In the Lubombo region of Eswatini, near the town of Big Bend, 39-year-old Bongani Masuku looks over at his field of maize. He just harvested a section last week.
“But there is still work to do,” Bongani says and starts working the land.
Lubombo is one of the hottest areas in Eswatini. As Bongani weeds his field, the temperature has already risen to over 34 degrees.
“I remove the weeds so that my maize will grow properly,” he says. “If I let the weeds take over, the seedlings would grow to be very thin and not offer good harvest.”
Earlier in the season, Bongani attended an agricultural training, after which he received a cash grant of around 70 euros. He invested the money in maize seeds that are more resilient to drought, as climate change has made rains more irregular and increased drought.
Around 70 per cent of Eswatini’s population are directly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. This is why the changing weather conditions are extremely concerning.
“The recent heatwaves have really made farming more difficult. The maize should not receive too much sunlight when it is blooming. Rain is important at that stage. The last time the maize was in bloom there was no rain at all, so my harvest was smaller than I expected.”
The maize field has a great significance to Bongani. “This allows me to feed my family, but also to sell some of the crops and get money,” he adds. “This money helps me put my children to school. I have five children with my darling wife. Now I can buy them schoolbooks and other school supplies, like pens. If I make enough money, I can also buy them shoes to wear to school.”
Prolonged food insecurity
Like elsewhere in Southern Africa, people in Eswatini are suffering from a severe and prolonged food security crisis that began in 2015.
The drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon, further strengthened by climate change and the irregular rains and floods ever since, have damaged harvests year after year.
Bongani is one of the 25,500 people included in the three-year project funded by the European Union to improve food security by means of cash assistance. In addition to the Finnish Red Cross, the project includes the Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society and Belgian Red Cross Flanders.
For recipients of the cash grants such as Winile Masuku, the cash assistance has meant the ability to buy food such as rice, maize flour and cooking oil at a time when regular food sources are far less plentiful and more expensive.
“Before receiving cash assistance, we were dependent on our neighbours,” Winile explains as she sits in front of her home – its walls made of intricately woven branches and stonework.
“Now I can take care of my own family.”
Gardening for change
While not everyone is a farmer, many people in Eswatini grow a portion of their daily sustenance in local community gardens. This is one reason this climate-resilience project also aims to revive the tradition of community gardens.
Part of that effort includes trainings from the Ministry of Agriculture on how to most effectively tend community gardens in the face of more extreme climate conditions. After each training, participants get a cash grant of around 35 euros to buy plant seeds, for example. The participants are encouraged to use crop varieties that require less water.
“The garden offers stability to my family, as I employ myself with this and take care of my family,” says Sibongile, one of the participants. “The harvest from the garden allows me to feed my family, and I can also sell some crops to get money for my children’s education.”
Health in the countryside
It’s also important to ensure that people stay healthy as drought and heat can create conditions that exacerbate the spread of diseases and symptoms such as dehydration. For this reason, the EU-funded project also supports the community in epidemic and pandemic preparedness.
The Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society runs three clinics in the country, and the project supports their capacity to respond to different epidemics, such as diarrhoeal diseases, tuberculosis and HIV.
“Each morning we offer health advice, meaning that we tell patients what epidemics are currently ongoing,” explains Phumlile Gina, a nurse at the clinic in Hosea Inkhundla in the Shiselweni region.
“Right now we are informing them of vaccinations, especially against the coronavirus and tuberculosis. We also highlight proper hygiene: we explain how important it is to wash your hands and also remind people to wash their water containers every now and then.”
“Some of our patients here in the countryside are very poor,” she adds. “They can come to the clinic for some completely other reason, for a flu for example. But we may then notice that the growth of the patient’s child is clearly stunted and there is reason to suspect malnourishment.”
“We are able to take care of such situations as well and monitor the condition of the patients. It feels great when a patient comes back to the clinic after six months and says that their child is doing great and playing like other children.”
The Programmatic Partnership between the IFRC network and the European Union, provides strategic, flexible, long-term and predictable funding, so that National Societies can act before an emergency occurs. It is being implemented worldwide including 13 countries in Africa.
Across the globe, people who migrate or are displaced from their homes face unacceptable risks. But people on the move are not alone in their journeys. Whether at land or sea, the work of the IFRC Network aims to save lives, reduce risks and provide access to essential services.
