting and maintaining the overall strategic direction of the operation. They also request and coordinate international support as efficiently and effectively as possible for all operations in their region.

    Global support

    IFRC headquarters takes overall strategic direction for all our emergency operations worldwide. It ensures global coherence, compliance with our global policies and standards, and can provide global support to National Societies in the form of people, money or expertise.

    Funding mechanisms

    Volunteers from the Viet Nam Red Cross Society provide vital supplies to communities following Typhoon Molave in October 2020

    Country plans

    Country plans detail the IFRC’s technical and financial support to each individual country.

    Though usually used to fund longer-term development projects, country plans can include small pots of money to help National Societies respond when a disaster strikes.

    A Mozambique Red Cross volunteer hands out essential relief items to communities in Buzi who were affected by Cyclone Idai

    Disaster Relief Emergency Fund

    The DREF is a central pot of money used to provide immediate financial support to National Societies for early action and response, in the form of either:

    • A loan: start-up funding for large-scale disaster respones which will later be reimbursed by donor contributions to an Emergency Appeal
    • A grant: funding to respond to small- and medium-sized disasters which may otherwise go unnoticed by the international community
    A Lebanese Red Cross response vehicle drives among damaged buildings and rubble following the massive port explosion in Beirut in August 2020

    Emergency Appeals

    We launch Emergency Appeals for large scale and complex disasters affecting lots of people. For instance, earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Nepal in 2015, or the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

    These responses typically involve longer-term recovery support—such as support to livelihoods, multiple cash transfers, long-term shelter support and capacity building for National Societies. 

    Surge mechanism

    Our surge mechanism is accountable, fit for purpose and an important part of our global disaster response system. We deploy the right people and services to the right place at the right time—always as locally as possible, as internationally as necessary.

    Through our surge mechanism, we are helping build the capacity of National Society staff and volunteers and supporting disaster preparedness initiatives.

    Learn more about our global response surge tools below.

    Global surge services

    Hubert Dedegbe, a member of a regional disaster response team, trains Red Cross volunteers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo how to conduct safe and dignified burials during an Ebola outbreak in Equateur province

    Rapid Response

    Human resources are one of the most crucial components of disaster preparedness and emergency response. Through our network, the IFRC can deploy specialized Rapid Response personnel on a short-term basis (up to 3 months) to support emergency humanitarian operations around the world.

    A WASH Emergency Response Unit (ERU) from the Spanish Red Cross set up safe water sources for communities n Mozambique affected by Cyclone Idai

    Emergency Response Units

    Emergency Response Units (ERUs) are teams of specialized personnel and equipment that can deploy at short notice to sudden and slow on-set disasters. They can provide specific preventive as well as life-saving services when local facilities are destroyed, overwhelmed or non-existent.

    Marshal Mukuvare, one of IFRC's Heads of Emergency Operations, responds to floods in Nigeria in 2018

    Heads of Emergency Operations

    Heads of Emergency Operations (HEOPs) are diverse and experienced staff who provide operational and strategic leadership in the IFRC’s largest and most complex emergency operations. They also support National Societies to plan and implement appropriate responses.

    Surge video series

    An American Red Cross worker hands supplies to a volunteer from the Haiti Red Cross Society following the earthquake in 2010

    An American Red Cross worker hands supplies to a volunteer from the Haiti Red Cross Society following the earthquake in 2010

    Photo: American Red Cross/Talia Frenkel

    What is surge?

    What are the key concepts and principles in emergency response for each sector?

    What tools and different resources does the IFRC offer to help National Societies respond?

    Discover our surge video series on the IFRC Learning Platform to learn more about our global surge services and how we have improved them in recent years.

    Key documents


    pdf (475.23 KB)

    IFRC Emergency Response Framework

    01/04/2017 | pdf (475.23 KB)

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    pdf (1.72 MB)

    Core Competency Framework for Surge Personnel

    02/12/2019 | pdf (1.72 MB)

    Read more