The current floods in Cambodia, which have affected more than 50,000 families and destroyed 20,000 hectares of crops, or even tropical storm 12-E in Nicaragua, which has caused floods, landslides, considerable destruction of housing, social and economic infrastructure and massive population displacements, are two recent examples of little known humanitarian emergencies. Such crises have not mobilized much, but ACTED still intends to deliver a response.
Whatever the nature of a crises affecting a population – whether a natural disaster, a political crisis, a conflict, etc. – ACTED addresses those who were brutally deprived of their livelihoods, by delivering basic aid according to identified primary needs, such as accessing potable water and food, or finding a shelter for people often displaced and having lost everything.
This requirement entailed by our mandate means our teams have to keep a double focus: on the one hand, they must keep up with an emergency response capacity in contexts where our programs are aimed at medium and long term relief, and on the other hand, to go beyond the emergency situation in order to trigger longer term dynamics. Primary relief is clearly not enough for populations to get their lives back on track. Populations must be able to come up with their own ways of getting out of a crisis within a few days or a few weeks after the shock.
In the same way, in contexts where populations are regularly hit by disasters, an emergency response must be paired with disaster prevention mechanisms, in a joint effort with communities and local authorities.
Our objective is therefore not to work exclusively on a response to an emergency situation, but also to establish between emergency, rehabilitation and development, by helping the most vulnerable populations in their long term development, helping them recover some self-sufficiency in their livelihoods, to be independent of external aid. Such sustainability can only be achieved by preventing and anticipating disasters.
From a targeted intervention to a global approach
ACTED’s approach, experience acquired over more than 15 years, knowledge of – currently 31 - countries of intervention, and greater response capacity, have helped us to now envisage a global and comprehensive response to the major humanitarian crises. ACTED decision to intervene is based on identified needs, in coordination with other stakeholders, whether national or international, with a strong will to contribute added value to a humanitarian intervention, for a population, to unaddressed needs, by notably targeting the most isolated victims, and proposing a response adapted to the context. From the Sahel band to Myanmar, from Central Africa to Iraq, ACTED has been covering emergencies that have been out of the media and international community’s focus, and alerting the latter through advocacy actions. More than ever before, the issue of food insecurity has become a major preoccupation for ACTED in the Sahel band.
Natural disasters have been multiplying since the beginning of the 21st Century, and ACTED teams have been responding to major emergencies since 2004 with the South-east Asia tsunami, and more particularly in the past two years. The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti sent a psychological shockwave throughout the world. The Pakistan floods in July 2010 concerned 21 million people and is therefore one of the biggest crises in the past decades. Climate change exacerbated the effects of the drought on the Horn of Africa food crisis this year, and has dreadful humanitarian consequences for hundreds of thousands of people every day.
ACTED’s response to an emergency is adapted to the context, but also to the amplitude of the disaster. It is the organization’s will to engage in interventions on the scale of the needs. According to the context, the choice can be made to go beyond the obvious and deploy extraordinary logistic means on the ground to respond as quickly as possible to disaster victims’ primary needs.
This was the case in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, where most relief actors focused efforts on a devastated Port-au-Prince. ACTED teams decided to also unravel its first interventions in the capital as well as in Leogane, a city 20 kilometers away that was deprived of relief actions. After a series of operations aimed at addressing the most vulnerable and isolated populations, ACTED began making massive distributions to the affected populations in Leogane and Port-au-Prince, so as to leave nobody behind the highly expected aid, to prevent any remonstration or food price rises in the whole country.
Given its presence in the Plateau Central region and the early warning systems set up there, ACTED also quickly reacted in helping populations having fled Port-au-Prince to find refuge in these areas traditionally among the poorest in the country. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, our teams began water purification tablet distributions to help the victims and their host families gain access to clean drinking water. A few months later, we were again alerted by the system, when the first cases of cholera appeared. ACTED immediately engaged in a large scale mobilization with many partners to prevent the spread of the epidemic and improve health conditions of the local communities.
In Pakistan, ACTED was mainly present in the north west, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, when floods hit a large portion of the country in the summer of 2010. ACTED’s knowledge to needs and experience up close with Pakistani populations for years were paramount in setting up a massive intervention in provinces that were affected by an unprecedented crisis. To do so, ACTED took part in the coordination of efforts with other humanitarian actors to increase the impact of relief, response capacities, and efficiency. Such an approach helped implement joint projects with partners as part of a common agenda.
The food crisis now concerns more than 13 million people throughout the Horn of Africa, though media attention has mostly focused on Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world with approximately 500,000 people. ACTED concentrated its efforts on other hardly hit regions in northern Kenya and southern Somalia, with the objective of helping isolated populations.
Considering immediate needs as a preliminary to a long term difference
ACTED’s vision and operational experience contribute to a more efficient impact on an emergency. The post-emergency phase, at the heart of ACTED’s priorities though much less covered in the media and often very tricky, is prepared upstream, ideally within the first few days after the crisis. Choices made in the first few weeks will determine the next steps. The location of interventions, identifying beneficiaries with high-performance capitalization tools shared with all humanitarian operators (see REACH box below), or involving populations in emergency and subsequent operations, are essential for the success of a humanitarian intervention. The post-emergency phase is therefore crucial in supporting communities to recover from a crisis. The success of such a transition, though delicate, relies namely on the appropriation of activities by beneficiary communities in the very early stages of an emergency. Beneficiaries are therefore prepared to work with relief actors on the reconstruction. Ideally, this phase is to be prepared in the very first days of an emergency intervention, which is the approach advocated by ACTED.