In the last fifty years, Panama has experienced an increase in extreme weather events, such as intense and prolonged rains, windstorms, floods, droughts, forest fires, landslides, tropical cyclones and the effects of El Niño and La Niña phenomena.
Right now, Panama is facing a major drought. But in recent years there have also been severe storms — such as hurricanes Eta and Iota. Those storms flooded most of Soloy, an area that is part of the Ngäbe indigenous territory, and the Tierras Altas district in Chiriquí.
This part of northwestern Panama is also one of the main agricultural areas in the country, and one of the most affected by these hurricanes, which have prompted the community to prepare for possible similar events.
Since then, disaster risk management has become a fundamental task, driven by the active participation of indigenous community leaders such as Dalia, Eusebio and Wilfredo from Soloy, and the commitment of neighbours such as Doña María, who lives in Las Nubes, in Tierras Altas. These efforts enjoy the full support of local actors and in particular, the Panamanian Red Cross.
At the COP Global Summit on climate change going on this week, the IFRC continues to emphasize that communities must be at the center of disaster and climate crisis preparedness. Here are the three main reasons why:
1. It’s going to happen again: Preparing for recurrent disasters
"One of the situations that occur during the winter season are the flooding of rivers, because we have a large number of rivers in the community; and also landslides, which leave houses and roads affected", says Eusebio Bejarano, a leader in the community of Soloy.
That is why the Panamanian Red Cross worked alongside the community as it prepared an assessment and established Community Response Brigades. In addition, they have begun using something called the Nexus Environmental Assessment Tool, which helps to quickly identify environmental concerns before designing longer-term emergency or recovery interventions.
"It is an environmental assessment tool that has allowed us to understand the context of the activities carried out by the community and, above all, how we can work to protect the livelihoods of this community, which is rural and depends heavily on subsistence agriculture", explains Daniel González, head of risk management for the Panamanian Red Cross.
At the family and individual level, actions can also be taken to protect the homes of people like Doña María, who lives near the river bank and has worked on a family evacuation plan. She is now prepared to act in case of flooding.
2. It’s local people who are first to respond: Strengthening community response capacities
Part of the preparedness process requires communities to strengthen their learning, technical and leadership capacities to better adapt to the crisis situations. This is critical because community organizations are the first to respond when disasters occur and often have access to areas where international actors do not.
The presence of these community groups before, during and after crises means they can more readily respond while also fostering long-term preparedness and recovery.
"We must prepare ourselves in First Aid, the authorities must be trained, the teaching staff and the community,” says Dalia, the leader of the Psychosocial Support Brigade in Soloy. “The Red Cross has brought different types of training, in which young people have participated, but we need more communities and more young people to get involved."
The implementation of educational projects, such as blue schools, which incorporate learning about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), recycling and school gardens, are a sample of the actions that the communities are carrying out with the support of the Panamanian Red Cross.
"We have trained the Fire Fighting Brigade, the First Aid Brigade; but we have also worked on strengthening resilience in three schools in Alto Bonito, Boca de Remedio and Soloy,” says Daniel González, head of risk management of the Panamanian Red Cross. “In addition, we have provided them with first aid kits and rigid boards, along with training for teachers and the educational community."
3. Communities know what’s at stake: Strengthening community resilience
Communities are the heart of climate-crisis preparedness because they know what’s at stake — their environment and the survival of their way of life. In the face of the climate crisis and increasingly uncertain scenarios, this is why the Red Cross works with communities to strengthen local resilience to climate-related shocks.
"We have worked hand-in-hand with the Red Cross, organizing and preparing for situations that have been occurring with the climate crisis, focusing a lot on the community, working with leadership, working with authorities and visiting communities", says Eusebio Bejarano.
Community resilience enables communities to prepare for disasters and create a safe, healthy and prosperous future. To do this, communities must record information on all relevant hazards and their causes, health threats, hazards, conflict, violence, climate crisis, environmental degradation. Only then will they be able to set priorities together and decide how best to address them.
Another leader from Soloy, Wilfredo highlights the importance of promoting empathy and collective care and stresses the importance of caring for nature. He emphasizes that the mountains and rivers are fundamental for community life. The Ngäbe indigenous population has also brought to the table the need to take cultural elements such as language into account when planning preparedness actions.
