Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Code of Conduct in Disaster Relief

Code of Conduct
for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief

The Code of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief, was developed and agreed upon by eight of the world's largest disaster response agencies in the summer of 1994 and represents a huge leap forward in setting standards for disaster response. It is being used by the International Federation to monitor its own standards of relief delivery and to encourage other agencies to set similar standards.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s there has been a steady growth in the number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), both national and international, involved in disaster relief. In the autumn of 1994 there were over 120 NGOs registered in Kigali, the war ravaged capital of Rwanda.

Many of these agencies, including National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the church agencies, Oxfam, the Save the Children Fund or CARE, have a history going back many decades and have gained a reputation for effective work. Others, more recently formed, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, have rapidly evolved to become respected operators. Along with these large and well-known agencies there are today a multitude of small, newly-formed groups, often coming into existence to assist in one specific disaster or in a specialised field of work.

What few people outside of the disaster-response system realise is that all these agencies, from the old to the new, from multi-million dollar outfits to one-man shows, have no accepted body of professional standards to guide their work. There is still an assumption in many countries that disaster relief is essentially "charitable" work and therefore anything that is done in the name of helping disaster victims is acceptable.

However, this is far from the truth. Agencies, whether experienced or newly-created, can make mistakes, be misguided and sometimes deliberately misuse the trust that is placed in them. And disaster relief is no longer a small-time business. Today, even if those caught up in war are excluded, something in the region of 250 to 300 million people a year are affected by disasters, and this figure is growing at a rate of around 10 million a year. The Federation alone assisted some 19.4 million disaster victims during 1994.

The immediacy of disaster relief can often lead NGOs unwittingly to put pressure on themselves, pressure which leads to short-sighted and inappropriate work. Programmes which rely on foreign imports or expertise, projects which pay little attention to local custom and culture, and activities which accept the easy and high media profile tasks of relief but leave for others the less appealing and more difficult ones of disaster preparedness and long-term rehabilitation.

All NGOs, big and small, are susceptible to these internal and external pressures. And as NGOs are asked to do more, and the incidence of complex disasters involving natural, economic and often military factors increases, the need for some sort of basic professional code becomes more and more pressing.

It is for all these reasons that six of the world's oldest and largest networks of NGOs came together in 1994 with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to draw up a professional Code of Conduct to set, for the first time, universal basic standards to govern the way they should work in disaster assistance.

The Code of Conduct, like most professional codes, is a voluntary one. It is applicable to any NGO, be it national or international, small or large. It lays down 10 points of principle which all NGOs should adhere to in their disaster response work, and goes on to describe the relationships agencies working in disasters should seek with donor governments, host governments and the UN system.

The Code is self-policing. No one NGO is going to force another to act in a certain way and there is as yet no international association for disaster-response NGOs which possesses any authority to sanction its members.

It is hoped that NGOs around the world will find it useful and will want to commit themselves publicly to abiding by it. Governments and donor bodies may want to use it as a yardstick against which to judge the conduct of those agencies with which they work. And disaster-affected communities have a right to expect those who seek to assist them to measure up to these standards.

Code of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief
Principle Commitments:

  1. The Humanitarian imperative comes first.
  2. Aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind. Aid priorities are calculated on the basis of need alone.
  3. Aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.
  4. We shall endeavour not to act as instruments of government foreign policy.
  5. We shall respect culture and custom.
  6. We shall attempt to build disaster response on local capacities.
  7. Ways shall be found to involve programme beneficiaries in the management of relief aid.
  8. Relief aid must strive to reduce future vulnerabilities to disaster as well as meeting basic needs.
  9. We hold ourselves accountable to both those we seek to assist and those from whom we accept resources.
  10. In our information, publicity and advertising activities, we shall recognise disaster victims as dignified human beings, not hopeless objects.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Red Cross Tsunami and Earthquake Response

April 2nd 2008 marked the first year anniversary of the 8.1 Richter scale earthquake that struck the most northern parts of the country.
The earthquake and the resultant tsunami inflicted significant damage and loss of life, including in excess of 50 people killed and an estimated more than 9,000 people displaced.

Immediately after the tsunami and through last August Solomon Islands Red Cross together with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has been working closely with affected communities in order to provide assistance in non-food items distribution, shelter and water in the Western and Choiseul Provinces.
Initial emergency relief activities included the distribution of 37,300 non-food items (kitchen sets, tarpaulins, hygiene kits) to a total of 1,857 families. Under shelter programme, distribution of 5, 089 tools and 2,985 kilos of nails to reach a total of 1,287 affected families in 213 communities in Kolombangara and Vella la Vella Islands. In addition, 3,630 tools and 2,520 kilos of nails were distributed to 1,214 affected families in 114 communities on islands of Parara, Kohigo, Rendova and Roviana Lagoon.
In coordination with other agencies covering different areas, the current Solomon Islands Red Cross assistance has been focussed on the rehabilitation of water systems and rain-catchments construction in 20 communities (6,264 people) on Vella La Vella and Kolombangara Islands. Red Cross has been providing materials and technical expertise togehter with Rural Water Supply. Teams have been focussed on repair and rehabilitation of dams, weirs, pipelines, storage tanks and community tapstands.
At present, more than 40 Solomon Islands Red Cross volunteers of Gizo Branch have been working along side communities members for more than 9 months.

