Partnership and Disaster Response (and Post Script)
Teenage girl distributing seeds at a village meeting in Kurigram
By Tracy McGhee, Press officer SCF(UK).
In August last year, as news reports began to show that Bangladesh was suffering the worst flood in its history, aid agencies went on the alert to help try to prevent the spread of malnutrition and disease. By September, more than 75 percent of the country had been flooded, including half of the capital Dhaka. More than 23 million people were affected by the unfolding crisis.
Save the Children Fund (SCF UK) has been working in Bangladesh since the Bhola cyclone of 1970. The agency has a long term development programme dedicated to helping people prepare for floods, an annual hazard in the country. Working in partnership with local grassroots organisations, this is largely based around credit and savings and income generation projects, with the long term objective to help families to secure themselves against disaster. It also focuses on improving children's participation in community life.
It was obvious from a fairly early stage that the 1998 floods were far worse than the norm, and that emergency assistance would be required. However, SCF (UK) took the decision to use its existing network of Bengali organisations to reach children affected by the flood, instead of mounting a separate UK-managed disaster relief operation. SCF (UK)'s Programme Director for Bangladesh, Martine Billanou, managed the process. "From the onset of the emergency, we decided to work through our existing partners. By doing so, we believed we could contribute to the longer term capacity of our partners and build up skills. In our view, this is important in a country where severe floods are a recurrent event."
But this strategy, vital for delivering aid effectively and economically, was not without its problems. Ms Billanou explains: "It was the first time SCF (UK) in Bangladesh had organised a response to disaster through partners. It proved much more difficult than our previous direct intervention, in the sense that it required much more preparation and monitoring work. It was sometimes tricky to achieve consensus on issues such as the type of activities required in order to have the best impact and the focus on children. It also meant that we had to play a strong support role especially with regard to our weaker or younger partner organisations."
The SCF(UK) Assessment
In the early stages, SCF (UK) kept close contact with its partners in the flood affected area to monitor the situation, to prevent any major outbreak of diarrhoeal diseases and malnutrition among the children. Then between 26 August and 6 September, prior to stepping up its relief effort, SCF (UK) undertook a survey on the nutritional status of children under five years.
The survey's objective was to assess whether it was necessary to set up emergency feeding centres or whether a more general approach to supporting family livelihoods would better address their needs. SCF surveyed more than 2000 children under five years in seven flood affected areas about the perceptions of the damage done by the floods and the priorities for relief and rehabilitation by the affected communities. This proved to be vital information for SCF (UK) and other NGOs and government institutions engaged in the relief effort. The survey showed a level of malnutrition comparable to that of the same period in 1996, suggesting that the enormous efforts in the previous two years by government and donors to reduce malnutrition had already been eroded. The survey also indicated an abnormal incidence of diarrhoeal diseases as well as uncovering restricted access to health care services. The survey also identified the population's relief and rehabilitation requirements, enabling SCF to plan their response.
Several factors helped to avert a more severe incidence of malnutrition. Bangladesh had an estimated stock of more than 5 million tonnes of food grains at the beginning of July. By the end of August free food distribution for flood affected people had been undertaken by NGOs and government agencies.
But while starvation was averted, at least for the time being, it was obvious that the flood was causing serious disruption to people's livelihoods. The rising water level led to prolonged inundation of crop fields, houses, tubewells and roads. Farmers lost jute, rice and seedlings, while labourers lost opportunities for work that would have been created by harvests. Adults' incomes were also reduced because they were forced to protect and shift their houses instead of working, while having to pay for house repairs and the replacement of household assets that had been damaged or lost.
SCF (UK) were concerned that those affected by the flood were facing a cash flow problem. People had been forced to borrow, purchase on credit, sell poultry and some household assets, and stretch available food over a longer period. Prolonged flooding had also led to increased incidence of flood-related diseases, such as fever, respiratory infections, diarrhoea, dysentery, skin infections, eye infections and ear infections. Many people were finding it impossible to visit health clinics due to lack of money and difficulties in travelling around.
SCF(UK)'s Response Strategy
On the basis of the survey findings, SCF (UK) focused its intervention on the provision of muchneeded services in the flood affected area where its partners usually provide long-term development assistance, i.e. in Dhaka, Shariatpur, Dewanganj and Kurigram districts.