A resilient community is one that is experienced, healthy and able to meet its basic needs. It’s a community that has economic opportunities, well-maintained and accessible infrastructure and services, and can manage its natural assets in harmony with the environment. And it’s a community that can focus on moving forward, and on things that bring joy and meaning, rather than continually recovering from the sudden shocks of the climate crisis.
Disaster preparedness and community resilience actions are also being carried out in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Ecuador, thanks to the Programmatic Partnership between the IFRC network and the European Union, which provides strategic, flexible, long-term and predictable funding, so that National Societies can act before an emergency occurs.
A global partnership aimed at strengthening resilience and providing agency to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities will continue into its second year following a decision by Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) and the IFRC in early summer 2023.
Through the Programmatic Partnership, [ML1]European Union (EU) money will fund a range of innovative projects into 2024 that focus particularly on local action to prepare for and respond to humanitarian and health crises.
With climate change, pandemics and population movements all on the rise, these types of partnerships are crucial for enhancing locally-led anticipatory action and, where necessary, disaster response.
“The ride to localization involves having local communities in the driver’s seat from the moment of identifying needs aligned with priorities and strategies, to decision making and implementation,” said Marwan Jilani, director general of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society's (PRCS).
The partnership has reached over eight million people so far, helping communities reduce risks and react quickly to sudden-onset crises. With a EUR 70 million boost in year two, the partnership sits at over EUR 134 million and will be able to reach far more people than in the first year. All IFRC work is carried out with close cooperation with national Red Cross and Red Cresent societies, local communities and networks of volunteers.
“Humanitarian needs are growing and if we want to prepare communities to be more resilient, we need to join forces with our national societies and public institutions,” Nena Stoiljkovic, the IFRC’s Under-Secretary General for Global Relations, Humanitarian Diplomacy and Digitalization.“Only then we can be more effective and efficient. This programme is the best example we have on long-term and multi-country financing and is an inspiration for similar partnerships to come.”
The Partnership focuses of five key areas:
Disaster preparedness and response: Preparing communities, National Societies and disaster risk management institutions to anticipate effectively, respond and recover from the impact of evolving and multiple shocks and hazards.
Epidemic and pandemic preparedness and response: supporting communities to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks.
Supporting people on the move: providing displaced people with their basic humanitarian needs.
Cash assistance: often the best way to help people is to give them a cash grant to invest locally, as they choose. Cash assistance gives those in need dignity and agency.
Risk communication, community engagement and accountability: the people we support through the Programmatic Partnership are partners in our work. We listen to them carefully and act upon their opinions and needs.
A total of 12 EU Red Cross National Societies are involved in implementing the Programmatic Partnership in 24 countries around the world. Here are some examples of Partnership activities:
After the fires in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee camp, the Bangladesh Red Crescent and IFRC provided immediate support to families who had lost their houses and provide them with mattresses, blankets and torch lights. They also built 500 shelters in Camp 11. This funding was pooled together with the IFRC-DREF resources to provide a comprehensive response to the fire. More than €300K from the Programmatic Partnership were allocated and 2,500 people were supported through this emergency intervention.
The Red Cross of Chad responded immediately to the Sudan crisis, providing basic support to those people fleeing the conflict and crossing the border into Eastern Chad. The flexibility of the programme’s funding instrument enabled this timely and critical support. More than €260K were allocated and 5,883 people were reached through this action.
After Ecuador was struck by several simultaneous disasters — floods, landslides, building collapses, hailstorms and an earthquake – the Ecuadorian Red Cross was able to assist the affected population by providing home, tool, kitchen, hygiene and cleaning kits, as well as mosquito nets, blankets and access to safe water. More than €250k were allocated and 13,020 people were reached in this intervention.
Volunteers across Democratic Republic of the Congo, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama have been trained to use the Nexus Environmental Assessment Tool (NEAT+), to better assess risks and post-disaster needs.
In Guatemala, volunteers have been trained on the use of drones for ‘photogrammetry’ – the modern way to get reliable information about physical objects and the environment through the process of recording, measuring and interpreting photographic images. The training has significantly improved the ability of volunteers to assess risk and prepare accordingly.
Cristia, Winston, Yender and Belkis are four very different people, from various walks of life. But they have one thing in common. They are all Venezuelans who have traveled thousands of kilometers first through Colombia, on their way south into Ecuador.
Their realities are very different, and their needs vary throughout their journey. At some points, they need information and a phone call; and at another point along the route, they seek medical attention, or someone to talk to who they can trust.
