Disaster response and development sector

During pandemics like COVID-19, what should be the disaster response plan of development sector organizations?

Effective response to a humanitarian crisis in the wake of a disaster will entail preparedness, alignment of program objectives and managing the post-disaster scenario. Development sector works with those sections of the society that are also most vulnerable to disasters. The impact of disasters is highest on the marginal communities which makes the response of the development sector eco-system crucial.

From organizations working on various aspects like livelihoods, healthcare, sanitation, etc. to those particularly involved in disaster management and relief operations and the donors, the following steps might prove effective:

Preparedness: In these situations, the government agencies are stretched fighting on all fronts to mitigate the loss. Therefore the responsibility on civil society organizations to manage the ongoing crisis increases. Many such organizations will step forward to help those suffering, however some might actually harm the local populations by overwhelming local people and responders. For example in Zaire in the mid-1990s, many more people died when cholera hit poorly operated refugee camps. So, rather than jumping into reactionary measures, a careful deliberation and planning based on availability of resources that will aid in successful campaigns will be helpful.

Alignment: Disasters like pandemics put immense stress on the mobility of people and resources. Organizations in the development sector that rely on gatherings of people at a physical space will have to respond to this crisis and align with the changed scenario. For example, at Dr. Reddy’s Foundation, in response to COVID 19 we have converted all our youth skilling training sessions from a classroom to online. We have also extended support to our farmer communities in selling their produce at fair prices without getting exploited. Making such arrangements by aligning the operations and objectives of the programs to the existing conditions will ensure a continued support to the beneficiaries and delivering the agreed impact. From a strategic standpoint, it also teaches lessons and better equips us to handle when such situations arise in future.

Post-Disaster Management & Funding: The role of many civil society organizations becomes crucial during this phase. Despite measures such as preparedness and alignment seeing through the phase of crisis, the economic slowdown will have thousands of people displaced and have affected millions of livelihoods. For enabling those severely affected regain control of their lives and better their living conditions, the responsibility of organizations that enhance livelihoods through interventions like affordable education, skilling, healthcare, financing, etc. will increase substantially. However, the economic slowdown will also affect the donations and other grants received by these organizations severely due to a decrease in overall wealth. Lay-offs and downsizing the operations inevitable to sustain the organization, but such measures will only reduce the support provided by these organizations in times of increasing need. This on one hand adds to number of unemployed people and on the other reduces the support available to people already in need of it. Therefore to mitigate such effects, the funders can: assess the impact of disasters on operations of the grantees, accept for lowering the agreed deliverables and since most of the operations come to a stand-still, give the organizations the flexibility to use program specific grants for general purposes like paying administrative costs, salaries, etc. Such efforts will reduce the burden on civil society organizations and help them recover soon for the post-disaster activities.

Disasters are testing times. Measured responses by being well prepared, aligning with current scenario and good management of finances might help overcome these tough times without substantial losses.

Aboli abkari | Head partnership

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