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Africa: Giving communities a voice in disaster response

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across Africa are set to improve the way they work with people affected by disasters, thanks to a newly trained team of community engagement and accountability (CEA) specialists who are ready to be deployed whenever and wherever needed.

The CEA Regional Disaster Response Team (RDRT) members can be sent to emergencies across Africa to help the Red Cross and Red Crescent increase their reach, impact and levels of community participation during a disaster response. This includes establishing systems such as feedback and complaints hotlines, tools for social and behaviour change communication including mobile cinemas, radio programmes and SMS, and approaches that help improve understanding of community needs.

Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, Africa Director for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), explained: “Working in partnership with communities has always been at the heart of the work of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. We know that engaging with communities leads to better quality operations, which support the goal of reducing vulnerability and building safer, more resilient communities.

“However, across the Movement and more broadly within the humanitarian sector, there is still a gap between rhetoric and reality. Often, in our haste to deliver assistance, we can overlook the capacities of local communities and, without meaning to, undermine them. This training highlights the commitment of the IFRC in Africa to improve the way we work with communities during emergencies and ensure we always put their needs, capacities and priorities front and centre.”

Comprehensive training

Twenty-nine participants from 16 African National Societies – Benin, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sudan and Zambia – were trained at the event, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya from 22-29 November and organized by IFRC.

Participants covered general IFRC emergency response and RDRT deployment processes and procedures during the first two days. The following days involved learning about CEA in emergency response operations and participating in a live field simulation exercise.

This exercise was carried out in an informal settlement in Nairobi, where Kenya Red Cross Society has an active cholera response. During day one, participants assessed the communities’ knowledge, practices and beliefs about cholera and how and where they access information and provide feedback. On the second day, participants ran a mobile cinema and live radio show on cholera prevention, sent out SMS to community members, and set up a system to track rumours circulating about cholera that affect how people protect themselves.

CEA is increasingly recognized as essential to operational excellence, building acceptance and trust, and contributing to long-term community resilience. The approach ensures local actors and

communities are leaders and equal partners in humanitarian response, and that programmes and operations are driven by the voices of the most vulnerable people.

The recently published International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Guide to Community Engagement and Accountability helps implementers in the field to take a more people-centered and participatory approach when working with communities. The guide can be accessed at