The movement of people from Venezuela to Ecuador is just one of the many routes that migrants cross throughout the Americas as they search for a better future. The IFRC network is present in 22 countries in the region, and is constantly assessing the needs of migrants to identify the best way to support those who need it most. As in many other places, along other migration routes, the Ecuador Red Cross endeavors to meet the migrants when they are most in need, wherever they are, to ensure they are safe and healthy, physically and emotionally.
1. Crossing borders to an unknown path
Walking with the help of two crutches, Cristia is followed by her husband Winston after crossing the Rumichaca border bridge that separates Colombia from Ecuador. Pregnant women, children, elderly or people who are injured or disabled like Cristia cross this border to an uncertain future, without knowing where they will sleep and eat along the way. It is estimated that nearly 475,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees live in Ecuador.
On the way, they may face many risks: xenophobic harassment, hunger, the danger of climbing on and off of cargo trucks, spending nights in the street regardless of the weather, as well as sexual violence, robbery and extortion.
2.Information is critical
On the side of the road, Cristia waits next to the passing of noisy and fleeting tractors, while Winston looks for information on how to get to Peru. There, family members who took the same route months ago are waiting for them.
Cristia and Winston get much of the information they need through massive WhatsApp groups, administered by other people who have migrated before. When crossing from one country to another, the couple lost access to mobile data, the currency changed and they do not know how to continue their journey.
In response to these kinds of needs, the Ecuadorian Red Cross provides basic information and guidance to families; so they know where to receive support such as food kits, resting points and personal hygiene. They also share with them the location of the Mobile Health Units on the roads, where they can receive psychological first aid and primary medical assistance.
This service is possible thanks to the Programmatic Partnership between the IFRC network and the European Union, which provides strategic, flexible, long-term and predictable funding, so that National Societies that are part of this program can provide more efficient and effective humanitarian support.
3. Connected at every step
Those who still have a cell phone can keep in touch with their loved ones. But often times, phones and address books may be lost or stolen and they may have no way to call their relatives to inform them that they are still alive.
To address this problem, the Ecuadorian Red Cross offers the Restoring Family Links service, which allows migrants to communicate with people close to them to tell them how they are doing.
Red Cross volunteer Mateo Rios offers national and international calls, internet connection and access to social networks to 130 people per month.
“Restoring Family Links is very emotional.Some people carry a great uncertainty as they have not been in contact with their families for weeks, and carry the weight of the dangers they have experienced. This is how we volunteers work to maintain people's confidence, so that they can move forward”, says Mateo.
4. Recovering to move forward
While Cristia and Winston stop to receive more information, there are those who, like 19-year-old Yender, walk down the road with companions they met on the road. Here, Yender and his group wait their turn to enter the Mobile Health Unit, where around 40 people are attended every day.
“I have been cold, rejected and mistreated,” says Yender. “Food is not ensured on the route and in some places they don't even give us a glass of water, even though we are dehydrated. The food kit given to us by the Red Cross gives us strength, and soon when the doctor sees me, I want him to tell me how my health is''.
After receiving medical and psychological assistance, Yender and his friends recharge their energies, say goodbye to the humanitarian team and continue their journey south.
5. Settling in a new home, a new country
In addition to the transit cities and towns where people spend brief hours on their way to their final destination, there are places where people settle down and start a new life from scratch. Ibarra is one of those cities, surrounded by the Andean mountains.
Those who have just arrived do not have the means to buy food, basic goods or pay rent. There, the Ecuadorian Red Cross provides cash assistance and support to migrant and host population small businesses.
This is the case of Belkis Colmenares. She has been living in Ecuador for two years, left Venezuela three years ago and lives in a three-room apartment with twelve other people, seven of whom are children.
“Two months ago we found out about the help being offered,” says Belkis. “A girl from the Red Cross accompanied us to the ATM and they gave us the money with which I bought food, paid part of the rent and medicines for my husband, who suffers from a mobility disability. Even though the money is gone as soon as it arrives, I felt happy because it took a great weight off my shoulders.”
As the sun blazes mercilessly over Bajakajla Slum in Rajshahi City, Bangladesh, Fatema Khatun vividly remembers her childhood when the weather was different, and life was more comfortable.
“When I was in primary school, the temperature was not so high, we had a good life,” she says. “We used to sit by the riverbed and the weather was different. It rained frequently. The temperature was low.”
