Suriname

Surinamese aid organisations work together for the first time

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Surinam was hit by heavy rains in early May 2006. The banks of the Surinam River in the interior of the country overflowed, resulting in floods in an area the size of the Netherlands. Dozens of villages were completely inundated. Thousands of people were evacuated. Surinam had never experienced a disaster of this magnitude, and was not prepared for the extreme consequences. It was the first time the NGOs were expected to work together on this large scale. One year on, it seems the emergency assistance went well. The challenge now is to keep this new collaboration intact.

Working together for the first time

Binnenland Overleg ("Network of the Interior"), composed of thirteen Surinamese non-governmental organizations (NGOs), was brimming with ambition when it was asked to coordinate the emergency aid efforts. For the first time, the thirteen parties (varying from small to large, from educational to economic activities) were forced to implement a programme together. ICCO and Kerk in Actie employee Guus Paardekooper: "Substantial obstacles included poor communication and limited trust in one another."

Coordinating and delegating

The coordination did not fail completely due to the fact that Binnenland Overleg really changed its tune: it gained confidence in its own ability to coordinate and delegate tasks among its members. Efforts were made to get to know one another better instead of fighting one another. As Yvonne Caprino, one of the spokespeople from Binnenland Overleg, puts it: "Experience taught us that as an NGO, you can't always be out there in the field yourself, and that you are not the only one to have built up trust among the target group. By offering emergency aid, the NGOs no longer just represented themselves, but all of the NGOs and the government." Gradually, it became clear who was best at doing specific tasks, Caprino tells us.

Chaotic start

"For the most part, the chaotic start went remarkably well. It became clear early on where the victims were, and food was distributed immediately," Paardekooper says. Of course, there were some initial setbacks. Caprino: "Initially, the administrative aspect was a bit chaotic. We were not set up at all for the huge amount of paperwork." Sometimes employees had to go back into the field because they had forgotten to ask the recipients to sign for the food parcels. Paardekooper for ICCO and Kerk in Actie: "But thanks to the guidance the Surinamese NGOs received, they made a giant leap forward in setting up a proper record-keeping system. They also learned how they have to be accountable to the co-operative relief organizations from the outset."

Setting up a lobbying office

According to Paardekooper, yet another important result has been achieved: "Binnenland Overleg is going to set up a lobbying office to encourage the government to accept its responsibilities for the interior." Caprino: "We have had to struggle with poor roads, broken-down lorries and the excessively long distances into the interior. We need mid-way depots where we can organize and store materials. This problem can only be solved together with the government."

Continuation of collaboration

One positive outcome is that Binnenland Overleg is now prepared for any future disasters. "In Paramaribo, we now have a good network in the interior. We can get to work independently instead of having to wait." Paardekooper: "The most important thing is that the NGOs have clearly demonstrated their considerable abilities, in contrast to the government, which failed in the beginning. Now, in the second phase, it is crucial for the NGOs to continue their collaboration."