We are often shocked when we see the effects of a hurricane or earthquake on television. At other times, we are moved by the violence and mass displacement that suddenly destroy the livelihoods of whole population groups. Or even in invisible emergencies, the slow but constant deterioration of living conditions are what require urgent humanitarian intervention.
Emergency interventions, whether dealing with nutrition, water and sanitation or food security, are at the heart of our mandate. The organisation has gradually ensured access to the most suitable intervention means and methodologies, which are managed by an Emergency Team that can be mobilised in less than 24 hours, 365 days a year.
The factors that determine whether we implement an emergency intervention (which always takes place within the context of the organisation’s mandate and strategy) are as follows: the magnitude of the crisis, the degree to which the population is exposed to the crisis and their response capacity (vulnerability), the resources available for intervention and the added value and possible impact of the intervention.
In emergencies caused by natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, etc) or massive displacement due to waves of violence, the change from normality to the crisis situation tends to take place in a few hours or days. There are, however, other “silent” emergencies that are the outcome of the progressive deterioration of a population’s living conditions. For example, that which is caused by an increase in food prices or the loss of the population’s purchasing power.
In both cases, thresholds have been established by the international community that, based on established indicators, will raise the alarm. For example:
- the number of litres of water available per person per day
- the number of latrines in a community
- the number of children under 5 years suffering from severe malnutrition
- the calories available in the food to which an individual has access
WHAT DO WE DO?
Action Against Hunger works in the three phases of an emergency.
Before an emergency, Action Against Hunger aims to be prepared and to prepare the most vulnerable populations in order to minimise damage when a crisis takes place. For this reason, it designs and updates contingency plans that analyse all the risks of a specific context and anticipates different responses to different scenarios.
Another three central points for action before the emergency are disaster prevention, mitigation and preparation. Let’s look at the example of a group of communities exposed to flooding with the swelling of a river:
- prevention means they have access to early warning systems, water level measuring equipment and radio equipment for sharing this data and raising the alarm when necessary.
- mitigation gives them small-scale construction projects such as retaining walls to stop the water from overflowing.
- preparation means the population will know the evacuation options and first aid in order to minimise damage.
- A step-by-step guide to an emergency intervention
- Alarm: the alert is activated. The Emergency Team and the person in charge of the specific geographic area gather as much information as possible about the affected area, the number of victims, the population and local institutions’ response capacity and the humanitarian agents present in the area.
- Quick decisions: The Emergency team and the Executive Committee quickly assess the information and decide whether to implement the emergency measures.
- Mobilisation: if Action Against Hunger has opted to intervene, the necessary funds for this purpose are moved. The organisation has two permanent emergency donors Furthermore, the Communication Department can mobilise partners, companies and private donors for the emergency. Alongside the funding, the team of individuals and the material to be sent to the region are also mobilised.
- Initial shipment: the Emergency Team and the material are sent to the region, whether on commercial flights or on planes specially chartered for the emergency.
- Quick needs assessment: first-hand information is collected and we coordinate with humanitarian institutions and organisations in the region in order to establish the intervention area and the target population.
- Intervention: the initial intervention tends to include establishing safe water points, emergency latrines, distributing hygiene kits and staple materials (blankets, water cans, cooking equipment). Food, which is normally bought in the capital or in the local market (rice, oil, maize, beans, etc), may require distribution.
Right now, it is all about covering the population’s most basic needs – 15 litres water per person per day, one latrine for every 20 people, 2200 kilocalories per person per day and nipping possible epidemic outbreaks in the bud.
- Post-emergency and rehabilitation
Even though the population’s basic needs have been covered, our work is not over. Months later, after the TV cameras have left the disaster region, there is much left to do to return to where we were before the crisis. Usually, infrastructure and crop-growing systems need to be re-built. These interventions can begin three weeks after the disaster and carry on for six weeks or even a year.
- Distribution of hygiene kits and basic goods
- Distribution of food
- Distribution of drinking water using tankers
- Installation of water purification plants
- Nutritional centres
- Post-disaster rehabilitation
Other lines of action
Secure access to prevent malnutrition
Prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malnutrition and related conditions
Availability, access and proper use of food sustained over time
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