The frequent rains and lower temperatures made playing by the riverbed a joyous pastime. But as time passed, each passing summer seemed hotter and more unbearable.
“The average temperature is 42-43 degrees Celsius now,” says 19-year-old Fatema, who lives with her family in a tiny, tin-roofed house. “Sometimes it rises to 45 degrees Celsius. Because of the high temperature, I am facing problems with my eyes. I cannot read correctly.”
The heatwaves are particularly hard on the elderly. “I have never seen this kind of heatwave,” says Fatema's 75-year-old grandmother, Shohor Banu Bewa, who feels the impact of the heatwave intensely and struggles to sleep at night. “When the temperature rises, I sit by the riverbed“.
Many families, like Fatema's, struggle with itching, rashes, and other heat-related illnesses. And they often lack the resources to cope with the health consequences.
“People in our area are poor,” says Fatema. “Most of them work as housekeepers. They face many problems supporting their families and raising children. They cannot provide education, food, and clothes due to poverty.”
Hot tin rooves
Sayma Khatun Bithi, a community volunteer with the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) in Rajshahi adds that the houses are particularly vulnerable to heat.
“Those who live in the slum area have their houses made of tin,” says Sayma, who along with Fatema became a volunteer after getting first aid training from BDRCS. “Tin absorbs more heat. The heat has become unbearable for children, the elderly and pregnant women.”
To help people living in such vulnerable situations in parts of Rajshahi City, the BDRCS aims to protect residents from the adverse effects of heat waves through a project funded by the European Union, in collaboration with the IFRC, the BDRCS the German Red Cross, and the Danish Red Cross.
“The Bangladesh Red Crescent informed us of many things through announcements and radio programs,” says Fatema. “They taught us how to help someone if they fall unconscious due to a heatwave. I listened to the information provided by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society on the radio. I share the information with everyone.”
Fatema also got first-aid training from BDRCS and, along with Sayma Khatun Bithi and others, became community volunteers.
Abu Md Zubair, a field officer for BDRCS, emphasized the importance of public awareness. His team provided cooling centers, medical facilities, and launched awareness programs, teaching the community how to stay healthy during the heat waves. A community radio program, hosted by Jannatun Nahar Joti, amplified these messages to the entire city.
Due to the combined endeavors of people like Fatema Bithi, and organizations like the Red Crescent Society, heat-related illnesses and fatalities began to decrease. Though the heat was unrelenting, people are learning to manage the extreme heat, supporting and caring for each other.
Amid the vast expanse of bamboo huts in Cox’s Bazar Camp-11, Bangladesh, 14-year-old Mohammad Shahid is in many ways like any average teenager. He loves to play football, he goes to school and he has big dreams for the future.
“I want to be a teacher and educate people in my community when I grow up,“ he says, his voice soft yet filled with determination.
But this young man’s memories carry far more weight than any teenager should. Memories of fleeing Myanmar, only to end up living in a camp with his parents and sister, and himself—forming a close-knit unit amidst a life of challenges, but where danger is never far away.
During one terrifying day, the relative peace of camp life was brutally interrupted by a roaring blaze that tore through their bamboo haven. Shahid remembers the roaring flames consuming the family home and the sounds of despair echoing through the camp.
“During the fire incident we started running around and I went missing,” he recalls. “Then after an announcement through the [public address] speaker, my parents found me. I was searching for my parents and was in anxiety and fear.”
The family was finally reunited, but the house that had protected them from rain, winds and heatwaves was gone, burnt to the ground along with some 2,000 other homes in the camp.
The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and the IFRC swiftly came to their aid. "We provided them various support to build shelters," says Asmat Ullah, a volunteer with the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society who himself comes from the displaced community in Cox’s Bazar. “When the fires broke out. Many people suffered. We distributed bamboo, tarpaulin and ropes and necessary support to the families who lost their houses.”
A happy ending
Shahid’s family says the loss of their house was a huge blow. But Shahid and his family were able to watch as, slowly but surely, bamboo huts began to rise again. Shahid pitched in; his every effort was filled with dreams of a brighter future.
“Without a home, we might have suffered from storms and excessive heat,” he says. “And that is why my parents and grandparents show their gratitude. Volunteers from the Red Crescent Society came and built a house for us. We are living happily.“
Tania Akter, a Disaster Risk Reduction Officer from the German Red Cross, highlights the significance of these shelters."Considering the camp context, these shelters are the only shelter for them," she says, adding that these structures provide essential stability for all aspects of a healthy happy life amidst an often very unpredictable backdrop.
