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Ready to Respond: Improving responses to urban emergencies

08 June 2015

Between 2010 and 2013, a series of major urban emergencies - including the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Pakistan floods of that same year, and the 2011 Libya crisis - highlighted the particular vulnerability of urban areas to disaster. This vulnerability was predicted to become more acute as the world’s population continues to gravitate to cities and towns.

Indeed, according to the UN DESA’s 2014 "World Urbanisation Prospects" Report, urbanisation could increase to 66% by 2050. 90% of this increase is expected to be concentrated in Asia and Africa.

At the same time, many humanitarian organisations lack the specific expertise required to effectively respond to an urban disaster. With a view to addressing this sector-wide skills gap, RedR UK developed Ready to Respond, with the support of Lloyd’s Charities Trust. This innovative project, launched in 2013, aims to build the humanitarian sector’s capacity to respond to urban disasters through bespoke training and greater inter-agency coordination, and by harnessing private sector expertise within the humanitarian context.

Before embarking on the project, RedR undertook a full assessment of the needs and capacity of humanitarian organisations to respond to disasters in an urban context. All subsequent activities were based on the results of this assessment.

Three years on, concrete progress has been made on a variety of fronts. RedR has developed three core training courses that will enable both private sector and humanitarian staff to adapt their skills to the specific challenges of an urban disaster:

  • WASH in Urban Emergencies: delivered in the UK, Macedonia and Pakistan to a total of 71 trainees
  • Urban Humanitarianism: delivered in the UK to a total of 18 trainees - including six staff from Ramboll prior to their deployment to Nepal, post-earthquake (see below)
  • Shelter in Urban Emergencies: under development - pilot session scheduled for December 2015

Earthquake damage in Barabise, Sindhupalchok DistrictThe project also aimed to support aid workers by providing technical advice on specific problems that can arise during complex emergencies. To this end, as part of a consortium of partners headed by Water Aid, we developed KnowledgePoint, an online technical support service which allows aid workers in the field to submit questions and receive guidance from certified technical experts. The site now has more than 600 active users, and has facilitated coordination between NGO staff, as well as with the communities they are supporting. Its use reached unprecedented levels during the recent Ebola crisis.

In parallel, RedR has been laying the groundwork for the development of the Urban Hub, a coordination mechanism that will use private sector expertise to benefit humanitarian action within an urban environment. This initiative was proved relevant in the wake of the earthquake which hit Nepal on 25th April 2015. Discussions were quickly held within the Urban Hub private sector group, and staff from two of the companies involved (Ramboll and Arup) were deployed to the country on commercial contracts, predominantly to support the Nepalese government with structural assessments of public buildings. Staff from Ramboll also provided on-the-spot training and summary guidance to local aid workers involved in safe demolition. 

RedR played a key role in coordinating the relationship between these companies and the NGOs directing the relief efforts, as well as delivering a one-day version of the new Urban Humanitarianism course to Ramboll staff, in order to prepare them for their trip.

"The intensive one day pre-departure training course provided to the mission team by RedR allowed us to hit the ground running on our arrival in Nepal, dramatically enhancing our efficiency in the early stages of our visit," says Sean Smeltzer of Ramboll, who was deployed to Nepal in the days following the disaster.

'Ready to Respond' is funded by Lloyd's Charities Trust, the grant-making charity of the Lloyd's insurance market, and delivered by disaster relief charity, RedR.

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