In Dhaka, SCF's partner is the Ad Din hospital for mothers and children. During the emergency, mobile clinics, organised from the hospital base, visited flood-affected communities where families could not get access to health care. The hospital also coordinated volunteers in a water distribution programme in flood-affected areas of Dhaka. SCF has worked in the charland area of Shariatpur for many years. This area is intensely prone to floods as it is largely formed by river sediments, which emerge (and are swept away) by the tides. SCF (UK) now works through three local organisations which were set up three years ago with ex-SCF staff who previously worked on the 1988 flood emergency programme. The partners now have 28 staff members and 7 community practitioners trained by SCF (UK). Rehabilitation and relief were provided to existing credit scheme members, and to those in the area of the credit scheme who were too poor to be able to join the scheme.
In Kurigram, another charland area, SCF (UK) works with local NGO Solidarity, providing health care in tandem with local paramedics of Terre des Hommes. This is a vulnerable area at the best of times, but with such large scale flooding, it was obvious that extra support was needed urgently. One of the first actions was to distribute seeds, to enable families to plant fast-growing crops, such as pumpkin, radishes and spinach. These kitchen gardens would help to tide people over until the next rice crop could be harvested.
Martine Billanou explained how Solidarity managed to observe the longer-term development objectives, particularly with regard to children's participation, even while responding to the crisis: "Solidarity decided to distribute the seeds via a children's committee. We are always looking for ways to involve the children more fully in community life, and to increase their respect among the adults. We talked it over with their parents and they were happy for the children to run this project, with the help of Solidarity, as long as the distribution was organised at a village meeting."
A group of children working on a village map, to help project workers identify households who need assistance after the floods - Kurigram
The children's committee also compiled a map of the village. Solidarity encouraged them to conduct research on how the floods affected their neighbours. The result was a graphic map documenting exactly the losses suffered by each house in the village, helping Solidarity to target aid correctly. The map also took into account remaining assets, such as whether the villager owned any land or livestock, and the size of their family. When finished, Solidarity used the research to assess who to prioritise for cash grants.
Working children were particularly badly affected by the floods in Kurigram and, in addition to supporting their families, they were also targeted for extra grants aimed at encouraging them to save money as a buffer for future emergencies or illness. In Dewanganj, SCF (UK)'s partner is Prodipan, which has 30 staff members, including 8 paramedics. Prodipan distributed food to femaleand single-headed households, those headed by a disabled person and households with malnourished children. Emergency credit support was targeted at members of Prodipan's credit and savings scheme. Vegetable seeds were distributed to all families who have only small areas of land, meaning that they could not qualify for government support planned for farmers.
By mid October, flood waters had receded and the need for continuing emergency assistance began to decline. The government of Bangladesh continued to coordinate the relief effort and distribute supplies of food, with the support of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). In all, 163 national and international agencies were involved in various relief activities in response to the floods. Good coordination meant that emergency needs were swiftly met.
Save the Children is certain that working through partners helped the success of its emergency operation. By virtue of having been based at a grassroots level for several years, partners are well integrated in the local community and know the socio-economic status of each family. This made the task of providing appropriate aid easier, more efficient and more cost effective. Says Martine Billanou: "Despite the difficulties and some minor delays, the approach has proved useful as some of the smaller partners - especially the women organisations in Shariatpur - have demonstrated good leadership capacity and therefore gained increased respect from the communities in which they work."
The organisation continues to monitor the situation in Bangladesh while supporting partners in conducting rehabilitation plans. Martine Billanou: "We have always been concerned that many of the effects of the floods would not be seen immediately. Longer term problems may be seen in the months to come, as people have to start repaying their loans. Our follow-up nutrition surveys, (December and March), should help us monitor the longer term effects of the floods, particularly on children, and alert the aid community in case we identify an aggravation of the household food insecurity."
by Siobhan Boyle, M. Nurul Amin, Rehana Amin Lovely - CONCERN
The 1998 flood in Bangladesh was the longest lasting flood of the century. It's immediate impact lasted for more than two months, directly affecting more than 75% of the country. A massive intervention from both government and NGO sectors was required. SCF's strategy to monitor the situation and collect coherent information from an early stage was important. Other valuable strategies and activities that were undertaken by SCF were:
- implementation of timely nutrition survey to ascertain baseline information on prevalence of malnutrition,
- using local partners as a means to target resources,
- the involvement of children in assessment and response,
- ongoing monitoring after flood waters receded.