While the story of the fire ends relatively happily, it’s just one chapter in a story of tremendous upheaval for families like Shahid’s. The young man’s father, Mohammad Hanif, recalls the treacherous journey that led them here. Forced to flee their home in Myanmar, they sought refuge in Bangladesh.
"We got houses, and people love us; we have been living in Camp-11 for the last six years," Mohammad Hanif says, his words laced with gratitude for their newfound community. “If the Red Crescent Society had not built us a house, we would have suffered a lot. We might have suffered a significant loss.”
Shahid, meanwhile, can once again get back to the things he loves most: being with his family, going to school and pursuing his dream to be a teacher, and of course playing football. Running to kick the ball as rain pours down during a recent football match in the alleys of Camp-11, his voice joins the din of laughter and joy. “I love playing football with my friends,” he says, like any teenager might, a radiant smile shining through the falling rain.
Rosa Cándida is a farmer from Las Maravillas village on the outskirts of Ahuachapán, western El Salvador. She and her husband, two daughters and two young granddaughters live off the land—growing maize, beans and sorghum in the lush countryside close to their home.
In stark contrast to the idyllic setting, in recent years, Rosa has seen tropical storms, landslides, heavy rains and earthquakes devastate her country.
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, but it faces big disaster and climate-related risks. In 2022, Rosa was one of more than 1.7 million people who needed some form of humanitarian assistance or protection in the country due to disasters.
An earthquake in January of this year damaged her home, creating big cracks in its mudbrick walls and forcing her family to sleep outside while they found the money needed to repair it.
Half a day’s farming only generates just enough income for Rosa to feed her family for the day, meaning disasters like the earthquake have a drastic impact on her family’s finances and wellbeing.
Thankfully, help arrived in the form of the Salvadoran Red Cross. Their teams quickly conducted an earthquake damage assessment and provided cash assistance to more than 600 families in the region—including Rosa’s.
“Support from the Red Cross reached us and helped us buy food, medicines and other household items," she says.
Red Cross teams completed two cash transfers, making sure the money got to the people who needed it most:
"We prioritized households which were the most heavily affected by the earthquake and which included older people, pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under five," explains Fatima Evora from the Salvadoran Red Cross.
Cash assistance is one of many ways in which the Salvadoran Red Cross is helping local communities across the country to prevent, prepare for, and respond to disasters. Their volunteers have also been setting up early warning systems to prepare communities for droughts and floods, as well as helping people to adopt climate-smart livelihoods.
And as part of the Programmatic Partnership between the IFRC, National Societies, and the European Union, the Salvadoran Red Cross organized community workshops earlier this year so people could learn about their disaster risks and know how to prepare.
“We learned that there are green, yellow, orange and red alerts, and that each one indicates a different level of risk. We can be prepared and warn people via megaphones to evacuate and seek help,” says Juana Santa Maria, who attended a workshop in San Luis Herradura.
“The most valuable thing has been to know that, as a community, we are able to seek help from the mayor's office, community development associations and civil protection personnel. Today we have more information to prepare for and respond to disasters,” she adds.
In 2022, we reached 3,000 people in El Salvador through the Programmatic Partnership with the European Union.
Implemented by 24 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world—including in Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Ecuador in the Americas—the Programmatic Partnership helps communities to reduce their risks and be better prepared for disasters and health emergencies.
With the coordination of the Spanish Red Cross, Italian Red Cross and Norwegian Red Cross and support from the IFRC, the Salvadoran Red Cross is:
Building community knowledge
Providing assistance to people on the move
Preventing and responding to health outbreaks
Ensuring community perceptions and concerns are taken into account and used to improve their humanitarian assistance
Gladis Gómez wears a purple Huipil, a traditional outfit worn by people from the mountainous, western part of Guatemala. The colour represents mourning, as she sadly lost a distant relative a few days earlier.
Despite this, a smile lights up her face—a smile that so many people in her community recognise.
Gladis is the President of a local health committee in her small village of Xecaracoj. The committee brings together a dozen rural women who have been trained in key health issues by the Guatemalan Red Cross so they can help promote healthy practices in their community.