A joint Press release from Solomon Islands Red Cross Gizo Branch and IFRC Water delegation in Gizo who are doing the water & sanitation now.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Protecting Health from Climate Change

The WHO World Health Day is celebrated globally on 7 April each year. This year’s theme: ’Protecting Health from Climate Change.’

With its characteristic of small islands, Solomon Islands is already prone to many potential natural hazards and these are set to be emphasized by climate change.
From rainfall to mosquito breeding, drought to flood, sanitation and the spread of disease, the climate already affects our health in many different ways.
We already experiencing an increase in the frequency and intensity of cyclones throughout the country, and there are other links between health and climate that have an impact on people’s livelihoods. Severe flooding in the Guadalcanal plains sometimes limits food supply to Honiara. Coastal erosion and salt-water infiltration and intrusion in fresh-water aquifers and planting grounds in Ontong Java reduces people’s crop production, while the unusual high-tide/king-tides face by Artificial Islands and drought in the Reef Islands can lead to internal migration and the threat of conflict over land.
According to the Inter governmental Panel on Climate Change these sorts of impacts are those that are expected to worsen as a result of climate change.
The earth is warming, the warming is accelerating, and human actions are mostly to blame through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

If current warming trends remain uncontrolled, humanity will face more injury, disease and death related to natural disasters and heat waves. Food-borne, water-borne and vector-borne diseases will proliferate and more premature deaths will occur because of air pollution. Moreover, in many parts of the world, large populations will be displaced by rising seas and affected by drought and famine. As glaciers melt, the hydrological cycle shifts and the productivity of arable land changes. We are already able to measure some of these effects on health even now.
The health impacts of climate change will vary in different geographical locations. Initially, developing countries will be hardest hit and least able to cope, as the level of development, poverty, education, public health infrastructure, land-use practices and political structure all come into play. Solomon Islands Red Cross has developed a programme that prepares vulnerable communities for climate change. It concentrates on climate change and disaster risk reduction in the Solomon Islands and is supported by Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre (
www.climatecentre.org) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Suva, Fiji. Solomon Islands Red Cross also works with people in Guadalcanal and Malaita provinces on health activities through the Health Awareness Programme (HAP). The community-based project is run in partnership with the Ministry of Health and supported by AusAID through Australian Red Cross.
It aims to provide communities with the knowledge and skills to help them improve health and hygiene practices; from covering food and washing hands before eating, to draining stagnant pools of water and cleaning up the village. The programme also includes information about malaria, such as routes of transmission and the life cycle of the mosquito. First aid training can also be delivered. These simple solutions can lower the spread of malaria, diarrhoea, skin infections and other diseases to protect people against not only the current climate but also a changing one. A Solomon Islands Red Cross health promotion officer, dedicated Red Cross volunteers and a Ministry of Health officer run the programme in villages in North Malaita and the Weather Coast.
The activities are designed to appeal to all members of the village, young and old, men and women. People are separated into groups of men and women, so people feel comfortable talking, and the activities are picture-based so as not to exclude those who cannot read. Taba’a village chief George Gao said that since the Health Awareness Programme, people were starting to make better health choices, and learning how to keep a healthy environment. “Since the HAP training, people understand how to look after themselves and their families, which makes for a healthy community,” he said.
“It’s good to have Red Cross in the community. We’ve had a lot of problems, including health problems we’ve had to face, and we are getting through that. Red Cross helps us in our life. We appreciate what Red Cross has done for us.”
In marking World Health Day 2008, the Solomon Islands Red Cross Health Awareness Programme team is conducting many activities including health and disaster risk reduction activities on the artificial islands of Niuleni and Tauba in North Malaita.
As well as focusing on the Health Awareness Programme on Guadalcanal (Weather Coast) and Malaita (Taba’a, Malu’u), the teams at Solomon Islands Red Cross are focusing on the atoll islands and artificial islands that are most vulnerable to the negative impacts of the changing climate. In the future, Red Cross will consider expanding its health programme to other parts of the country. It is now time to act. SIRC is committed to work closely with all its partners to tackle the issue of climate change and its impact on other sectors, starting with health.

Written by George Baragamu (SIRC Disaster Risks Reduction/Climate Change officer) and picture by Amanda, Australian Red Cross Health Delegate now in Lau Lagoon.