Concern Worldwide, operational in Bangladesh since 1972, also responded to the flood disaster by implementing a countrywide emergency programme targeted at up to 200,000 families. Concern has developed in-country expertise as part of it's wider organisational policy to respond more effectively to emergencies particularly with respect to appropriate skills, local resources, timeliness and preparedness.
The bulk of Concern's response was outside it's 'normal working areas due to the tremendous needs countrywide. This was made feasible by working through local partners. Concern managed to access populations and work effectively under very difficult circumstances by using knowledge and expertise of local resources. Concern implemented the emergency response with both established and new local NGO partners throughout the country and provided training to these partners in appropriate logistical systems (master rolls, goods delivery and goods received notes etc.). One of the key problems of access to the target group due to remoteness and travel restrictions due to flooding, was overcome to a large extent by the establishment of partnerships with local NGOs.
Concern's interventions were multidimensional, addressing both the short-term and medium term effects of the flood. Concern's response included:
- distribution of food and non-food materials to the target population,
- provision of basic health care services, in partnership with the local government and CBOs (Community Based Organisations), through both mobile and satellite health centres,
- assistance to communities to clean out tubewells,
- working with the MoH on a large de-worming campaign in one of the worst affected areas in Dhaka (Zinzira), and
- assistance to communities with shelter and housing reconstruction.
Some key issues in the overall response to the flood disaster response are summarised as:
- The continued rising of water levels over a prolonged period was not anticipated (duration and geographic areas affected) and therefore the required capacity to respond was underestimated by both government and NGO bodies. As water levels rose unusually slowly a rapid emergency response was not initiated in the early stages. Furthermore, water levels receded very slowly, exacerbating the effects of the flood.
- Co-ordination, was in general weak. ADAB (Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh), held regular meetings and circulated information on a weekly basis. International member agencies of DEC (Disaster Emergency Committee) did meet to informally share information. Many NGOs collected information separately which suited their own needs rather than a collective need. An exception to this was information collected and shared by SCF. However, what was notable, was the tremendous response from all levels of Bangladesh including individual families, clubs, religious groups, schools, artists etc., as well as the international and local NGOs and government.
- The significant health and sanitation problems which were anticipated following receding of the flood waters did not occur. Despite an increase in the incidence of diahorreal diseases, (normally closely associated with flooding periods), no significant epidemic outbreak was reported.
Shelter needs were an immediate priority during the floods as was the assistance with rebuilding houses when the flood waters receded. Due to the slow onset of the floods, many families were able to retain household items.
- The lack of a coherent emergency preparedness plan was as much due to the nature of this emergency as any other factor. However many small and local NGOs do not have the capacity to develop emergency preparedness strategies.
- The problem of targeting limited resources was a challenge during the flood response. Targeting the right groups and area in an emergency situation is not easy. This was partially over come by working through local NGOs and CBOs and the use of effective targeting assessments and household surveys.
In conclusion, the ongoing work in the areas of emergency preparedness and post flood monitoring as outlined below will be essential in the future:
- While many local organisations and CBOs working in Bangladesh may not have enough expertise in specific areas of disaster response, their knowledge and understanding of local needs and people is essential for an effective response. This was clearly demonstrated by the key role that local NGOs played in the overall response to the flood. Emergency preparedness and disaster response management programmes will be essential for developing the capacity of local NGOs and CBOs in a country which is prone to cyclones and floods on an annual basis.
- Medium and longer-term food security problems caused as a result of the flood, are serious concerns. For example, two successive rice-planting opportunities were lost during the ten weeks of the floods, this is expected to have an impact on food availability in early 1999. Another significant widespread problem that is expected to arise is the inability of families to repay credit loans to NGOs. Local NGO capacity to continue to operate will be increasingly difficult with this current and expected lack of repayment. Due to the longer-term impact of the floods, it will be necessary to continue to monitor and assess the situation for a prolonged period. Bench-mark data, such as that collected by SCF, will be useful as baseline data to monitor the situation over time and identify priority areas of need.
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Reference this page
Tracy McGhee and Siobhan Boyle (1999). Partnership and Disaster Response (and Post Script). Field Exchange 6, February 1999. p11. www.ennonline.net/fex/6/partnership