Together, the women go door to door around their village, sharing knowledge on how people can prevent common diseases and deaths, especially among children.
This work is vital. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world, and more than half the population live below the poverty line. The COVID-19 pandemic also took a heavy toll on the country – with 20,000 people dying from the disease within 3 years.
‘’We have spread the new knowledge given to us by the Guatemalan Red Cross to inform men, boys and girls about things as simple as hand washing, cleaning our homes and our streets, and the importance of breastfeeding and nutrition.”
“We now know that healthy habits make the difference between having a strong and healthy community or continuing to take our babies to the hospital,'' says Gladis.
Juan Poyón, Epidemic and Pandemic Control Technician for the Guatemalan Red Cross, says he’s learned a lot from the health committees, like the one run by Gladis, and has used the women’s local knowledge to guide and improve their support.
“We identified key issues, for example, that their priorities were the prevention of COVID-19 or malnutrition. Today, with the committees already trained, we identified that the women wanted to reach more people, in fact, they prioritised radio, information kiosks or messages via WhatsApp as the best channels to share their knowledge more widely,” explains Juan.
To share these valuable community insights even further, the Guatemalan Red Cross connected the women-led health committees with the country's Ministry of Health—which has proved to be an eye opener for the national authorities. They’re now working together to improve community health across the country.
Ana Gómez, Epidemiologist at the Guatemalan Ministry of Health, explained:
“We have worked with the Guatemalan Red Cross to identify people’s needs, respecting the diversity of the population. We learned about, and welcomed, women's points of view to strengthen community health, and along the way we confirmed that their role is key.”
“Women are the main users of health services. They also play a fundamental role in the education of the next generation who will be in charge of the country. Involving women ensures positive behavioural change in families and communities, and therefore contributes to improving Guatemala's health,” says Ana.
Spending time with Gladis, it’s clear to see that she takes a lot of pride in her work, and that she and her fellow health committee members are happy their voices are being heard.
As she sits and weaves herself a new corte – a traditional Mayan skirt – she points to the yellow stripes that represent hope.
“Tomorrow I will wear a yellow Huipil to represent the colour of life, the rays of the sun, and corn,” says Gladis.
“The women of this community are special, very special, because today we have the knowledge to protect life.”
The promotion of these local health committees in Guatemala is part of the epidemic and pandemic preparedness pillar of our Programmatic Partnership with the European Union.
So far, 1250 families in the rural area of Quetzaltenango, western Guatemala, have received valuable and trusted health advice provided by the local health committees.
Implemented by 24 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world, including in Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Ecuador in the Americas, the Programmatic Partnership helps communities to reduce their risks and be better prepared for disasters and health emergencies.
The IFRC will continue to strengthen the capacities of communities in Guatemala to prevent pandemics and epidemics; and to encourage more women to take leadership positions so they can have a profound, positive impact on the future of their communities.
Francis Icabba left his home country ofSierra Leone, West Africa, in search of security and new opportunities. Little did he know back then that he would end up crossing entire continents and one of the most dangerous migration routes in the world to find a better life.
His first stop was neighbouring Guinea, after which he crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil. There, he found it difficult to settle in due to the language barrier, so he decided to continue his journey and head north.
It took Francistwo months from the time he left Brazilto reach the Darien Gap: thethick, dense, and notoriously dangerousjungle separating Colombia from Panama.
Once there, he embarked upon a six-day trek, prepared with cans of sardines, a small gas stove and some instant noodles to see him through.
He was accompaniedby two pregnant women, on a journey he describes as ''one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my life”.
They walked for twelve hours each day without food, as his supplies quickly ran out. The extreme humidity, suffocating heat and constant crossing of rivers and streams forced them to abandon their suitcases along the way.
''The pregnant women we were with had given up. On the way we avoided snakes, rushing rivers and dangerously steep mountains. Everything is green. You have no sense ofdirection and no mobile signal. You just walk and walk. All the people there takethe risk for a better life, but it is a road where hope is lost. I wouldn't advise anyone to go through the Darien Gap.''
The Darien Gap is one of the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Sadly, it is not uncommon for people to die on the route due to the treacherous environmental conditions.There is also a highrisk of violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking and extortion by criminal gangs.
Despite this, it is estimated that more than 400,000 people will cross the Darien by the end of 2023, based on current trends.
People ofmore than 50 different nationalities have been recorded travelling through the Darien. The majority are from Venezuela, Haiti and Ecuador, but some come from as far away as India, Somalia, Cameroon and Sierra Leone.
People like Francis who make it through the Darien often arrive in very fragile physical and mental states. To help them recover, the Panamanian Red Cross runs reception centres where they providefirst aid and essentials such as food, safe water, hygiene kits and clothes.
''Arriving in Panama was one of the happiest moments of my life, it is very hard because I had to fight for it. The Red Cross was the first to help us and for me it was a blessing. In pursuit of our dream for a better life, we lost everything. So three meals a day, soap, a towel, a bath, being able to talk to someone or be cared for, that means everything.''
Red Cross volunteersalso offer psychosocial support, as well as maternal and child health services to those who need them. And they can provide Restoring Family Links (RFL) services and WiFi, so migrants can let their families know where they are and that they are safe.
For most migrants, the Darien isn’t the end of their journey, but rather the start of a 5,470 kilometre journey northwards through sixcountries in Central and North America.
But no matter who they are, or where they come from, people on the move in this regionare not alone: they can continue to access similar support from Red Cross Societies, in the form of Humanitarian Service Points, every step of the way.
Nearly 60,000 migrants like Francis received humanitarian assistance and protection from the IFRC network in 2022 thanks to ourProgrammatic Partnership with the European Union.
Implemented by 24 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world, including in Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Ecuador in the Americas, the Partnership helps communities to reduce their risks and be better prepared for disasters and health emergencies. This includes protecting the safety, dignity and rights of people on the move.
More photos on this topic are available to view and download here.
Brussels/Geneva, 30 March 2022 - An ambitious partnership between the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) launched today aims to be a new model for the humanitarian sector.
In response to the increasing number of crises arising worldwide, the pilot Programmatic Partnership “Accelerating Local Action in Humanitarian and Health Crises” aims to support local action in addressing humanitarian and health crises across at least 25 countries with a multi-year EU funding allocation.
The partnership strengthens mutual strategic priorities and is built around five pillars of intervention: disaster preparedness/risk management; epidemic and pandemic preparedness and response; humanitarian assistance and protection to people on the move; cash and voucher assistance; risk communication, community engagement and accountability.
European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič said:
“I welcome with great hope the Pilot Programmatic Partnership with IFRC, a trusted EU partner who shares our vision of implementing efficient and effective humanitarian aid operations worldwide. The funding allocated for this partnership reaffirms the EU commitment to help meet the growing needs of vulnerable people across some 25 countries, in close cooperation with the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies. It also confirms our commitment to strategic partnerships with humanitarian aid organizations.”
IFRC Secretary General Jagan Chapagain said:
“Longer-term, strategic partnerships are essential to respond to the escalation of humanitarian crises around the world. We must respond rapidly, we must respond at scale, and we must modernize our approach to make impact. We know that the most effective and sustainable humanitarian support is that which is locally led, puts communities at the heart of the action, and is resourced through flexible, long-term and predictable partnership. The pilot Programmatic Partnership allows exactly that.”
The Programme will begin with an inception phase in several countries in Latin America, West and Central Africa and Yemen. The main objective is to provide essential assistance to those currently affected by humanitarian crises, the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate-related disasters and conflict and to prevent loss of lives and suffering. Investment is also made to ensure communities are better prepared to cope with disasters through the implementation of disaster preparedness and risk reduction components.
Working closely with its National Societies, the IFRC’s global reach combined with local action, its long history of community-driven humanitarian work and its Fundamental Principles, make it the partner of choice for this Pilot Programmatic Partnership with the EU.
Following the first phase of implementation, the Programme aims to expand its reach and include additional countries around the world with the support of more EU National Societies.
The 10 countries of implementation in the inception phase are: Burkina Faso, Chad, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, Yemen, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama.
The seven National Societies from the EU working to support the implementation of the inception phase are: Belgian Red Cross (FR), Danish Red Cross, French Red Cross, German Red Cross, Italian Red Cross, Luxembourg Red Cross and Spanish Red Cross.
For more information
In Brussels: Federica Cuccia, [email protected]
In Geneva: Anna Tuson, [email protected], +41 79 895 6924
The Programmatic Partnership is an innovative and ambitious three-year partnership between the IFRC, many of our member National Societies, and the European Union. Together, we support communities worldwide to reduce their risks and be better prepared for disasters and health emergencies.